Read More
Bible Alive Articles

The Sea of Hope

Thousands of migrants escaping war and turmoil in Africa and the Middle East land up in Lampedusa. Joanna Moorhead reports from the tiny Italian island on the response of the local Christian community to the crisis.

Everything is beside the sea on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa; everywhere you go you hear the rush of the waves, and you see the wide blue of the Mediterranean. At carpenter Francesco Tuccio’s workshop, the water laps at the end of the street, and you can taste the salt on the breeze.

There are plenty of nautical notes in Francesco’s workshop – wooden fishes on the shelves, boat pictures on the walls – but the real story here is in boxes on the floor. They contain pieces of wood – some big, some small – that have drifted onto the beaches as a result of the most pressing, and heartbreaking, humanitarian disaster of our time.

Francesco is in his forties, a father of four children aged between eight and 18. Like everyone I met in Lampedusa, he has been horrified by the influx of desperate people onto his island. They come from Tunisia and Libya, from Nigeria and Ethiopia, from Eritrea and Mali; they come from across Africa and the Middle East, and especially they come from the war zones and the countries that are most politically and economically unstable. Many of those who come are young men, who are usually the people most able to travel in any problem-hit community; but when things are bad the women and children, and even old people, start to move too – and there have been all of these arriving in Lampedusa over the last seven or eight years, since the migrant crisis began.

The ones who arrive here safely are, though, the lucky ones: for every 40 who make it to the shore, one dies at sea. The bodies of the dead are thrown overboard, and sometimes they too are washed up on the beaches; usually, the dead are the women and children. Not only are they weaker than the men, but they tend to be seated in the centre of the boats, and they die from the fumes from the engine, or are crushed when the men seated around the edges of the craft are flung into the middle by the waves. So those who arrive alive are often traumatised; sometimes, they have lost loved ones on the journey. At best, they have nothing; at worst, they have lost everything.

When Francesco, who like most of the islanders is Catholic, started to collect the driftwood from the boats, he wasn’t sure what to do with it; and then, one day at Mass, he had an idea. He would create crosses from the wood, and give them to the incoming refugees. He started to hand out the crosses to people he met at church; many of the migrants, he says, especially those from Eritrea and Ethiopia, are Christian.

In time, the Lampedusa cross, which is one of the exhibits in the British Museum’s exhibition ‘Living with Gods’ supported by the Genesis Foundation (continues to 8 April), came to have a meaning that transcends even Christianity: it came to symbolise hope against the odds, hope in a future that had once seemed so bleak, and was now at least a possibility. And Francesco’s gesture came to symbolise something more than a carpenter’s skills, too; it came to be a reminder that we can all do what we can do, in the face of human suffering. ‘I didn’t know what else I could do to help,’ says Francesco simply. ‘I’m a carpenter, so making crosses was something I could do; it was something tangible.’

Francesco is not the only Lampedusan who is doing what he can for the migrants. Paola Larosa, who runs the bed and breakfast where I stay, looks after visiting journalists; helping them to tell the story of what is happening here, she says, is her contribution. In the shops, where there is hardly any food available, the islanders dig into their own pockets to buy bread, milk and other items for the boatpeople. And they act as unofficial banks for the incomers, too, allowing them to get their relatives to send them money transfers, which they convert into cash.

Life for the migrants in Lampedusa is desultory: this may be a holiday island, with beautiful seascapes and sandy beaches, but the migrants are not holidaymakers, and for them there is nothing to fill their time. They are housed in a prison-like building with no TV rooms or sports facilities; in theory they’re not supposed to leave the premises, but in practice there’s a hole in the fence through which they can squeeze and walk into town. You see them on the streets and in the cafes: young men, mostly (some still children) wandering aimlessly or smoking cigarettes at the outdoor tables of the many cafes (they have no money to buy coffee). This is a holding station, a staging-post. They are lucky to be alive; but many have been bereaved on the journey, some have lost children or partners; and for all, there is the uncertainty of what lies ahead. While the aim is for migrants to spend only four or five days in Lampedusa before being moved on to the reception areas on the Italian mainland, the reality is that many are here for far longer, some as long as a month.

At the moment the numbers of arrivals are low, due in part to measures between the Italian and the Libyan authorities that have been criticised by Amnesty International; but at its busiest, there were 12 boats arriving each day. ‘People were sleeping on the beaches, on the dockside – just wherever they could,’ says Paola. Lampedusa has a population of just 6,000; but in 2013 they took in 23,000 migrants, and in 2014 13,000. Last year the number was around 10,000. And who knows what the future will hold: because of its geographical position, this island will continue to be the entry point to Europe for many of those fleeing war and turmoil in Africa and the Middle East.

In many ways the people of Lampedusa – people like Paola, Francesco, and the island’s parish priest Don Carmelo La Magra, have been the representatives of all of us in the migrant crisis. They’ve been on the front line of the humanitarian effort; they’re not professional aid workers, but they’ve deputised for ordinary people everywhere who care, in providing desperate incomers with practical aid and, most important of all, a genuine welcome. ‘The main problem [in the outside world] is that many people don’t think of the migrants as human beings,’ says Paola. They’re just regarded as ‘a problem’ or an ‘unfortunate phenomenon’; a regrettable by-product of turmoil and wars in other parts of the world that seem a long way from us in the UK.

Not so, says Paola. ‘This isn’t an Italian problem or even a European problem. It’s the whole world’s problem: it’s everyone’s problem. And the real problem is the wars that force people from their homes.’ Humanitarian corridors, which Pope Francis has been pivotal in helping to establish, are a crucial way forward in the medium term: they allow for the processing of would-be migrants through official channels, and so far at least 21,000 people have been given visas as a result. If there’s the chance of a safe way out, fewer people are tempted to risk their own and their families’ lives on overcrowded, leaky boats they’re charged around Euros 6,000 for a place on.

But in the long term, the people on the front line in Lampedusa are very clear about what’s needed to stop the influx of desperate people: an end to war and violence. It’s easy, says Paola, to think the migrant crisis is about poverty; in fact, she believes it’s about wealth. The world does not have too many very poor people, it was too many very rich people; and the fallout of the increasing inequality of our world is what drives extreme poverty.

In the office of Mediterranean Hope, a Christian charity set up in 2014 to respond to the crisis in Lampedusa, no-one pretends they have all the answers. They do think, though, that we should all be aware of more of the relevant questions. ‘European countries, including the UK and Italy, are still selling lots of weapons to the African continent. There are so many issues that aren’t considered when we talk about migration,’ says Alberto Mallardo, one of the workers.

Tomasso Tamburello, his colleague, says we should think about the crisis more in economic than emotional terms. ‘Over the years ahead, Europe is going to be enhanced by the skills of the migrants. In Italy we are not replacing people, our birthrate is very low. We need more people for the future – and these people have so much to give.’

Read More
Bible Alive Articles

Bringing God to the House

What’s the role of Parliament’s chaplain? Joanna Moorhead goes to Westminster to meet Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin.

