My December Column – Full Text

Well, that was the Year of Faith. It’s over now and we can move on. Before we do I’d like to just look back on the year to see what it did for me, and possibly you. The Year of Faith was launched with some fanfare and lots of resources were set in place for us, much of that online. There were events and celebrations before it all went into the background.

So, when I look back, did it help me in my personal journey of faith? I looked into where my faith came from. That was easy; it came from my parents, my grandparents and the faith community I was born into. The faith was passed down to me, a bit like an Olympic torch (or should I say a Commonwealth Games Baton?). Now it’s up to me as a parent and, was a while ago, as a teacher to pass that same torch, that flame of faith on to others.

I found lots of resources online. I got a daily email from Read the Catechism in a Year’ and ‘Daily Catholic Quotes’. Between the avalanche of stuff that poured through my computer screen and the coverage in the Scottish Catholic Observer I was well resourced.

I found that faith was not just about believing in God but it was much more. My faith is a power in my life and it is up to me to be open to this wonderful gift. It is something that I have to nurture and grow for my good and for the community of faith as a whole. I need to see if I can get my faith to be as big as a mustard seed. Now growing things was never my strong point as anyone who looks at my garden will tell you. So how can I nourish my faith?

The answer to that is, again, simple. The sacraments exist to do just that. It’s up to me to make more use of the sacraments and to avoid falling into the trap of treating them as routine. When I made my First Communion it was a big thing. All smartly dressed, cleaned and polished. This was Jesus coming to me. Why should First Communion be taken more seriously than the second, third or five hundredth communion? I must strive to regain that sense of awe that I had for the sacraments as a child. I need to remember just how wonderful they are.

Our new Holy Father has been a great guide and inspiration. He has reminded me of the need to concentrate on the fundamentals of Christ’s teaching and not to get bogged down in the rules. The rules are important but we must never let them get in the way of the essential message ‘love thy neighbour’. That’s another thing I’ve realised this year. My faith is not just about me. It is about how I behave towards other people. Is my focus on myself or am I thinking of others? Christ’s focus was always on others. I think that is a clear message for all of us.

Now, things have changed over the years in the Church. I can remember when we had parish retreats, class retreats and even evening retreats. These gave us opportunities to step aside from the ‘production line’ that is daily life and take time to spend in contemplation. I experienced retreats where we were expertly guided to find that peace where God’s message for us becomes clearer. These don’t seem to be so popular today. There is a need in all of us for a guided retreat.

I recently came across a book by a Jesuit priest which attempts to guide us through a DIY retreat. The book is called ‘Together on Retreat’ written by Fr. James Martin SJ. I bought it as an e-book on my Kindle. I’ve just started using it and I’m finding it very helpful. It’s a bit like having an expert in your pocket to help with your spiritual life.

The basis of the retreat is, of course, prayer. Father Martin started off by describing some different approaches to prayer. Let’s face it, if I want to get on better with God then I need to converse with Him. Not just recite prayers, but open up to Him about how I find myself at that moment and look out for His answer. A few months ago I mentioned my problems of being distracted in Mass. Fr. Martin gave me a deeper insight into why that might be. He pointed out that sometimes God pops thoughts into your head, not as a distraction, but to draw your attention to some issue you need to deal with. My attitude to distractions has changed for the better.

As part of my journey of faith I decided on a real journey. I went to France to start my personal pilgrimage, walking the Camino. I started my journey by train, travelling to London, on to Paris and then overnight to Bayonne and up to Saint Jean Pied de Port. On the overnight train I met a German who was doing his journey in stages. He alighted in Lourdes to continue on foot. I considered getting off there myself, but didn’t. I only managed to walk three days before having to give up with back problems.

I did learn a lot about myself and my faith on the journey. As I write this I’m preparing to go off again, this time to Lourdes for the 8th December celebration. Strangely enough, my flight takes me into Bilbao to continue by bus to Lourdes. I passed through Bilbao on my way home from the Camino. Now I’m going in reverse to Lourdes. Perhaps that is where I should have been going in the first place. This time I will not be alone. My wife is coming along to keep me out of trouble.

That has taught me another lesson, it is never finished when you think it is. My pilgrimage will go on. In the same way the year of Faith will go on. That year was just to get us started. We are all on our Journey of Faith. I recently came across a pastoral letter from the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, Rt. Rev Kieran Conry, He was reflecting on what we might have achieved in this Year of Faith. In it I found this wonderful quote.

