... to the website for the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Patrick, Liverpool.
Over the past 12 months a considerable amount of work has been done on one of our churches, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The church was built in 1878. It is a Grade II listed building and essential repair work has been carried out.
Thank you to all have made donations and to those who have contributed in so many ways to the fund raising - still a long way to go!
We live in an age of food awareness. We’ve become accustomed to looking at the jar before buying it, to see if it contains artificial colorants, e-numbers, too much salt or an overdose of caffeine. And we’re not averse to diet supplements either, pouring dozens of pills down our throats each week to ensure that we’ve got all the right levels of vitamins and are not iron deficient.
Perhaps more than any other generation we have the medical knowledge about the relationship between what we put inside ourselves and our corresponding physical and mental health. And, of course, we want to live for ever!
In today’s gospel Jesus tells us that our spiritual health centres around the eucharist. Eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ is the Christian’s principal sustenance, what keeps us going in faith.
There are those who act as if the eucharist were simply a ritual that we perform, a sort of social, religious action. Others view it from afar. They see communion as the sacrament reserved for those who are already holy, for good people. So they go only rarely. Both of these viewpoints give the impression that we can do without the eucharist.
In fact, the eucharist is the indispensable diet for Christians. For communion is the climax of a wider action in which we gather as the Church to listen to God’s word informing our way of life, in which we bring all our needs and those of our world before God that they may be transformed by the Holy Spirit, and then we enjoy the most intimate union possible with God and each other by sharing in the food and drink of life.
If we eat nothing but chips and hamburgers, we become what we eat: we become fat. If we are people of the eucharist, we become what we eat: the Body of Christ, the Church. For the eucharist is the action by which the Church is brought into being. It moulds us into God’s people and as such can never be a mere optional extra.
As Jesus might have said, “Your fathers took diet supplements, yet they are dead. But whoever eats the living bread will live for ever.”
A group of pilgrims arrived at their hotel inRome in the early hours of the morning, because their plane was delayed. Feeling sorry for them and wanting to get their stay off to a good start, the hotel manager provided them with Parma ham and melon for breakfast. He was dismayed when some of them sent it back to the kitchen complaining that “this bacon isn’t cooked properly”.
You could argue that whatever the manger gave them would not have been enough to assuage their annoyance at arriving late. There was just no pleasing them. Just like the Israelites in the desert. Moses and Aaron had led them to freedom from the Pharaoh and all they could do was moan about the food: it was better when they were in Egypt. So God provides them food to satisfy them: manna and quails.
Before we point the finger at other people, we could stop and ask ourselves a few questions. Are we really satisfied with our lot in life? When we moan, what’s it about? Deep down what is missing from our lives? What is the main thing that would really improve our quality of existence?
Usually people answer these questions with money. If only I had so many millions, everything would be OK. If I had a better house, could pay off the bills, have a few luxuries, then I’d be content. But we only have to look at the rich and famous to see people whose lives can be empty and shallow. Drugs and alcohol become their attempt to try and fill in the void.
Jesus told the crowd that they would always be hungry, always have that deep down empty feeling inside them, unless they ate the food of life that the Father sends. What he means is that only God can satisfy our longings and yearnings. Only he can fill that inner gap we carry round with us and make sense of why we are here on earth.
It is his teachings and our relationship with him that opens us up to the fullness of life. We may search frantically here and there for substitutes, but it is Jesus, the Word of God, who alone can satisfy our real needs. For he is the bread of life.
FAITH IN FOCUS: ACTION REPLAY
Think what it was that Jesus did in the sight of the 5,000. He took the bread (and fish). He said a blessing of thanks to God. He broke the bread. And he gave it to the disciples to hand it out.
Ring any bells? Of course it does. Those four actions, (taking, blessing, breaking and giving) are exactly what Jesus did at the Last Supper. After the resurrection the apostles continued to repeat these actions when they gathered together to remember their Lord. And right down to today they are the same actions that Christians perform when they celebrate the Eucharist.