Most of the black women who work in Parliament are cleaners or caterers, and if Rose Hudson-Wilkin didn’t wear a dog collar, she would probably be mistaken for one of them. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a cleaner or caterer, as she’s quick to point out. But she’s a priest, the chaplain to the Houses of Parliament, and a staunch campaigner for greater visibility for people of colour in high-ranking positions.

Rose grew up in Jamaica: as she puts it, she had the great good fortune to grow up there, because it meant she was surrounded by black women and men who fulfilled all roles in society, including the highest of posts. ‘Everywhere I looked, there were people just like me,’ she says. ‘So I knew I could do anything I wanted with my life. It’s so powerful to be able to see your reflection in others.’

Her early life in Jamaica was no picnic, though. When Rose was just a year old, her mother went to live in the UK. Probably, she says, the plan was to send for her and her sister, who remained in Montego Bay with their father: but somehow the summons never came, both her parents found new partners, and it wasn’t until she was nine that she met her mother again, on a trip home to Jamaica.

The lack of a mother didn’t mean a lack of love, but it was the kind of love that’s shown in actions, and cuddles and endearments were in short supply. Much of her validation came from the extended community at her church: the other worshippers were always there for her, Rose recalls, interested in her school career and her life and plans. ‘We were fortunate, because there was a shortage of priests at the time and that meant the people shared the task of leading the worship. So sometimes it was the turn of the young people to lead, and that gave me amazing experiences. I preached my first sermon at 14!’

Around the same time, she began to wonder whether God was calling her to the priesthood. ‘One night I had a dream that disturbed me, and I couldn’t go back to sleep,’ she remembers. ‘I reached for my Bible, and it fell open at Luke 4 – ‘The spirit of the Lord is upon me’ – and I thought, wow. And the next day the reading was from the same passage in Isaiah. I thought, this is no coincidence – it’s a call.’

The only problem was that women were not at that time being ordained in the Anglican church: but Rose was unperturbed. ‘I thought, I’ll just trust in God. I believe I’m being called, and I’ll obey that call. If God wants me, things will change.’ She joined the Church Army, and was sent to the UK for training, and while there met her husband Ken, a Geordie who was later ordained. The couple had three children (now aged 27, 29 and 31, and there are also three grandchildren), and for the next few years Rose focused on being a mother – but she never forgot her calling, or her belief that her time would come. As her children got older, and after the Anglican church admitted women to the diaconate, she applied for the training course, was ordained in 1991, and became one of the cohort of women deacons who were waiting eagerly when the Church of England general synod voted to admit women to the priesthood in 1992.

Parishes followed, first as a curate and later as a parish priest – and there were difficulties sometimes with churchgoers who were not comfortable with the idea of women’s ordination. Being a black woman priest made her an outsider twice over, she says: but she was determined to see the positive changes, and the fact that this was the moment to claim her inheritance – not just on her own behalf, but on behalf of young black people and women everywhere, who could now see the church hierarchy as belonging to them, as being open to all. The archbishop of York, John Sentamu, was a strong ally, and she spent 10 years building up strong and vibrant parishes in east London.

A decade seemed long enough in her job, and she was starting to think about moving on when Ken phoned her one day with some news. She was in Jamaica at the time: Ken was calling to say he’d heard that Westminster Abbey was looking for a new priest whose work would include being chaplain to the Houses of Parliament. ‘My gut feeling was, walking around in robes all day isn’t my idea of work,’ says Rose. ‘So I thought, it’s probably not for me.’ But several more people mentioned it to her, and she decided she should check it out. Parts of the job appealed more than others: she applied, as did more than 90 others, and after the final stage interviews it was decided to change the way the role is organised, so Rose could remain in her parish but take on the role of Parliamentary chaplain as well.

We meet in her office in the Palace of Westminster: it’s off the hallway of the Speaker’s House, and while we’re chatting John Bercow appears with his children, back from the school run, and the two greet one another warmly. Rose’s role at Westminster is closely connected with Berkow’s: each day at the start of the sitting in the House of Commons, she delivers the prayers for the day. ‘MPs often come up to me afterwards and say how moving they find the prayers, and how important they are to everything that happens there,’ she says. She doesn’t say prayers in the House of Lords because the bishops who sit there lead on that; but she also leads two communion services a week in the beautiful chapel of the Palace of Westminster, as well as officiating at weddings and baptisms (staff and members of the Houses are entitled to use the chapel for their family occasions).

Rose is the 79th Parliamentary chaplain, but the first-ever woman, and the first-ever person of colour. As at other moments in her life, she’s a trail-blazer. ‘I feel like Esther,’ she says, ‘who was told: you are here for such a time as this. I am able to be visible here, and I go off around Britain giving talks and preaching. I especially enjoy giving talks in schools, because I’m so aware of how important it is that the young people of today see someone like me in a job like this.’

She’s long been spoken of as a likely bishop; she’s not ruling it out but nor is she holding out for it either. ‘I’m not holding my breath,’ she says, ‘but if I’m called to serve then it would be something I’d consider. The important thing is to be focused on what you’re doing, and I’m still very much focused on life at Westminster.’

When I ask what’s been the highpoint of her seven years at Westminster, she answers without missing a beat: that’s an easy one. ‘Without a shadow of a doubt, it was meeting Barack Obama. I was in my robes and he took my hand and he said, ma’am, you look spiff.’ And she throws back her head and laughs, a big, happy laugh, remembering that moment when the most powerful leader on earth met the chaplain of the Palace of Westminster, and both revelled for a few moments in their shared African roots, how far they’d come, and how important it was that they’d made their respective journeys.

Read More
Bible Alive Articles

Christmas in the Forest

Jean Vanier’s l’Arche community is a very special place at this time of year; but then again, it’s special all year round, as Joanna Moorhead discovers.

The live nativity at Christmas midnight Mass at the l’Arche community has something different about it: Mary, Joseph and the shepherds are all played by people with disabilities. It’s entirely in character with a place that sums up, and lives out, what it means to treat those who are handicapped as equals, and to see them not as people who need looking after, but as individuals with a great deal to teach the rest of us.

L’Arche, which lies in a sleepy French village in the middle of a forest, feels particularly remarkable at Christmas. Its founder Jean Vanier, who set it up after feeling appalled by the way he saw disabled people being treated in institutions, has spent more than half a century championing the idea that the secret to happiness is to learn from those who are physically challenged, to concentrate on what we can do rather than on what we can’t, and – quite simply – to enjoy our time on earth. ‘Christmas is the moment when all that comes together, because l’Arche is about celebrating, and Christmas is one big celebration,’ he says.

There are a lot of people to accommodate at the Christmas Mass and festivities at l’Arche, because the community now numbers more than 200 people, out of a village population of around 2000. And this village, Trosly-Breuil, while still the heart of the L’Arche movement, is now but a small part of it: there are 150 more communities, in countries as far-flung as Japan, Poland and Brazil, which adds up to many thousands of individuals, physically challenged and able-bodied, whose lives have been influenced, and often transformed, by the movement Vanier started.

