Alpha Weekend In 5

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Here in Richmond, we have been running an Alpha course pilot with about 20 of our parishioners. We are looking at ways in which we can use it as an evangelisation tool in our parish and community, and this weekend held our first “Alpha Weekend”. Here are a few of my quick takes and lots of questions:

1) An Urban Retreat

I was amazed at how many people have never had this experience to “go on retreat” and were so grateful for it this weekend. It wasn’t even a proper retreat, it was based in the parish and we had 4 sessions over the weekend: Friday night, Saturday morning, Saturday evening and Sunday lunchtime. This meant people were free to go home between the sessions, they had some free time on Saturday and Sunday, they weren’t too far from home and they had the freedom to go to their usual Sunday Mass with their family.

I had first heard of this type of retreat at a Forming Intentional Disciples workshop by Sherry Weddell in 2014. It was mentioned as she profiled the activities of a number of evangelising parishes. I wasn’t all to sure how and if it would work. But it was perfect. People in our parish are so busy, with stressful jobs and families to look after. I think a full weekend away somewhere would have been a logistical nightmare for many and an obstacle to signing up for the retreat. But it worked, and I think it worked rather well for two reasons: it fit in with the busy lives of those who came, but it was also a more casual/relaxed experience for first time retreatants. People just seemed to be glad to have the time to be still to pray, to step out of their normal lives even if only for a few hours.

There’s lots of potential here to develop this concept in a parish, maybe targeting different groups such as mums, couples, men, women, young adults etc. An “urban retreat” as our priest named it…

2) The Importance of Prayer

A number of comments during the weekend focused on the experiences of Eucharistic Adoration. It was just so beautiful and something some people hadn’t experience before, or if they had then maybe not in the intimate environment we had created in our crypt. The overwhelming positive feedback from 24 Hours For The Lord, the chapel of repose on Maundy Thursday and now Alpha, suggest people are hungry for these experiences. So how do we help people encounter Jesus through prayer in the parish? How do we teach people to pray? Or more importantly, how do we stir up a desire for intimacy with the Father?

3) The Power of Testimony 

Friday night, an inspirational young man came to share his testimony with the group. He spoke with such sincerity and love it moved many hearts. He also shared some of the ways in which God has used him since coming to faith, this stirred up a great sense of expectancy in people. His testimony was unpacked, unravelled and referred to throughout the weekend. This extended time we spent with each other, also meant there was a lot of testimony sharing going on- from joys, to sorrows, to encounters with Jesus and everything else you could think of. I sense this sharing was a vehicle of love, mercy, encouragement and healing. So how do we be build a community where people feel free to come as they are and have permission to be themselves? To become a community where sincere love transforms people’s lives, our church and our society?

4) The Attraction of Community 

It has been so good to be part of this little Alpha community. There has been an overwhelming desire from people at all of our “At Home” events, to belong and to feel part of a community. I’ve only been in the parish a few months, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who knows how hard it can be to “fit” into a parish and make friends. Alpha has been such good way to get to know people on lots of levels. As I walked up to Communion today, surrounded by 3 people from Alpha, I felt like I belonged. I knew all of these people, I knew something of their stories and faith journey, I am coming to care about them more and more and I know they care for me. I want other people in the parish to experience this. And if not through a Alpha, then how can we create a sense of community beyond Sunday Mass attendance? How can we help people feel loved and cared for? How can we make a parish a place that people call home?

5) The Privilege of Ministry 

Last night was powerful, during adoration we prayed for the Holy Spirit to come. And we weren’t disappointed. During the evening we offered to pray for those who wanted it, a number did and it was such a privilege to be part of it. I originally wasn’t going to be involved in this, but as the evening unfolded I just didn’t want to miss out on what God was going to do in people’s lives. It was such a privilege to do this with Hannah and so humbling to serve people this way. At one point, as we were praying with one lady, I looked at Hannah and just thought wow! A few years ago I don’t think neither of us could have imagined doing this with people, praying over people….but there we were last night. I just smiled at the way God leads us, the things he asks of us, the ways he chooses to use us and the fact that he lets you do this work with some of your best friends!!

The life of a missionary disciple is never dull….