In the document on revelation in the Second Vatican Council, ………… faith is seen not as the communication and reception of facts, but the giving of God himself, and our response is not an intellectual response, but, the document says, “by faith man freely commits his entire self to God.” In other words our faith is a personal response to God’s love and an acceptance of that offer of God’s friendship.

There we have it in a nutshell, our journey of faith is not a journey to a place. It is a journey that must take us beyond ourselves and lead us to place ourselves entirely at God’s disposal, to do with as He wishes. We must take our free will and choose, freely, to place it at God’s feet. Jesus put himself entirely at the service of the Father. We must, in our various ways, do the same.

The year of Faith is not the end; it is the beginning of the life of Faith. There can be no going back now. I’ll be following ‘Read The Gospels in a Year’ see the link below.

Joseph McGrath

Note: Fr. Martin’s Book ‘Together on Retreat’ is available on Kindle from Amazon.

Read The Gospels in a Year – sign up at

Happy Christmas

Nativity Scene

Come O Devine Messia

Christmas is almost upon us. This has been a year of wars and violence. Let’s take the opportunity we have in this season of peace and love to reconsider how we behave to one another.

The Government might reconsider their bedroom tax, although they might point out that Jesus didn’t have one – He was born in a stable. Let’s hope they don’t take that as a model for the future.

I wish you all a happy and holy Christmas and may the Peace remain with you in the New Year.


Bumper Christmas Edition – my Column

Observer Logo

The bumper Christmas and New Year edition of The Scottish Catholic Observer is out today. It carries my final column of this series – looking back at the Year of Faith. But, this is a bumber edition and also has columns from Peter Kearney, Hugh McLoughlin, John Deighan, Fr. Eddie McGhee, Gerald Warner, Kevin McKenna, Richard Purden, Mary McGinty, Andreas Wolff, John Newton, Joe Bradley and SCIAF. There is a story from Cath Docherty and a pullout section – “2013 A Reflection”.

All that for £2 – who can afford to miss that? If you do then you will find the full text of my column here next week. But, don’t wait – get your copy this weekend.

My November Column Full Text – What Faith Does For You

The Year of Faith - a Voyage of Discovery

The Year of Faith – a Voyage of Discovery

This year I’ve been considering the Year of Faith and what we are called to do for the Faith. This month I’d like to have a look at the benefits the Faith brings to us. I’ve heard people talk of the obligations that faith places on us and how it restricts their lives. Their lives would be freer and happier without these restrictions. I must confess that I’ve never felt that way but I know others who have abandoned their faith in search of something better.

It set me thinking about how faith can be a benefit rather than a handicap. Can faith free us rather than restrict us? What evidence is there of this? Now, looking for evidence is a scientific technique and that reminded me of the supposed conflict between science and religion. That is where I find my first bit of evidence.

Science, as we know it, began with pioneers such as Nicolaus Copernicus and Isaac Newton. Copernicus declared that all the planets, including the Earth, revolved sound the Sun. At that time it was assumed that the Earth was at the centre and everything revolved round it. Copernicus’ ideas were not welcomed. The prevailing ideas satisfied the needs of farmers in predicting seasonal changes; why change? Copernicus was more interested in getting a better understanding of creation and the God who was responsible for it. His ideas proved to be correct. Today we talk of the Solar System, planets held in orbit round the Sun.

Newton set out to explain the working of the solar system. He gave a mathematical proof of his theory explaining how bodies move. Both of these men were contradicting accepted wisdom. They contradicted theories that worked well. They were driven by their belief in a God who created everything; a God who made it possible for us to understand what He had done. They were driven by faith to understand God’s creation. This drive resulted in the beginning of Science as we know it.

Their faith freed them to think beyond generally accepted ideas and ultimately changed the way we all think. Rather than restrict us, faith brought about the means for us to understand more.

That’s ok as a general thing, but what benefits can I see on a personal level? This year I have had an experience that gave me an insight into how faith can shape the way we see things and enable us to live life differently. My sister was diagnosed with cancer. This is probably the worst thing anybody wants to hear. It can sound like a death sentence to some, but not my sister.