It was back in 1964 when he first came to this village, which is a few kilometres outside the town of Compiègne in Picardy. An ex-naval officer who was searching for something meaningful to do with his life, he was invited to the village by a priest friend who lived here. But it was when he accompanied the priest to the institution where people with handicaps were looked after that Vanier realised this was his life’s work: the patients were badly treated, dehumanised, and not seen as the individuals they so clearly were. ‘They were condemned to a lesser life,’ says Vanier. ‘But the truth is that each person is a treasure, and in discovering the treasure in others we discover it in ourselves, too.’ The first l’Arche community was born when Vanier took two young men from the institution to live with him in a house in the village: in a family-like setting they flourished, and Vanier’s life was also deeply enhanced. ‘We are transformed by living with people who are different and who have been humiliated,’ he explains. ‘The great pain of our world is that it is obsessed with competition and the need to win. But if you go down the ladder rather than up, you find people who are interested not in wealth and success but only in relationships – and you discover that is the secret to great happiness.’

Rooted in Christianity – although those who work for it come from all faiths and none – l’Arche has always been counter-cultural, but in today’s world it seems to stand out more strikingly than ever. Does Vanier – an immensely tall man, who I met on his 89th birthday – feel worried about the effect of the Trump era on the philosophy he has spent a lifetime trying to spread? Predictably enough, the ever-optimistic Vanier is still hopeful, even though he concedes that ‘Donald Trump is the perfect example of the person I wish to change. But even though he says he doesn’t want migrants and seems to be turning away the very people I say we could all learn so much from, still we are in a world where, thanks to information technology, people are talking to one another more than ever before. And I believe that is where hope lies. We also have to pay heed to what’s going on: Trump is a cry for something, and that’s what we have to listen to.’

He also has hope in today’s young. ‘Many of them come to work in l’Arche, and what I see are ferocious individuals who want to learn how to live together. They’re interested in how to make the planet more beautiful, and in working out how we can all be together. The young people are different from the generation before, and that gives me a lot of hope.’ As always, Christmas at the l’Arche community in Trosly-Breuil will involve many youngsters who have volunteered to spend part of their lives alongside people with disabilities: the partnership between the young and the handicapped is one of the movement’s many strengths.

Fittingly enough, happiness seems to radiate out of Vanier, and his favourite word is ‘super’ (Pope Francis is ‘a super person, an amazing man, and you get the absolute sense with him that everyone is precious’); but the one time his smile fades is when I ask him how it feels to be the Catholic Church’s most pre-eminent living saint. Like Mother Teresa, who was his friend, many expect him to be fast-tracked to sainthood when he dies: how does it feel, to have that sort of accolade? He shakes his head and looks, for the first time, a little sad. ‘The problem is that when people talk about me being a saint, they aren’t thinking about what they should be doing, who they should be helping,’ he says. ‘Talking of me as a saint suggests I’m doing something other people can’t do, which is the exact opposite of what I want to suggest. Everyone can do what I’m doing, which is to welcome the disadvantaged into their lives and to realise we have much to learn from them. Doing this work hasn’t been a hardship: I’ve had fun, we have fun together. I’ve had the most marvellous time.’

Being with Vanier feels like being with someone who’s very close to God; but it’s only later in the day, when I’m invited to have supper in one of the l’Arche houses, that I start to properly understand what his contribution to caring for the physically disabled is really all about. Life at l’Arche is modelled on family life: disabled people and carers, known as assistants, live in houses that are as close as possible to ordinary homes. There are grab rails and wide corridors for the wheelchairs, but the sitting-room looks like an ordinary family sitting-room, with a large TV, sofas, armchairs and a rug. The house I’m in is home to seven people with disabilities and four assistants; in an ideal world, explains Gail, one of their number, there would be six carers.

Supper is served around a huge table: four of the residents are in wheelchairs, and three are severely disabled. What’s immediately striking is how the disabled people are at the heart of the meal and the conversation: they’re as much participants as the assistants and the less disabled residents. Everyone helps everyone else: one resident helps his neighbour with his spoon, another offers hers a drinking cup from time to time. The vegetables are served by Amelie: it takes her a bit longer to negotiate the spoon and to ladle the leeks in cheese sauce onto the plates, but time is not of the essence here, and enabling people to contribute is.

There’s no sense of exclusion around the table at l’Arche: being unable to communicate verbally doesn’t mean being unable to communicate in other ways, and it’s clear there are some big personalities among the residents. The three-course meal takes over an hour to complete, and involves a fair amount of mess: but mess, as Vanier would say, is part of the reality of life, and there’s no attempt made to sanitise or prettify the proceedings. One resident, who clearly loves his pureed spinach, ends up with it all over his face, neck and hands; but he’s clearly relished every minute of eating it – and everyone else has enjoyed sharing in how much he’s enjoyed it, too.

Christmas dinner will be another meal just like this, a meal in which the disabled and able-bodied sit side by side, understanding the advantages of both states of being, and knowing that both can learn from the other (especially, Vanier would say, the advantaged from the disadvantaged). At a time of sharing gifts, it’s clear that l’Arche is a place where the gift-giving is a two-way street, and where paying attention to those who may seem to have least can turn the world around in an entirely positive and joyful way.

Summer in the Forest, a film about life at l’Arche and what we can all learn from it, is available to download at www.summerintheforest.com

Read More
Bible Alive Articles

Lifting the Prison Blues

A little bit of music in a prison can go a long way, Joanna Moorhead discovers.

It’s a weekday afternoon jamming session, and the all-female band are giving it their all. At the back of the room the drummer is a 20-something with long, blonde hair; in front of her is the guitarist, a woman in her forties. And in front, kneeling on the ground as she intones her lyrics, is the vocalist, all in black with a baseball cap pulled low across her forehead.

They’re playing Tracy Chapman’s She’s Got Her Ticket, and it’s particularly apt in this setting: ‘She’s got her ticket/I think she’s going to use it/I think she’s going to fly away.’ Because this isn’t a pub or a recording studio, it’s a prison chapel. We’re inside HMP Eastwood Park in Gloucestershire, a women’s prison; this is a regular meeting of the inmates’ music group, Changing Tunes, and for the women who take part it can often feel like the only chance they get to soar above the prison bars, and experience a kind of spiritual freedom.

The 12 or so prisoners in the group are led by music therapist Fran Key, who’s been running the group for six years. A quiet woman with a pixie bob, she leads the session without dominating it: there’s plenty of opportunity for the prisoners to put forward their ideas about what songs are performed, and who plays what instrument. Fran has a big folder with the lyrics of hundreds of tracks: others this afternoon include Rod Stewart’s Handbags and the Gladrags, and James Arthur’s Impossible. I’m part of the chorus, sharing my songsheet with a young woman of 25 who’s serving an eight-week term. She has two young children aged four and six; when Fran suggests we sing Pharrell Williams’s Happy, tears well up in my neighbour’s eyes and she says she couldn’t stay in the room for that, as it reminds her too much of her little boy. Another song is quickly chosen; everyone in this room understands the agony of missing family, particularly children.