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From The Desire To Be Retweeted…

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I first got involved in new media back in 2011 thanks to the encouragement of Pope Benedict, who encouraged my generation to become apostles of the digital continent. I learned how to blog for WYD Madrid, a year later I bounced onto Twitter, then a blog on Pope Benedict went viral and I’ve dabbled in everything else since: Instagram, Periscope, YouTube etc….With that viral blog, I learned the immense power and beauty of communicating the Gospel to thousands from the comfort of your home with just a few clicks. It really does make you feel “Catholic” in the ways it connects you to the Universal Church. I’ve used it to promote events, share truth, blog on parish life, make new friends, pick up new ideas for mission, connect with diocesan agencies across the world, to dialogue, communicate and evangelise. I often muse about what St Paul, or St Therese or Blessed John Henry Newman would have done if they had this tool we often take for granted at their fingertips! Oh the holy possibilities!

However over recent years, I have grown more and more discontent with the way the Catholic social media scene has developed in the UK and I wonder just how detrimental this development is to unity within the Church and to our engagement with society. I don’t agree with Fr Rosica all the time, and some of his actions on social media have been questionable to say the very least but he touched a nerve with his address earlier this week, where he seemed to sum up in a nutshell a lot of what can be wrong with social media on the UK catholic scene. He speaks of the ways in which “we Catholics have turned the internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, all in the name of defending the faith” and I hate to admit it but he is probably quite right about certain circles in saying this.

Last year when a young man left the priesthood, I was disgusted at the cries of celebration that went up across certain platforms in what seemed like a rejoicing in a perfect end to an online altercation with this priest earlier in the year. Whatever his reasons for leaving the priesthood, he was and still is a priest and that should be a great sadness for the Church. Whatever he is supposed to have done, or not: that will be settled with The Lord on the last day, just like it will be for the rest of us. He isn’t the first one to be at the receiving end of this kind of venom, but it affected me deeply as I knew the good man caught up in the middle of all of this. As a result of this, I had two other blogging Catholic girlfriends contact me independently of each other, both asking how we can end this horrible culture that become part of the Church communications in the UK? It’s witch hunting, gossip filled, character assassination, slating Bishops, fuelling rumours, spreading half truths, measuring what is and isn’t Catholic and so on and so forth. It hardly speaks of communion and is so counter productive to our mission. Maybe it’s a generational thing, maybe us millennials do approach things differently to older generations. But seriously, how can we not agree that such behaviour is damaging to the Church and such a massive drain on time and energy? Precious resources which could be better used in the mission field.

A senior Church official spoke to me about the blogosphere last year, commenting on the spirit behind different media platforms. He simply said, if something divides and tears down people and the Church, how can you claim that is from the Holy Spirit? It’s not. I cannot get my head around the almost obsessive need to pursue negativity and the need to continually expose people’s sins and shortcomings. Yes people need to be held accountable for some of the issues that have arisen over the last few years, but is social media really the best place for this? How effective is it? How productive? How does it impact on our public witness if we are not united internally? In recent weeks, I have witnessed all of the drama surrounding Tina Beattie/Cafod/Conference of Religious and their differences on life issues. I’m not taking for one minute from the scandal of this pro- abortion position from people in key leadership roles in our Church. It is scandalous. However, I wonder how much the angry tweeting, facebooking and blogging is actually achieving? Why not change our tactics in the public arena and focus on the good? Why not build on that and pray for renewal that way? Let’s give thanks for the many religious who marched for life on Saturday, let’s encourage and praise the Bishops who were bold enough to turn up or to send their support, for all the priests who preach on the Gospel of Life, for the many many young people involved in this event. Let’s showcase all that is good so it can flourish and spread. Renewal in the life of the Church has more often than not come from grassroots, from the bottom up and not from the top down. So let’s impact where we can and trust that which is darkness and error will run its course without our interference because His truth is eternal, unchanging and has more power than anything we can tweet in retaliation to…

The only conclusion I reached with my Catholic girlfriends, was for us all to continue what we are doing and to encourage others to do the same. To publish stuff that is good, that is beautiful and that is true. To share news of the good work The Lord is doing in the Church in the UK. To spread good practice when it comes to evangelisation and to always build people up and, as a consequence build the Church up too! I have spent six months wondering whether or not to write this blog, but another bout of media battles has riled me this week. Enough is enough. This isn’t an attack on any person in particular, it is an attack at a nasty culture that seems to have seeped into catholic communications in the UK. We need to root it out before it cause more disunity in the heart of the Church- division is the work of the devil. We cannot let this become the norm, it detracts from the Gospel message we are called to proclaim. Social media is one of the most powerful tools we have at our fingertips when it comes to evangelisation, but we will never win souls for Jesus if we keep ripping each other to pieces in the public arena. Jesus said that every careless word we utter we will be judged for, the same can be said about everything we type, post, tweet or blog. March for Life on Saturday showed me the power and strength of a united and joyful witness- that’s how we will renew our Church and evangelise our culture. This unity and joy is vital if our work on the digital continent is to bear fruit. Let us flood the internet with His Light and His Love, so that the Church may grow as many souls come to know and love Him through our timelines, feeds and blogs.