We take the bread and wine. Not only physically presenting it and preparing it on the altar, but also recalling that these elements were given to us first by God and now we refashion them and set them before God.
In a prayer of thanksgiving we then bless God for creating and redeeming us in Christ, and we ask God’s blessing upon the bread and wine that by the power of the Holy Spirit it may become for us the body and blood of Christ.
We break the bread that is to be shared in communion. Communion is not first and foremost just about me and God, about my host or wafer. St Paul tells us that the bread is made from grain scattered on the hillside, and that we share in the one loaf and one cup in order to become one body in Christ.
Finally, the priest and other ministers give the body and blood to us in communion. Because we share a unity and peace with each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, we move forward together to eat and drink the food of life, to share communion with God and each other.
These four actions, take-bless-break-give, are the key to understanding what Christians do when they celebrate the Eucharist. Our “Amen” when we receive communion is a sign of our readiness as a community to actually become what we eat: the Body of Christ, the Church.
FAITH IN FOCUS: SHEPHERDS AND SHEEP
Jeremiah usually gets called the “Prophet of Doom”. It’s rather an unfair title since all he was doing was pointing out that if people continued to ignore what God expected of them then they would suffer dire consequences. And suffer they did; they were exiled to Iraq and lived for years in misery not far from Baghdad.
It would be easy to read what Jeremiah has to say about negligent shepherds and simply apply it today to those in positions of leadership. The political leaders were involved in shady deals and the religious leaders gave the people a religion that they wanted to hear. Maybe we can make a stick out of this to beat modern-day politicians and clergy. But that would be to miss the point.
What Jeremiah actually prophesises is hope not doom. For he tells the people that although they may suffer bad leadership, although they are heading for a fall, they are still God’s people and they will never be abandoned. God will raise up a shepherd who will be called “The Lord-our-Integrity” or “The Justice of Yahweh”. And this shepherd will gather those who have remained faithful to the Lord and lead them back to where the pasture is good. It’s a promise not a threat.
In today’s society someone’s always got to take the blame. We blame politicians for the state of our living conditions and we blame clergy when things in the Church don’t go as we think they should. Maybe we ought sometimes to acknowledge our own part in the mess that we are quick to criticise. How active are we in local politics, or do we simply enjoy moaning about what others are trying to do? How involved are we in the Monday to Saturday concerns of our parish, or do we simply turn up on Sundays and expect everything to be fine? Are we using our “shepherds” as “scapegoats”, and then complaining that we’re being fleeced?
Jeremiah’s message was one of hope. God is greater than any failure we can concoct. God will never abandon us completely. But the fact that we have shepherds does not mean that we should behave like sheep.
FAITH IN FOCUS: SING A SONG OF JUSTICE
The visiting preacher told the congregation that their worship was all very fine but they were so inward-looking that they failed to see on their very church doorstep the sort of needy people they were always singing and praying about. “Take the noise of your songs away from me; I won’t listen to the melody of your harps.
Instead, let justice roll down like the waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” The local priest, Amaziah, was not thrilled; he told the preacher, Amos, to push off.
Amos was never one to pull his punches. He told it like he saw it. And what he saw was a bunch of people who took refuge in a dangerous complacency. They had a lovely building to worship in; they had the finest of vestments, mellifluous music and all the latest prayers that tripped off the lips. But it all took place in an atmosphere of comfortable self-congratulation.The constant danger with liturgy is that because it is centred on worshipping God
in church, we can end up forgetting about the plight of God’s people outside the church door. Of course, true worship requires conversion, and conversion includes our active care and concern for the world’s needy. So worship doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It presupposes that Christian worshippers are also vigorous in charity, wherever it is required: on our doorstep, in our society and in our world.
Our churches would be empty if we turned our services into political rallies. But our songs, our prayers and our symbols speak loudly about the central act of Jesus in setting us free by his death on the cross. Liturgy is about liberation. It proclaims that in water, oil, bread and wine Christ offers all people freedom to live as God intended.