The young woman – let’s call her Charlie, which isn’t her name – says she’s come along to three or four Changing Tunes sessions, and they’ve made a huge difference to her time at the prison. ‘It gives you a real lift, and there aren’t many ways you get a lift when you’re in prison,’ she says. ‘The songs are sometimes sad, and they’re sometimes fun – and it’s always good being part of a group, and enjoying the moment. ‘Another woman says Changing Tunes is the high point of her week. ‘Being in prison is lonely, and boring, and you feel empty a lot of the time. This is the one time in the week when I feel properly connected, and as though I’m doing something that’s simply to enjoy.’

Enjoyment and fun aren’t high on the list of what a prison seeks to provide: but the punishment, Fran reminds me, is in being separated from family and friends, and unable to make decisions about your own life. ‘The sessions enable women to have a go at playing musical instruments, and to sing the lyrics, both as soloists and as part of a chorus,’ she says. ‘It gives them opportunities that are not easily available elsewhere in prison – like the chance to work as part of a team, and the chance to communicate with one another in a different way. It also gives them opportunities to make choices, about what to play and what song to perform. And the women help one another – I see supportive relationships being created, in order to make the music work. The sessions bring commodities that are incredibly rare into the prison – beauty, joy, escapism, and peace. I feel incredibly privileged to do this work, because many of the people in here have had so much stacked against them – many of them are real heroes.’

The music isn’t restricted to the sessions: it seeps out of the weekly jams to infect the whole prison. ‘Sometimes we take the music to the wings – we form a small group and move around the prison,’ says Fran.

Changing Tunes runs music workshops in 16 prisons in Britain, and would like to run them in more. It grew out of a faith background, having been founded three decades ago, in 1988, by a musician called Richard Pendlebury who played the guitar during religious services in prisons, and realised how much of a difference music could make. Richard – who’s now an Anglican priest – says the prisoners loved the music, and were very keen when he decided to set up a separate music group. ‘People said they felt they were out of prison when they were in our sessions. They felt it gave them a space where they weren’t being judged, and where they could have a bit of fun.’

What Richard realised, says Changing Tunes’ chief executive Lizzie Bond, was that making music gave prisoners the chance to engage with something life-enhancing and different. ‘To him, it seemed very much like faith in action,’ she says. ‘We’re a Christian organisation, although prisoners of all denominations and none are welcome at our sessions: and what we aim to do is bring some hope into the lives of people who desperately need it. I know as a human being and as a Christian how important hope is. A lot of prisoners have been told they are rubbish and what they do is rubbish, and they believe they’ll never be able to do anything worthwhile with their lives. Making music gives them something to be proud of, something they can do and something that raises their self-esteem – it’s so simple, it’s really low-cost, but it can make a huge difference.’

What makes Changing Tunes almost unique in the prison system is that it provides prisoners with continuity: after release, those who took part in sessions inside are invited to carry on attending similar workshops on the outside. ‘Almost all the relationships people form in prison are cut off when they’re released,’ explains Lizzie. ‘But what we’ve found is that resettling into the community is made easier if you have some people you can talk to who knew what your life in prison was like.’ Her point is reflected in participants’ reoffending rates: the national average is that 46% of released prisoners get into trouble again, but among people who’ve taken part in the Changing Tunes programme, the figure is just 12%.

One of the most exciting aspects of Changing Tunes is that it gives prisoners and ex-prisoners the chance to showcase their work in regular concerts, both inside prison and after release.

And to mark the charity’s 30th anniversary, musicians Billy Bragg and Frank Turner have joined forces with a group of ex-prisoners to make an album, downloadable from the charity’s website. ‘It’s brilliant to get the backing of big names like Billy and Frank,’ says Lizzie. ‘And they’ve been very impressed with the musical abilities of the ex-prisoners they’ve been working with. Changing Tunes can bring music into the lives of people who’ve not got much experience of it, but equally it can help build on talents prisoners have, giving them skills they can use when they’re out of prison. It’s such a simple idea, and it makes such a huge difference to people’s lives.’

Read More
Bible Alive Articles

CHRISTIANS – Your Faith Needs YOU

JOIN IN OUR CAMPAIGN

In 1914 the British Government ran an advertising campaign depicting Lord Kitchener, the British Secretary of War, wearing the cap of a Field Marshall pointing at the viewer with the words: ‘Your Country Needs You.’ The campaign and poster captured the public’s imagination and encouraged everyone to do their best to contribute to the war effort.

On Friday 20 January 1961, President JF Kennedy, in his inaugural speech, said: ‘Do not ask what your country can do you for you, ask what you can do for your country.’

We have adopted these two famous slogans and adapted them in a light-hearted parody to encourage you, our readers, to rally to join us in our own campaign – a campaign of faith.

Our campaign slogan isn’t ‘Your Country Needs You’ but rather ‘Your Faith Needs You.’

“DO NOT ASK WHAT YOUR FAITH CAN DO FOR YOU, ASK WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR FAITH”

Our campaign slogan isn’t ‘Don’t ask what you can do for your country but what your country can do for you’ but rather ‘Don’t ask what your faith can do for you but what can you do for your faith.’

Pope Francis asked as much in Evangelii Gaudium, his Apostolic Exhortation on our call to evangelize and the joy of the evangelist.

Just as the Church exists to evangelize, this is its raison d’être, so too does Alive Publishing exist to evangelize, and all our publishing projects have this noble goal as their very heart.

However, we don’t share our faith, witness to it and evangelize simply and merely as individuals. We do so as members of the Body of Christ, brother and sisters united in a common vision and mission.

This is why we wanted to reach out to all our readers and ask for your help and assistance – Your Faith Needs You!

Through your generosity and kindness we are able to send Bible Alive, Walk with Me and other faith resources to our brothers and sisters who live their faith in developing countries.

They have a dire need for resources which encourage them in living their faith today – our Letters from the Heart explain so eloquently what these gifts mean to those who receive them.

Sri Lanka
I’m very much grateful to you all for your generosity towards me and my sisters in the Region. I get Bible Alive since 2010 and I’m very much strengthened spiritually. Not only that, most of the sisters in the region too receive Bible Alive free of charge. Thank you so much. God Bless and Reward you.

 

Franciscan Sisters, Nigeria
Dear Bible Alive, These greatly appreciated booklets come addressed to me for the prisoners and ‘the youth’. May I add my deep gratitude – they are READ, used, reflected on and greatly valued. We pray for our benefactors who make this possible AND for the staff at Bible Alive.

 

Assisi Convent, Nigeria
Dear Bible Alive, I wish to write and appreciate you for your great work and generosity. I really love and enjoy reading your reflections. The reflections help me to understand and have a deeper meaning of the gospels. Thank you so much for all your good work.

 

Nigeria
It is with great joy I write to you, your monthly, Daily reflections has been very inspiring and very helpful. Reading about this month’s column on ‘The Gift of Prayer In the Year of Mercy’ was very touching and a wakeup call for me. I must admit even before the year commence, something special and extraordinary has started happening to me. Please keep up the good work, well done.