From the desire to be retweeted, deliver us O Lord!

March For Life UK 2016

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What a privilege it was to be involved in March for Life UK 2016 last weekend. I remember with great affection the early days of the March and I’m just amazed how it continues to grow and witness in new ways to the Gospel of Life. As it grows, it is also presenting a direct challenge to abortion activists, who this week were encouraging followers to get thinking about now they can counter this “evolution of the ProLife movement in the UK.” At least 2000 people gathered from across the UK and further afield to witness to the beauty and dignity of life from conception to natural end. Families, young people, the elderly, priests, religious and even bishops joined this joyful witness on a beautiful sunny day in the the centre of Birmingham. And once again, no end of comments were made about just how many young people came to make a stand for life.

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Victory in Victoria Square!

I think people can carry a lot of mixed, negative preconceived ideas about what a ProLife rally looks like, but I encourage you to check out the media over the coming days from the March and see for yourself. March for Life UK really is one big ProLife family festival in the heart of our country. It celebrates all that is good and beautiful about human life and serves to act as a reminder to the public of the damage and hurt abortion continues to inflict on this great nation. It’s creative and slick in its proposal – even the pro abortion bloggers have been commenting on its branding/marketing this year. As I’ve come to be more involved in evangelisation work, I realise more and more that crafting convincing arguments is a tiny part of the work. WHAT CHANGES HEARTS IS WITNESS. Yes, March for Life provides inspirational input designed to fill you up, fire you up and send you out as bold witnesses to the Gospel of Life. But it is also so much more. Ryan Bomberger, Stephanie Gray, Sophie, Bishops Emmanuel, Patrick and David were each incredible in their own way! I can’t wait for the talks to go online so I can soak up some of their wisdom and insight again. But year on year, my experience has been that the resounding success of the March is the beautiful, bright, bold proposal of joy, happiness and life in all it’s fullness it makes to a very broken and hurting culture. The joyful presence of so many people people who simply love life and want to celebrate it turns heads and gets people’s attention. No matter how hostile our culture can seem at times, people are searching for more than what contemporary culture currently offers them- we just have to propose and invite them to experience the fullness of life we have through Jesus Christ.

The biggest testimony to the power of this witness came from Sophie and her baby boy Riley, who gave her testimony on the big screen at Victoria (or should that be Victory?) Square. Last year Sophie, was booked to have an abortion and she stumbled across the March for Life…. She also seen the pro abortion counter rally happening in the same square. Sophie went home and cancelled her abortion, and I got to hold baby Riley in my arms at this year’s March. That was definitely the highlight of my day!! She will openly say, she seen the anger, hatred and bitterness of the pro-abortionists and then saw the joy, happiness and peace of the pro-lifers and knew what she what she wanted – she chose life. She asked the crowds “who was here last year?” And everyone went crazy, to which she replied “Riley is here because of YOU”.

God alone knows what fruit will come from March for Life UK but this year has been its best yet. With ProLife groups united across the UK to give one powerful and joyful witness to the dignity of all human life from conception to natural end- it’s shaking up the pro-life/pro-abortion debate in the UK. I don’t think Birmingham or the small pro-choice rally knew what had hit it when the victory parade hit the streets of the city centre. The city came to a standstill and the air was filled with joy, laughter, singing and praise all for the cause of life. The ProLife victory has already been won by Christ, we just need to be courageous in making this become a reality in our country and in our time. As Stephanie Gray said “let’s not make our activism an annual event, but a daily one”.

LIFE FROM CONCEPTION- NO EXCEPTION!

 

 

Living Lent in Richmond

imageHow on earth is Ash Wednesday here already? We seem to have only just entered into Ordinary Time and now we find this penitential season upon us. It is a wonderful opportunity to step back and reflect on our lives and our spiritual journey. Some questions that might be of help for reflection:
As I begin this Lenten journey, how closely am I following Jesus this year? Where is my heart at in relation to His? And secondly, how am I reaching out and sharing His love and the gospel with other people? The second question depends on the first one, but is just as important if we aren’t to make Lent an introspective navel gazing journey this year.