The Eucharist should be the liberating adventure of the whole Church, the sacrament that frees us from our unhealthy self-absorption and melts our self-satisfied cold isolation from the cries of the voiceless. Our worship is in spirit and truth only when it unites us into a bond of believers who agonise for a Church of charity and a world of justice.
So what’s the next hymn, then?
FAITH IN FOCUS: PROPHECY ON BRICK STREET?
No one wants to think of Mrs Blatherthorpe at 37 Brick Street as a prophet. That’s because she’s just ordinary, like everyone else on Brick St. We expect prophets to be a bit more spectacular, perhaps with long straggly hair, a wooden staff and a book of blessings and curses. But it’s not to be.
Prophets are not fortune-tellers. They are spokespeople. Rather than predict the future, they tell us what God wants us to know about the present. In the bible the only predicting they ever did was about the birth of the Messiah. Usually they were in the thick of it announcing the mind of God and denouncing corrupt practices.
And contrary to popular opinion, they did not die out in biblical times. They are alive and well and living somewhere close to you today. For prophecy is what God demands of all Christians (speaking up for their faith) and it is a gift that is given in special measure to certain chosen individuals.
The word prophet comes from two Greek words that mean to speak on behalf of. So a prophet speaks on behalf of God. And prophets are found in the most unlikely of circumstances.
Besides Mrs Blatherthorpe at number 37 there are countless politicians, religious leaders, sports men and women, teachers, parents, celebrities and entertainers whose words strike us as God-centred when they speak up publicly about issues that affect our society. But what today’s gospel shows us is that the people on Brick St will never accept Mrs Blatherthorpe because a prophet is rarely accepted in his or her own territory.
To be keyed-in to prophecy means keeping an ear out for those people who are unafraid of bringing God’s word to bear in situations of injustice and exploitation and whose actions support the poor, the vulnerable and the needy. It also means being faithful to our baptismal promise to be prophets ourselves by the way we live our lives and are prepared in big ways and small to stand up for what is right and what comes from God. Like Mrs Blatherthorpe at number 37.
FAITH IN FOCUS: QUALITY OF LIFE
Did you know that they’ve invented some food additives that could keep you living until well past a hundred? All your friends will be dead but at least you’ll still be around with your memories. And scientists have invented a new drug that means you don’t have to eat and drink any more, just three injections a week and two litres of water a day. There are also some pills available that guarantee you’ll die really healthy. Worth trying?
We all want to live; it’s only natural. But what is it that we want to live for? What sort of quality of life do we want? What do we want our days to be filled with?
When Jesus raised people from the dead he added years to their life. But more importantly he added life to their years. For once a person is raised to life in Christ their experience of what life is about and what is on offer can never be the same. To be alive in Christ cannot mean simply living the same life as before, for the life Christ offers is one that is transformed. St Paul was so aware of this that he said, “I live; no, Christ lives in me”. Christian living is about being inhabited, taken over, consumed and hurled into an adventure that sometimes disconcerts but always takes us to the edge of our being. It suspends us in eternity.
So if you’re not excited by life then you’re not living a Christian existence because the life Christ offers is God’s very own. If you don’t appreciate the beauty of God’s world, if you’re not energised by the challenges that face you daily or thrilled at the prospect of meeting new people who themselves are reflections of God’s human imprint, then you may be alive but you’re not living. For life means taking part.
Christian faith takes us off the ventilator and lets us begin breathing with the Spirit’s breath. There is a qualitative difference to Christian life, one that’s not available to those without it. Ours is a blessed existence, one which summons and challenges us to live life to the full in Christ, not to prolong an existence that has been long dead through its dulled deception and disappointment, through its sin and shallowness.
When Jesus raises people from the dead life takes
on a new meaning. If not, then it’s probably time
for the injections and some more water.