 

WAYS YOU CAN HELP

It’s through your generosity that we are able to send Bible Alive and other faith resources to our brothers and sisters in developing countries who are in dire need of them. There are many different ways that you can help us help them:

  1. By taking a Loose Change Jar/Parish Bucket
  2. Telling a Friend
  3. Giving a Gift Subscription
  4. Becoming a Parish or Diocese Promoter

If you would like to help those in need through our International Faith Outreach and would like to take part in one of our campaigns please click on the four links above for more information and all of the forms you need or you can call us on:
+ 44 (0) 1782 745 600

Read More
Bible Alive Articles

Fr Peter Hocken – Prophet of the Spirit

Fr Peter Hocken, a founding Trustee of Bible Alive and member of its Editorial Board, died on June 10 2017. A diocesan priest, he was ordained in 1974 for the diocesan priesthood; shortly after ordination he was appointed professor of moral theology at Oscott College, Birmingham.

In 1976 he moved to Washington DC and was a member of Mother of God, the Charismatic Covenant Community. During his time there he obtained a doctorate in Charismatic studies from the University of Birmingham. He returned to England in 1997 to take up duties as the private secretary of Bishop Leo McArtie, Bishop of Northampton. In 2008 he moved to Austria and became involved in an unofficial dialogue with Catholic-Messianic Jewish dialogue and was also a member of the Theology Commission for the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

Fr Peter had a lively sense of the work of the Holy Spirit through the Charismatic Movement but also in creating unity between believers, as well as reaching out to the Jewish people, our elder brothers and sisters in faith.

Bible Alive owes him a great debt. His emphasis on the Holy Spirit, his commitment to Christian unity, his conviction that Baptism in the Spirit was a ‘naked grace’, a great gift to the Church, and that it was the Holy Spirit who enlivened and animated the reading of scripture, informs our editorial vision today.

He, along with the other members of the editorial board, recognized that our emphasis, from June 1996 when we launched Bible Alive, to the celebration of the Year 2000, should follow the teaching of Pope John Paul II outlined in his prophetic exhortation for the new millennium, Tertio Millennio Adveniente.

Our editorial vision since then has always looked to the teaching of the popes for inspiration and guidance, first with Pope John Paul II, then Pope Benedict and today with Pope Francis.

Fr Hocken first heard of the Charismatic Renewal in 1971 when studying in Rome. However, it was in England in that year, after attending a weekend conference on the gift of prophecy, that he had his first experience of the Holy Spirit.

Reflecting on this many years later he said: ‘The first effect I noticed was a joy and delight in the Lord. But also an inner conviction that Jesus is Lord. What was especially strong for me in the beginning was that Jesus is Lord of my life and the Lord of history. He isn’t just Lord theoretically, but Lord for today and of my life which means he rules today, he acts today, he is at work today and he’s at work through the Church and is working directly in people’s hearts. The scriptures came alive for me in a new and exciting way. This had a direct impact on the way I prepared my sermons. Before my experience of the Holy Spirit I used to prepare my sermons as I would a theological paper. However, from then I felt drawn to the chapel to pray and spend time before the Lord, on my knees.’

Central to Fr Hocken’s understanding and experience of Baptism in the Holy Spirit was the way through it the scriptures came alive in a deeply personal and real way. One of the effects of this grace was that the Old Testament became a rich treasury of the revelation into God’s plan of salvation and the sending of Jesus. He would often point out that one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit through Baptism in the Holy Spirit was the realization of how true are St Jerome’s dictums: ‘Christ is latent in the Old Testament and patent in the New Testament’, ‘The Old Testament is pregnant with Christ’ and ‘Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ.’

The Bible as the living, breathing, inspired word of God has informed our approach to publishing Bible Alive and everything we do as a Catholic Publishing House.

The editorial board celebrate the work of the Holy Spirit in our time and rejoice in the way in which, for lay and clergy alike, the Bible is a living book: alive, active, dynamic and life-giving.

Fr Hocken looked to the scriptures, the living tradition of the Church, the saints both ancient and new, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John Paul II, and Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis and of course, the Holy Spirit, for inspiration, guidance and light. Our magazines, books and newspapers are rooted in a vision which is informed by the Holy Spirit, guided by the teaching authority of the Catholic Church and strengthened by daily conversion, repentance and prayer.

He drew a special strength and guidance from Dei Verbum and the Gift of Scripture, a document published by the Bishop’s Conference of England Wales. He saw in these documents a light and wisdom in both praying and living the scriptures in our daily walk with Christ. He always pointed to the bishops at Vatican II who urged each believer ‘to learn ‘the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ’ (Philippians 3:8) by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. . . .
Let them go gladly to the sacred text itself, whether in the sacred liturgy, which is full of the divine words, or in devout reading. . . . Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of sacred Scripture, so that a dialogue takes place between God and man. For ‘we speak to him when we pray; we listen to him when we read the divine oracles’’ (Dei Verbum, 25).

Through all our publications, but in a unique way through Bible Alive, our hope is to encourage our readers to respond to this invitation.

Fr Hocken had a great sense of how time was charged with God’s presence. He saw Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation as prophetic in the light of our mission in launching Bible Alive. ‘In November 1994, Pope John Paul II wrote a document called Tertio millennio adveniente, concerning the coming of the third millennium. The Pope reminds us that all of time has been made holy because of the coming of the Son of God into our world. Since the Incarnation, the death and the resurrection of Jesus, and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, every moment in time has become charged with the presence of God and the salvation he offers the human race.’

This understanding of time was at the root of the daily meditations we write month after month. For each day is an opportunity to meet God, through his Son. As the Holy Father says: ‘Christians should turn with renewed interest to the Bible. In the revealed text it is the Heavenly Father himself who comes to us in love and who dwells with us, disclosing to us the nature of his only-begotten Son and his plan of salvation for humanity’ (TMA 40). As you pray and read the scriptures each day, allow God’s word to speak to you.
Fr Hocken believed it was our vocation as Catholic publishers  to be faithful to this vision and encourage our readers, Christians of all denominations and men and women of good will, to know the fruit, blessing and grace of scripture and in so doing draw close to the Father who loves us and gave his Son for us.

Fr Peter, along with other members of the editorial board in 1996, named the magazine ‘Bible Alive.’ They felt that the name Bible Alive was itself very much grounded in scripture. The writer to the Hebrews described the word of God as being like a two-edged sword, living and active (Hebrews 4:12). Our contributing writers testify that the Bible coming alive was a major part of a renewed experience of God, the grace of a second conversion. It is precisely from this experience of God, the rich treasure we have in the daily liturgy and an active prayer life that grace and insight is found to write the daily reflections which give life to thousands of readers around the world every day.

Since the launch of Bible Alive in June 1996 the magazine has gone from strength to strength, with over 60,000 readers, a worldwide outreach to prisoners and missionaries and a lively book publishing division which publishes the popular seasonal Walk with Me booklets in collaboration with Cardinal Vincent Nichols as well as a wide range of books and Christian resources.

We will always be grateful to Fr Peter for the key role he played in helping inform the editorial vision of Bible Alive and Alive Publishing in 1996!