As I settle into my new parish, here at St Elizabeth’s in Richmond, there are a number of things on in the parish that can help you deepen your relationship with Jesus this Lent and give you the courage to go out to others, sharing what you have received. If you live local or aren’t too far away, I encourage you to join us and get involved.

Daily Adoration
Every day one hour before Mass, there is a Holy Hour held to pray for the renewal of our parish. Any renewal of a parish, begins with a renewal of the hearts of the people who worship there- that’s when real change begins to happen. Perhaps you can only drop in for 5 minutes before work or you can manage the full hour, whatever time you give will not be wasted. In the stillness of His presence, he desires to speak to your heart and comes to meet you wherever you are at, you just need to turn up!

Daily Confession
We are very blessed that confession is available every day after Mass here in the parish. It is also available Wednesday evenings from 7.10-7.50pm and on Saturday/Sunday evenings from 4.45-5.15pm. Take a moment this Lent to encounter His great mercy and let Him transform your heart in this beautiful sacrament.

Lenten Reflections
On Tuesday evenings during lent, there will be an evening of prayer and reflection on the essential proclamation of our faith, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. The Holy Hour begins at 8pm and the evening finishes at 915pm. There will be opportunities of quiet prayer, to listen to the scriptures, to hear the kerygma and confessions will also be available. It is a great way to help you on your journey towards Christ this Lent. Even if you can’t come for the whole evening, you are most welcome to drop in for a few minutes.

Lenten Lunches
Every Thursday during Lent there is lunch held in the Crypt from 12-2pm. Lunches cost £5.50 and this year the money raised will be divided between the parish thanksgiving fund and REACT, a Richmond based charity providing support for children with life limiting illnesses being cared for at home in low income families.
It is a great way to meet new people, to build community, to give some money to a good cause and have a delicious lunch at a very good price!

Thanksgiving Fund
Almsgiving is one of the three spiritual weapons we are encouraged to make use of during Lent. Out of the abundance God has given to us, we are challenged to give generously from what we have and support the mission of the Church. One great way you could do this is via the St Elizabeth’s Thanksgiving Fund. All monies donated will go towards the mission of the parish but a percentage will go towards reaching out to young people in the UK and a percentage to help alleviate the suffering of those in other countries. Maybe you could make a one off donation this Lent or commit to making an offering every Friday etc. You can give via the envelopes available at the back of Church, via our JustGiving Page or you can text SEOP60 £ (amount up to ten) to 70070.
http://www.justgiving.com/stelizabethofportugal

However you choose to observe this Lent, may it be a blessed and fruitful time for you. And if you aren’t from Richmond, why not share what your parish / diocese are doing to help you enter into this holy season.

Catholic Richmond

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So I have been in Richmond a week now and even though I haven’t got round to changing the blog name, I’m posting anyway otherwise it will never get done. It’s been quite a week here in London. Not a day has passed without me saying how I can’t believe I’m here. There was so much anxiety, doubt and insecurity in coming here for a number of reasons but now I’m here, I feel like I’ve arrived at where I’m meant to be for now. I’m not sure what I will be doing here, how I will be involved or what will be asked, but I’m here! I’ve still got a few things to sort, mainly accomodation. I’ve seen two places this weekend, and one or two others the next two days but it will be sorted pretty soon. 

Work has been great. A very different setting from Birmingham, working as part of a much bigger team, it’s fast paced, big money and a completely different clientele. I’ve enjoyed meeting my colleagues and hearing their stories, it’s a huge mission field. I’ve enjoyed meeting my clients too, hearing their stories and making connections here in London. As I left work the other night and walked across the bit of Regent Street that intersects with Oxford Street I was just wowed by the buildings and my new environment and amidst the hustle and bustle I just prayed that The Lord would fill my heart with the same passion and love for the people and places of London as he did with Birmingham. 

The last two weekends I have been able to meet with parishioners and talk to people of all ages about their faith and involvement in the parish. There was a busy Mass with Baptisms last week. I met some older parishioners before the Christian Unity service and heard about the lunches and homeless work the parish is involved in. There’s a Youth 2000 prayer group mid week here. Then this weekend the first “dads and doughnuts” was held, with about 16 dads of all ages coming together Saturday morning to blitz a load of jobs in the parish then break for coffee, doughnuts, prayer and fellowship. It was so simple but really effective. I caught one or two of the dads as they left and they were so happy about having the opportunity to get involved and were hoping for another one. I helped with welcoming this morning which helped me connect with a lot of people here. Student Mass this evening seemed so busy, after I briefly popped into the Crypt and I’m so glad I did. I heard a beautiful testimony from a young parishioner on how they had encountered God in a new and life changing way, we were talking about Father’s homily on personal encounter with Christ. I love moments like that, I love hearing stories and I always feel so privileged to receive something so precious!