She accepted the news bravely and faced surgery with a calmness that surprised us all. After the surgery she faced a programme of chemotherapy followed by radiotherapy. I was lucky enough to accompany her for some of the therapy sessions. I say lucky because it gave me the chance to see people dealing with an extremely difficult situation.

I have to say that I did see some people who were very worried. They faced a threatening situation and medicine, despite all its advances, can never promise everlasting life. My sister took it all in her stride. Losing hair presented no problem, in fact it ended up with three sisters in uncontrollable laughter. Why was this? The simple answer is that her faith gives her an understanding of life beyond the here and now. She knows that life is a gift from a loving God who will not abandon her.

Her faith enables her to live a normal life in the face of extreme danger. She has been a wonderful example of the benefits of our faith.

To see life through the window of God’s love allows us to deal with the changes in our lives. This time last year I was a carefree young man in his sixties. Today I am a grandfather of three boys. What a change! No more clubbing for me. But what a great gift they are. I was apprehensive about the recent birth of two boys, identical twins. They were born more than seven weeks premature. One of the boys had been lying in a position that restricted his growth and that prompted the early delivery.

To see two small boys, still not fully developed, in their incubators brought home to me the nature of this gift of life. Despite the difficulties they faced and with the wonderful help of the NHS professionals they are growing well. Human life is no accident. All our children are a gift to us. They are the future of humanity. Each one has been created by God and each one has a purpose.

What has that to do with faith? Well, we live in a society that increasingly chooses to disregard God’s purpose in creating us. Our faith shows us God’s hand in creation. Absence of faith in God leaves the purpose of each human being with a question mark. Why should a child with a serious disability be allowed to live? Why should old or seriously ill people be allowed to suffer?

In our society we hear of thousands of abortions being carried out. We hear reports of abuse of old people in care homes. We know of people travelling abroad to places where they can legally commit suicide. I hear that another bill has been presented before the Scottish Parliament to change the law here in that respect. Respect for life seems to be an old concept, out of place in our society.

This seems to me to be the great example of the difference that the faith brings. When we have faith in God we see things through His teaching. We know that God has a purpose in creation and even if we don’t fully understand that purpose we feel sure that it is right. Lack of faith leaves an emptiness in us where there is nothing to point us in the right direction. With no purpose in life we don’t see the value of life.

How can we react to current trends? Our response must be to reaffirm the value of each life. Our response will be seen in how we react to threats to life. The recent Typhoon in the Philippines brought a great response from people all over our country. Charities gathered in millions of pounds in a few days. People saw the threat to lives and responded as best they could.

These were not threats to their next door neighbour, but to people at the other end of the world. When we see the worth of complete strangers we are seeing the world as God sees it. We must continue to ask ourselves how we see the needs of others. How do we react to asylum seekers? Do we welcome them or do we see them as a threat? How do we respond to human trafficking, where people are moved around and treated as commodities? Do we see this as modern slavery or are we happy to be able to get cheap goods and services?

As Christians we have been given the gift of faith that enables us to see more clearly the hand of God in our lives. We must make that plain to the world.

Joseph McGrath

When the Fireman arrives in his Zimmer

Emergency Service Vehicles_Coventry Transport ...

Emergency Service Vehicles_Coventry Transport Museum_Hales Street_Coventry_May13 (Photo credit: Ian Halsey)

I drove from Coatbridge to Manchester airport today. I’m taking my wife and two friends to Lourdes on a short pilgrimage for the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The official advice was “Do not travel!”.

We put our trust in the Lord who calmed the stormy sea and went anyway. We were fine, but the storms have caused problems for many travellers.

The emergency services have turned out, time and time again to rescue those in difficulty. When I arrived at the hotel I saw the news on television. The government have decided that people will have to work till 69 before they can retire. I tried to imagine a fireman in his late sixties turning up at a road traffic accident to disentangle the wreckage and save lives.

What are the chances of him saving anybody? Does anybody care? You might if you are the one trapped. Do you think the politicians think through the policies they implement? They say we are living longer, and we are. Of course that is a result of the social policy we have followed since 1945. Now, with Austerity, we are facing malnutrition and ill health. Perhaps the idea is to make sure fewer people manage to collect a pension.

What a disgrace. The people who claimed to be thinking of future generations are robbing the yet unborn.