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Read More
Bible Alive Articles

Learning the Language of the Holy Spirit

Pope Francis said recently: ‘Let us too ask for the grace of being able to hear what the Spirit says to our Church, to our community, to our parish, to our family, and for the grace to learn the language of the Holy Spirit.’

How often do we think, pray or say, before making a major (or indeed minor) decision:

‘Guide and lead me Holy Spirit?’

Do we turn to the Holy Spirit during our day for strength, for guidance and wisdom?’

How well do we know the language of the Holy Spirit?

The Holy Spirit, the Counsellor and our Advocate can be the neglected member of the Blessed Trinity. We are conscious of God as Father and turn to Jesus as our Savior but because we neglect to learn the language of the Holy Spirit we become dull and insensitive to the crucial role the Holy Spirit has in helping us live the Christian life.

St Augustine didn’t suffer from this neglect; he prayed:

‘O Holy Spirit, descend plentifully into my heart. Enlighten the dark corners of this neglected dwelling and scatter there Thy cheerful beams’.

St Catherine of Siena had a similar sense of excitement and dynamism in her appreciation of how crucial the Holy Spirit is in living the Christian life.

‘Enrich your soul in the great goodness of God: The Father is your table, the Son is your food, and the Holy Spirit waits on you and then makes His dwelling in you.’

From the very beginning we learn that the Holy Spirit played a crucial role in the drama of our salvation. Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary by the work of the Holy Spirit.

‘The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.’ (Luke 1:35).

However, Jesus’ mission in which he performed miracles, taught and proclaimed the gospel, did not begin until he was anointed by the Holy Spirit.

St Peter preaching many years later highlighted just this point:

‘You know the word… which was proclaimed throughout Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we were witnesses to all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.’ (Acts 10:36-39).

After being baptized in the Spirit in the river Jordan, St Luke tells us that Jesus returned in the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4;14). Jesus was quick to point out that the power he displayed in casting out demons was because of the Holy Spirit.

‘It is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons and the kingdom of God has come upon you.’ (Luke 11:28).

We learn the language of the Holy Spirit from Jesus. Jesus spoke Aramaic but he also spoke the language of the Spirit.

The first words he spoke on embarking on his public ministry were:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor’ (Luke 4:18).

He also taught that we would be given the language of the Holy Spirit for the task of evangelization:

‘Do not be anxious how you are to speak…. for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you’. (Matthew 10:19-20).

The language of the Holy Spirit is the language of God the Father. The first words of Jesus public ministry were:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me’ and his last were, ‘Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!’

He delivered up his Spirit to the Father, he can send the same Holy Spirit to us. That’s why he had said,

‘It is to your advantage that I go away.’ (John 16:7).

St Paul proclaimed that it was the Spirit of God that raised Jesus from the dead  (Romans 8:11):

‘If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you’.

We received the gift of the Holy Spirit through our Baptism; we were strengthened and anointed by the Holy Spirit when we received the sacrament of confirmation and the Holy Spirit is poured out when we receive any of the sacraments of the church. However, it isn’t only through the sacraments that we receive the Holy Spirit because God distributes special graces according to his pleasure and will. The vocabulary of the language of the Holy Spirit is: gifts (Isaiah 11:2), charisms (1 Corinthians 12:8-10) and fruits (Galatians 5:22-24). This teaching is very much rooted in the renewal began by the Second Vatican Council:

‘It is not only through the sacraments that the Holy Spirit makes holy the people, leads them and enriches them with his virtues. Allotting his gifts as he wills (1 COR 12:11), he also distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts he makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks for the renewal and building up of the Church. These charisms are to be received with thanksgiving because they are fitting and useful for the needs of the Church.’ (Lumen Gentium 12).
We have been called to learn the language of the Holy Spirit by many of the popes of recent memory. Their familiarity and intimacy with the language of the Holy Spirit should inspire us to be a people of the Spirit. Paul VI, for example who carried on the work of the Council from Pope John XXIII said:

‘Have we forgotten the Holy Spirit? Certainly not! We want him, we honor him, and we love him. And you with your devotion, your fervor, your wish to live in the Spirit: this should be. It ought to rejuvenate the world, give it back a spirituality, a soul, a religious thought; it ought to reopen the world’s closed lips to prayer and open its mouth to song, to joy, to hymns, and to witnessing. It will be very fortunate for our time and for our brothers that there should be a whole generation your generation of young people – who shout out to the world the glory and greatness of the God of Pentecost.’

For Pope Emeritus Benedict every believer needs to grow familiar with the language of the Spirit, which he saw as the language of heaven:
‘Do not grow weary of turning to heaven: the world stands in need of prayer. It needs men and women who feel the attraction of Heaven in their life, who make praise to the Lord a new way of life. And may you be joyful Christians! I entrust you all to Mary Most Holy, present in the Upper Room at the event of Pentecost. Persevere with her in prayer, walk guided by the light of the living Holy Spirit, proclaiming the Good News of Christ.’

‘Wherever the Holy Spirit is, there is freedom’ (2 Corinthians 3:17).

This freedom, the freedom the Holy Spirit brings is the freedom to live a son or daughter of God, moving and living in the power of the Spirit and living the life in the Spirit. Pope Francis said;

‘There is no greater freedom than that of allowing oneself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, letting him enlighten, guide and direct us, leading us wherever he will. The Holy Spirit knows well what is needed in every time and every place.’

And so, we join our prayer to the prayer of the prophetic visionary of the Second Vatican Council, that man of the Spirit, who opened the windows of the church so that the Holy Spirit would breath his light, life and refreshment and create a new Pentecost so that we could speak not the language of our own strength but the language of the Holy Spirit.

‘Renew Your wonders in this our day, as by a new Pentecost Grant to your church that, being of one mind and steadfast in prayer with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and following the lead of blessed Peter, it may advance the reign of Jesus the Lord, the reign of truth and justice, the reign of love and peace. Amen.’ (Pope John XXIII).

Read More
Bible Alive Articles

The Gift of Discernment Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment

The Bishops of the world are getting ready for their next Synod in October 2018 when they will gather to discuss the theme: Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment.

Pope Francis has a great heart for young people and recognizes that they face many challenges and hurdles in discerning God’s plan for their lives in conformity with his will.

To this end Pope Francis has written a letter, a heart to heart, person to person, one to one, affectionate letter, expressing his deep and profound desire to encourage them to hear God’s call, as Abraham received God’s call many centuries ago:

‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you’. (Gen 12.1). These words are now also addressed to you. They are words of a Father who invites you to ‘go’, to set out towards a future which is unknown but one which will surely lead to fulfilment, a future towards which he himself accompanies you. I invite you to hear God’s voice resounding in your heart through the breath of the Holy Spirit. (Pope Francis).

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales have published the booklet ‘Youth, Faith and Vocational Discernment’ in the hope that many young people in England and Wales will read it with intense interest and soak up the challenges and vision it presents.The essence of the booklet is to encourage young people to make decisions for their future in the light of the call of Jesus, who wants only what is best for them, but of course, what is best is not always what is most comfortable!