This morning they sung Lord of all Hopefulness at Mass and my heart was just filled with gratitude over what The Lord has done and continues to do in my life. Even now, as I reflect on today, it just feels so good to be plugged back into parish life. When I came back to the faith I never really felt connected to parish life, it was something that grew on me and I fell in love with Stourbridge and I’m sure it will be the same here. The parish is where it is at. It’s where most people connect or have some contact with the Church. It’s that place where after amazing experiences at things like Youth 2000 or pilgrimage that discipleship has to be lived out and nurtured with the support of others. In Evangelli Gaudium, Pope Francis speaks of parishes being centres of missionary discipleship -places of community, formation, encounter and outreach. I can’t wait to get stuck in here, there are lots of good things happening but it’s also a bit of a blank canvas and there will no doubt be lots of opportunities to get creative in our evangelisation and discipleship initiatives. Parishes can be messy places, but I love it and it really does bring me life! I can’t wait to see what the next few months hold here in Richmond.

Compare and Despair

imageSo as some of my readers might already know, I will be relocating to London in the new year and though many of the details are still to confirmed, my notices went in before Christmas and I began my packing yesterday. My primary reason for moving is to get stuck into a parish with friends, and evangelise the place… That’s as much as I really know. It seems a little crazy especially as it has come about in a few short weeks. Now Christmas Day is behind me, reality is starting to sink in a little. I was with a friend at the weekend and they asked me a number of questions about the move which I couldn’t really answer, and I had a minor panic inside thinking I haven’t really thought this through properly! Where exactly will I be working? Have I got the salary I need? Where will I be living short term and long term? What’s the plan for the parish? What will my role in the parish be? Do you know the priest well? How will it work with your job? Good and important questions but questions I still have no answers to and I leave in 3 weeks!! I’m used to talking risks when it comes to mission, but this one is a little more personal.

As I returned home the other night with all of this on my mind, some words from Mary Potter gave me a beautiful moment of consolation. A few words about not putting human preoccupation above doing the will of God, really touched my heart and spoke louder than the doubts and worries playing over in my mind. Seeing an open door in Nottingham, she left the south, heading north with no money, no resources, no accommodation, no plan and no guarantee of a welcome- she went simply with her trust in God and the conviction that He had entrusted a special work to her. She arrived at the cathedral exhausted, weak and anxious only to be met by the Bishop who was expecting a religious sister and not the young lay woman in front of him! But he warmed to her and he sent her forth on this work with his support… Now I don’t think founding a religious order is my lot, nor do I plan to rock up at Southwark Cathedral hoping to collar Archbishop Smith when I arrive but I am called to step out in faith, to place my trust in God and to follow Jesus wherever he leads me. And in this moment I believe he is leading me and others to this particular parish! I don’t know what’s going to happen, whether it will work out, how long I will stay there for, but there’s just something in my heart that’s telling me to go and give it a try. The bigger picture isn’t mine to see…yet.

imageI think that human insecurity can’t help but compare your own life to whatever others are up to. Careers, boyfriends, engagements, weddings, pregnancies, babies, vocations, seminary, religious life….this seems to be the order of the day for many of friends at the moment! Comparison steals joy but it has certainly featured on my journey the last few months. I’m swinging between excitement and expectation, doubt and anxiety. I’m a classic over thinker and maybe that’s why this has come about so quickly – leaving me little time to think. As I see what others are up to, I wonder if this move to London is foolish. I’m fully aware that getting involved in a parish and continuing to work for a cosmetics company is no different from what I’ve done the last 2.5 years in Stourbridge. Perhaps I should stop dabbling in this and that and begin to settle down, focus on a career, maybe use my degree and grow up? I don’t know…

Sometimes I wonder if I’m too dreamy but I just want to try and live my life for Jesus. I know for sure that He has put the desire to evangelise on my heart and when I live from that place I experience a deep joy and peace. I had a moment a few weeks back, when in tears I asked, am I stupid for wanting to up sticks just because I want to help people meet Jesus? I just know in my heart that I want to get to the end of my life and say that I have tried my best to run the race He has marked out for me, wherever that takes me and whatever that looks like. I just have to remember that everyone’s race is unique, and to keep my gaze on His heart and His purpose for my life, not other people’s. That’s a lot easier said than done! The words of Blessed John Henry Newman often come to mind when my head is all over the place and I’m not sure where I’m going, “Still He knows what He is about”. No I don’t have all the answers to those questions, but in this present moment I am simply called to be faithful- to trust I am exactly where I am meant to be and that He knows the plans He has for my life, plans to prosper, not harm me. And on that note, I will stop typing, and ask you to please keep me in your prayer the next few weeks.

The Surprising Gift of Mercy

 

imageSo it’s been an interesting few days and I want to share a few little encounters I’ve had along the way. 4 in particular- 3 with people and 1 in confession. 3 weeks into the Year of Mercy, I have no “plan” for the year but I think I’m trying to let mercy be the lens through which I write this blog over the coming months.

On the way into work on Tuesday I bumped into an elderly parishioner who I haven’t seen in some time. He was on his way into Birmingham, on the train ahead of me and I’m going to be honest and say I really didn’t want to make small chit chat for half and hour, I just wanted to plug my headphones in, shut my eyes and get to work. Anyway something in me made me hop on that train with him and I am so glad I did! He shared bits of his faith journey with me, he shared his wisdom and encouraged me to be holy and spread the gospel. I was surprised by what he shared, it was beautiful and unexpected. As he went to get off, he very gently took both of my hands, blessed me and kissed me. Well I was taken aback by what I had received from him and how I had experienced the closeness and tenderness of our God through this man’s words and actions! In that moment I was confronted with how undeserving my attitude was that morning to receive so precious an encounter!

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Some of the amazingly generous gang who put on Christmas lunch in the parish.

Christmas Eve came around and apart from feeling that Advent was a bit of wash out, I still hadn’t managed to get to confession. I popped into the local parish twice on my break to find the priests saying Mass. I left a voicemail and popped in on way home on the off chance that I might get confession and was beginning to panic a little, having left it so close to Christmas! Praise God Fr Dominic was home and very gladly heard my confession. I must admit I felt rushed, unprepared and all over the place as I say down to meet Jesus in the Sacrament, but as always I was met with calm, gentleness and a warm welcome. It was the penance, however, that took me by surprise. St Augustines in Solihull is a jubilee church with a holy door for the Year of Mercy. I was asked to go through the door, pray the prayers and receive communion to gain the indulgence. I don’t know what exactly surprised me about this, jubilee church thing hadn’t event crossed my mind! I left my bags in the church, walked outside and as I stood on the threshold of the door of mercy and prayed the prayers… As I prepared to cross the threshold of my first mercy door during this holy year, I was quite emotional. I was just really aware of the generosity and immense mercy of our God. This invitation had taken me by complete surprise, I went for a quick confession and I was being offered so much more! In normal circumstances I might have made a better preparation for this moment, but here it was! In all of my weakness and need, without time to really consider all of that, The Lord came to surprise me with an invitation to consider his immense and at times surprising gift of mercy. One of the readings from Christmas Day reminds us that his kindness and love were revealed, not as a result of anything we had done, it simply out of compassion for us. Maybe that’s what touched my heart that evening.

Christmas Day came and I had committed to serving drinks and being social at the parish Christmas lunch. I’ve gone the last few years with my sisters, helping out and enjoying the day but feeling a little disconnected from the parish this year- I didn’t intend to go. However something kept putting the idea in my head so I thought I will just go and serve drinks etc. Well, I ended up staying for the meal and getting stuck in. A number of the same people go every year and it was such a joy to be with them and reconnect. Many of them are elderly or housebound and I listened to many different stories, most of which I have heard last year and the year before and the year before that but I tried to listen as if hearing them for the first time. The fragility and vulnerability of those I got to serve reminded me of the fragility of the babe at bethlehem. That with immense humility, God comes to be with us- tiny, fragile, vulnerable- so that be might not be afraid to love him! I met Jesus in the crib that morning, I received him in the disguise of bread at Mass and then I got to touch him and serve him in the flesh through he parish dinner. In those moments of service, it was a very real experience of incarnation…

imageAfter lunch, I met my sister and a good friend in the local pub. Since working there a few years back, a quick drink in there on Christmas Day and some fun with the staff has become a regular occurrence. I took a disabled parishioner with us, as he had missed seeing my sister at the lunch. Then at the bar I noticed some others at the bar on their own and invited them over. My sister is pretty chilled out, our friend was out of his depth and it was just a really random set up. Anyway as we got talking to these guys, I heard the most beautiful testimonies of how Jesus had broke into their lives and transformed them in one way or another. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, I always feel it is a huge privilege to hear someone’s story, like you are being given a precious gift. My eyes filled with tears as I listened and I just thought I don’t think I could have asked for a greater gift on Christmas Day. Sitting in a pub, listening to testimony and sharing the love of Jesus with others, God is too good to me…