Pope Francis has suggested that the demographic of what it means to be a young person is between the ages of 16 and 29. If we don’t fall into this category we may feel that the Synod and its theme hasn’t much to say to us but this would be a mistake. Pope Francis is encouraging the whole Church to pay attention, reflect on and pray about what God is doing in the lives of young people today. This is because all of us, young and old alike, are called to respond to the grace of baptism and live the Christian life, a life in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are all called to put into the practice the gift and charism of discernment.

In this sense, understanding young people and the challenges they face helps us to grapple with, wrestle with and pray about how each of us, regardless of our age, or state in life, or job, occupation or profession, discerns God’s will. Discernment, then, is a gift, a gift from the Holy Spirit.

The Bible actually has a lot to say about discernment. The first thing to say, however, is that the scriptures recognize that discernment is not easy, it isn’t a ‘piece of cake’ or like ‘falling off a log.’ As the Psalmist prays: ‘Who can discern their own errors?’ (Psalm 19:12). The prophet Jeremiah, with piercing prophetic insight, wrote: ‘The human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick. Who can understand it?’ (Jeremiah 17:9). One of the reasons for this challenge and difficulty is what is in the heart. Jesus’ teaching on the human heart can be hard to hear for, as much as the human heart can produce many good and wonderful things, the heart can also produce evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony and slander (Matthew 15:19).

We need God’s gift of discernment to figure out what is going on inside of hearts. The grace of discernment is a blessing, an anointing, if you like, poured out upon us from above. But perhaps the key to the process of discernment is the humble confession that we actually find discernment challenging. How do we know what God wants for us? Does God want me to remain single, get married or enter the religious life? What job, occupation or profession does God want me to do? Or how to discern the best way forward in the midst of the problems life throws at us. There is a wisdom, a grace of humility and revelation required, whereby we confess and admit that we struggle to discern God’s plan and will, not only for our lives, but in many of the daily decisions and choices. This was the experience of the prophet Hosea who lamented: ‘Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them. (Hosea 14:9).

How do we get wisdom as the ancient sages used to plead? Well, we must devote and dedicate ourselves to finding wisdom. ‘Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost you all you have, get understanding.’ (Proverbs 4;7). The quest or adventure to acquire wisdom is nothing less than the call to holiness, the invitation of the grace of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist. St Paul expressed it like this: ‘Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is his good, pleasing and perfect will.’ (Romans 12:2).

We get wisdom by asking God for this most precious of gifts (James 4:4). Consider the insight of St Paul: ‘And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness, that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God’ (Philippians 1:9-11).

The gift of discernment, then, involves a two-way process. As St Augustine said: ‘God created us without us but doesn’t save us without us.’ As our love for God grows in knowledge and depth of insight (our part) we receive the tools (God’s grace) so that we can better discern God’s plan and will for our lives. St Ignatius of Loyola is a great example of someone for whom the gift and grace of discernment was an essential aspect of his charism and legacy. He encouraged his retreatants to examine not just their conscience but also the deep, mysterious and often confusing interior movements of the heart as they pondered the scriptures. He encouraged frequent self-questioning: What is God saying to me through this text of scripture? What is its meaning for my life? What do you want for my life, Lord?

This much we know. God definitely has a plan for all our lives. (‘For I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ (Jeremiah 29:11). For young people, part of God’s plan is, of course, the momentous and important process of discerning their state in life, be that as a single person, or to married life or in testing their vocation to the priesthood or religious life. It also involves discerning what profession, occupation or job they are called to. These are huge decisions and require prayer, research, patience, sound advice. Young people need freedom to make their own decision, supported and encouraged by their families but also their parish and the wider Church. However, God’s plan for our lives doesn’t stop there. God’s plan for all of us is the daily adventure and on-going invitation to a deeper conversion and seeing every day as a new opportunity to be a witness of God’s life, joy and love.

Read More
Bible Alive Articles

Pentecost Joy – Fr Raniero Cantalamessa

On Sunday June 4 we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Feast of Pentecost. Pentecost wasn’t and isn’t a once only event but rather a perennial one in which we can expect to receive a fresh and new outpouring of the Holy Spirit – a new Pentecost, if you will. Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, the Preacher to the Papal Household, leads us in a reflection on this great feast of the Church – the doorway through which we enter into the fullness and joy of the Christian life.

The account of the coming of the Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles begins with these words: ‘When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place’ (Acts 2:1). These words tell us that Pentecost existed before… Pentecost. In other words there was already a Pentecost feast in Judaism, and it was during this feast that the Holy Spirit descended. Just as we cannot comprehend Easter without considering the Hebrew Passover, of which it was the fulfillment, so we cannot comprehend the Christian Pentecost without considering the Hebrew Pentecost.

In the Old Testament there existed two fundamental interpretations of the feast of Pentecost. At the beginning Pentecost was the festival of the seven weeks, the day of the first fruits when a sheaf of the new crop was offered to the Lord. Later on, however, the festivity was given a new meaning; it was the feast celebrating the giving of the law on Mount Sinai and of the covenant, the feast, that is, that commemorated the events described in Exodus 19‑20. St Luke deliberately describes the descent of the Holy Spirit so as to evoke the theophany of Sinai. Church Liturgy confirms this interpretation as it has inserted Exodus 19 among the readings for the Pentecost vigil.

What is the significance of the fact that the Holy Spirit descends on the Church precisely on the day Israel recalls the gift of the law and the covenant? The answer is clear. It was to show that he is the new law, the spiritual law, which seals the new and eternal covenant and who consecrates the royal and priestly people that forms the Church. What a wonderful revelation on the meaning of Pentecost and on the Holy Spirit himself! St Augustine exclaimed: ‘Who wouldn’t be struck by this coincidence and at the same time by this difference? Fifty days pass between the celebration of the Passover and the day on which Moses received the law written by God’s finger on tablets of stone; similarly, fifty days after the death and resurrection of the one who like a lamb was slaughtered, the finger of God, that is the Holy Spirit, filled the faithful who were gathered together’ (The Spirit and the Letter, 16, 28).

Suddenly the prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel on the new covenant become clear: ‘This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them and I will write it upon their hearts’ (Jer 31:33). He will no longer write it on tablets of stone but upon their hearts; it will no longer be an exterior law but an interior one. Ezekiel explains what this interior law consists of when he takes up again Jeremiah’s prophecy and completes it: ‘A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances’ (Ez 36:27). St Paul confirms this interpretation by saying: ‘The law of the Spirit which gives life in Jesus Christ has set me free from the law of sin and death’ (Rom 8:2). Here the ‘law of the Spirit’ means, in fact, ‘the law which is the Spirit.’

But how does this new law of the Spirit work in practice and in what way can it be called a ‘law’? It works through love! The new law is nothing other than what Jesus called the ‘new commandment.’ The Holy Spirit has written the new law on our hearts by pouring his love into them: ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us’ (Rom 5:5). This love is the love with which God loves us and through which, at the same time, he makes us love him and our neighbour. It is a new capacity to love.