At Mass the priest had preached on the many ways this tiny baby at Bethlehem had transformed countless lives down the century. My heart was filled with joy and deep gratitude as I reflected back on the last 5.5 years since I came back to faith in Jesus Christ. It has been quite an unbelievable journey filled with incredible encounters and experiences. If this Christmas (and it’s far from over yet) has taught me anything it’s that God’s mercy is always surprising us. I need to remind myself daily of how and when Jesus came to meet me at my point of conversion. Into all the messiness and brokenness he came and offered me his peace and mercy. It was completely undeserving but he lavished his love upon me. In each of these encounters this Christmas, I have been confronted with how completely undeserving I am of the gift of God’s mercy- but he gives it to me anyway, in lavish and generous outpourings! Advent might have been a wash out, I might not have a plan for the Year of Mercy but this Christmas I have been gifted with this surprising start!

Saints With Sass!

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“As a young woman I suffered under the misconception that to pursue a life of holiness meant to lead a boring life filled with long periods of contemplation and silence. I longed to find role model who matched my own approach to life- saints with boisterous laughs, and quick tongues that sometimes got them into trouble, women who were unafraid to be themselves and say what was on their minds, even if they ruffled a few feathers. In short I longed to discover badass women who lived lives of real holiness. Women with whom perhaps I might have a little more in common”

(My Badass Book of Saints: Courageous Women who Showed Me How To Live)

After a beautiful Mass to open the Year of Mercy at St Chad’s Cathedral today, I went for lunch with friends and one of the guys asked “Do you know any saints who wore makeup?” Well it stopped me in my tracks until a girlfriend chipped in, “Not yet but I hope to be the first saint who wore lipstick!” This was followed by me suggesting her makeup brushes would make nice 2nd class relics, the guy was a little stunned and it was just a total #thingscatholicgirlssay moment!

The last few weeks I’ve been caught up between the lives of two very different holy women of God and they have challenged me in different ways. One of them is Venerable Mary Potter, the other is Chiara Corbella. Chiara’s cause hasn’t even been opened yet, but her testimony is being widely shared and I’m sure it won’t be long before she is on the way to sainthood. Like St. Gianna Molla, she laid down her life for the sake of her unborn child, she strived to live out the beauty of marriage with Enrico despite the great challenges they faced. Throughout it all her faith in The Lord deepened, her heart grew and her joy overflowed. There’s a stunning picture of her with an eyepatch on, clearly sick but her head thrown back in a completely abandoned moment of joy and laughter. Now this isn’t to take from her story, but her holiness and purity of heart just seems so utterly beyond me! Maybe it’s the flowery Italian style of the biography, but her sanctity is too lofty for me. As I continue to read the book, my heart is moved in many ways but I’m also finding it hard to connect to her story.

That’s one reason I praise God for the communion of saints- there’s a saint for each of us to connect with, saints for different seasons and circumstances of our lives.
Just like in a parish church, you click with some people better than others but love each the same- so it is with the communion of saints in heaven. Sanctity takes many forms…

So onto my second holy woman of God- venerable Mary Potter. I had heard of her but knew very little about her until I visited the Mary Potter Heritage Centre in Nottingham last week. I took a chance and turned up, cheekily pleading with the Sister to let me have a quick look around. She agreed to a super quick tour, but nearly two hours later I was still there!

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Cheeky selfie with Mary Potter 😉 

There’s an image of Mary Potter that I just can’t shake and that’s one of her dressed up during the time of her engagement. She has a pretty dress on, her hair is in perfect and probably rather trendy ringlets and she looks like she has makeup on- maybe that’s the camera or my imagination. Anyway I loved this picture and the image has stayed with me in prayer. An ordinary young woman who ended up doing amazing things for God. Although I was very taken with the picture, the story that followed stirred my heart. She was due to be married but her fiancée called it off because she was too bold, outspoken and opinionated – or something like that! Ahhhh my soul cried out “SISTER…now that sounds more like my kind of saint!” Then she ended up founding a religious order, marrying Jesus and working on the edges – pioneering a contemplative yet active order who worked on the very edges of society to care for the very poor and in particular the dying. There were run ins with her Bishop, mystical encounters with Jesus and much more during her journey. She was quite the revolutionary!

There’s a lot more to her than that, as I am finding out, but this brief encounter really touched my heart. A definite patron for the Year of Mercy! I was in London a few days back and as I left Southwark Cathedral, I came across her painting. She received the sacraments in the cathedral parish and spiritual direction and care from the priests and bishops there. Saints have a funny way of crossing our paths, and I think bumping into her in Southwark was no coincidence. It felt like a little nudge to become more acquainted and I’m intrigued as to what she wants to share with me…

I like my saints a little rough around the edges, a little wild and unruly….why? Because there’s hope for me yet!! The Lord knows exactly how he made me, edges and all! Yes there is much work to be done, but I am his work of art. He is smoothing my edges, softening my heart and channelling my sass for his glory. What the world needs is women who lean into the wonderful way that The Lord has made them. Women who aren’t afraid to be be thoroughly modern but authentically catholic! Give me a choice and call me superficial but I would have my saints with lipstick on, a heart on fire for Jesus, a passion for his people and a bit of fire in their belly any day! Saints with sass, it’s an image that doesn’t sit with our conventual idea of sainthood but have any of the saints ever been conventual?

I quoted a little from The Badass Book of Saints at the start of this blog, if you are a sister in Christ who has connected in anyway with this post then I wholeheartedly recommend you download and devour it! Be inspired to be who God created you to be!

Just Another Catholic Woman

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Just organising and leading a parish prayer group.
Just heading up a local parish SVP circle.
Just bringing Holy Communion to the sick in her spare time.
Just trying to be a good wife and mother.
Just serving Jesus generously through the single life.
Just founding and coordinating a charitable project for asylum seekers.
Just heading up outreach to 1000s of teens across our diocese.
Just trying to make disciples of all nations, starting in her parish.
Just trying to witness to Gospel values in her secular workplace.
Just trying to live a chaste life as a young woman in a sexed up culture.
Just using her annual leave to nurse the sick on the diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes.
Just pioneering a parish partnership project for the diocese.
Just trying to support and encourage a priest in his ministry.
Just trying to pass the faith onto her grandchildren.

This list of “Justs” could go on and on and on but it serves to highlight some of the amazing and generous ways women up and down the diocese are serving in their families, communities, parishes and workplaces. For a while now, myself and a friend have been praying and thinking about ways in which we can support women in leadership and ministry across the diocese. We wondered what would happen if we gathered these ladies together for regular prayer, teaching and fellowship. We floated the idea to a few of the Birmingham group at the end of the Proclaim conference in July and it was met with great enthusiasm, so we held our first meeting at the start of August. 

With little notice, 35 women from every part of the diocese, of all ages, walks of life and mission experiences, gathered at St Chad’s Sanctuary to share the joys and difficulties of our vocation as women, the realities of our personal mission, sharing good practice and encouraging each other in our individual missions in our parishes, workplaces, universities, communities and families. Through praise and worship, we opened the evening by coming into the presence of The Lord and asking Him to revive and renew our hearts. We then had some teaching on “The Great Catch”from Luke 5 and it’s practical implications on our personal apostolate and time for sharing in small groups. It was a simple way of trying to equip and empower women to live out their unique vocation and mission, wherever they find themselves in our diocese. For women who give so much in so many ways, it was good to be able to gather and take a little time to receive. To simply pause for a moment, to reflect and refuel before going back to the business of daily life! 

I sensed a heaviness from a lot of women attending, carrying a lot, wondering if they make a difference, trying to do their best in the situations they find themselves in but always thinking it’s not quite good enough. As people began to share and connect, the energy in the room quickly changed. It was amazing to see women building each other up and speaking words of encouragement over women they had only just met! By the end of the evening, we raised the roof with CJM’s Magnificat and the atmosphere felt electric. It was as though we had unleashed something, the joy was palpable and the hope was tangible! Who knows what the future holds for this little group, but it sure was good for us to be together! 

So if you are just another catholic woman just doing this or that for others, for Jesus, for your community, for the church…. We invite YOU to come and join us for our next meeting:

Monday 7th September
715-915pm at St Chad’s Sanctuary, Birmingham. 

Come and join us, and let’s see what The Lord has in store for each of us as we strive to be women of faith wherever we find ourselves in this great diocese of ours!