Those who approach the Gospel in a human way find it absurd that love should be a ‘commandment’; they question what kind of love it could be if it is not freely given but commanded. The answer is that there are two ways in which man can be driven to do or not do something: either by force or by attraction, either by pushing or by pulling. In the first case the law forces him under the threat of punishment; in the second case love makes him act because he is attracted to something. In fact, each one of us is drawn to what we love without feeling obliged by external factors. Show a child some nuts, says again St Augustine,  and he’ll stretch out his hand to seize them. He doesn’t need to be pushed; he is attracted by the object he desires. Show the Supreme Good to a soul thirsting for truth and it will reach out for it. Nobody pushes the soul, it is attracted by what it desires. Love is the ‘weight’ of a soul which draws it as if by a law of gravity to what it loves and where it finds its rightful rest (On the Gospel of John 26, 4‑5). Christian life is meant to be lived by attraction, not by force, out of love, not out of fear!

It is in this sense that the Holy Spirit is a ‘law,’ a ‘commandment’; it gives the faithful Christian an energy which makes him do all that God wants, spontaneously and without even thinking about it, because he has made God’s will his and he loves all that God loves. It’s like ‘being in love’ when everything is done joyfully and spontaneously and not out of fear or habit. The same change that falling in love creates in human life and in the relationship between two people is created by the coming of the Holy Spirit in the relationship between God and man. Pentecost is the door to the fullness and joy of Christian life.

Read More
Bible Alive Articles

The Gifts of Easter

Eastertide is a wonderful season in the life of the church. It begins with the victory of Easter Sunday (April 16) and reaches its summit, with a new coming of the Holy Spirit, on Pentecost Sunday (June 4).

The glory of Jesus’ Passion gives way to the joy of the Risen Christ and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

The Gifts of Easter invites us on an adventure as we contemplate together the many gifts of this holy season. The first gift of Easter is the gift of the Holy Spirit from which many others flow: the gift of scripture, the gift of life, the gift of prayer, the gift of unity, the gift of peace and, of course, the gift of the fruits of the Spirit.

The Liturgy of the Word focuses on the Acts of the Apostles. St Luke’s masterpiece is a thrilling read, full of the dynamic action and joy of the Holy Spirit working through the apostles.

St John Chrysostom said of the the Acts of the Apostles: ‘To many people, this book, both its content and its author, is so little known that they are not even aware it exists. I have therefore taken this narrative for my subject, both to initiate those who are ignorant and so that such a treasure shall not remain hidden out of sight. For indeed it will profit us no less than the Gospels themselves, so replete is it with Christian wisdom and sound doctrine, especially in what is said concerning the Holy Spirit.’ (Homilies on the Acts of the Apostles 1)

I highly recommend its reading. You will be richly blessed. The courage, joy, enthusiasm and conviction of the first apostles is inspiring and infectious.

God is love and it is the gift of love which is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). The first apostles were, first and foremost, witnesses of the love of God poured into their hearts.

We eagerly desire a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit and his gifts on Pentecost Sunday, especially the gift of love (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:1-13).

Be expectant that the Spirit will be poured out in a new and exciting way. Replacing fear with courage, love with hate, timidity with boldness; warming our lukewarm hearts, renewing our spirits and filling us with the joy of the Holy Spirit, forming us into missionary disciples.

And so we pray: Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful. And kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And you will renew the face of the earth.

The Gift of the Spirit

Jesus returned to the Father and sent the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus promised to baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. This promise was fulfilled on the feast of Pentecost. The blessing of Pentecost is a perennial gift to the Church.

In Baptism we receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit; in Confirmation we are strengthened by the Holy Spirit.

Our vocation invites us to fan into flame the fire of the Spirit. God’s love is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5) and we receive the forgiveness of our sins.

Through the gifts, charisms and fruits of the Holy Spirit we witness to being children of God.

The Gift of Scripture

The prophet Jeremiah wrote: ‘Stand at the crossroads, and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is; and walk in it, and find you will rest for your souls’ (Jeremiah 6:16).

St Paul wrote many centuries later: ‘Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope’ (Romans 15:4).

The gift of the Holy Spirit opens up for us the gift of the sacred scriptures, and in them we discover ever afresh and anew, the riches and treasures of the mystery of Christ.
The Holy Bible is our gift and our treasure and through prayer and study we find strength and nourishment to carry out our mission.

The Gift of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Jesus spoke a lot about fruit. A good tree produces good fruit; a bad tree, bad fruit. ‘We don’t pick grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles’ (Matthew 7:16).

Jesus taught that his disciples would be recognized by their love for one another (John 13:35) and the fruit in their lives (Matthew 7:20).
Through baptism we were chosen and appointed to bear fruit that will last – but what kind of fruit?

St Paul describes the fruit of the Holy Spirit: ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control’ (Galatians 5:22).

The Gift of Life

Life is truly a precious gift. We value life, protect it and cherish it from the cradle to the grave.

However, in Christ, life isn’t merely existing but is being fully human and fully alive.

Life is about having a living relationship with God and experiencing all that God intends for us as children of the Father (John 10:10).

The key to knowing God’s life is the Holy Spirit, which we received in all its fullness at Baptism, and are strengthened in at our Confirmation.

The Holy Spirit is a pledge guaranteeing our inheritance to the praise of God’s glory (Ephesians 1:14).

The Gift of Faith

The Bible describes faith like this: ‘Faith is being sure of what we hope for, certain of what we cannot see’ (Hebrews 11:1).

Human reason leads us to see in the created world the design and imprint of the good Creator: ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that we are without excuse’ (Romans 1:20).

However, human reason alone cannot grasp the revealed truths of our faith – for this we need the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that we can understand what God has freely given us (1 Corinthians 2:12).

The Gift of Prayer

Jesus did not leave us as orphans but asked the Father to send the Holy Spirit (John 14:16).

The Holy Spirit is the Counsellor, the Spirit of truth, who guides and strengthens us in many ways.

One of these ways is in helping us to pray – the gift of prayer is the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit intercedes for us and gives us the grace to pray as children of God, to our heavenly Father, ‘Abba.’

With confidence then, and filled with the Spirit, we pray the ‘Our Father’, that God’s kingdom would come and his will be done, on earth, as it is heaven.

The Gift of Unity

The Psalmist prayed: ‘How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!’ (Psalm 133:1).

Jesus prayed that his disciples would be one, as he and the Father are one, and brought to complete unity:

‘May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me’ (John 17:23).

Unity and peace are gifts of the Holy Spirit.

This week, as we prepare for the feast of Pentecost, we pray for an outpouring of the gifts of peace and unity in our lives, in our homes, in our parishes and in the Body of Christ.

The Gift of Peace

It is striking that Jesus’ first words to the disciples after his resurrection were ‘Peace be with you’ (John 20:19).

He repeated his message twice more, as if to highlight its importance (John 20: 21, 26).

Peace is more than the absence of war or a sense of inner calm. Peace is, first and foremost, peace with God.

‘Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:1).

Peace is a gift of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) and by God’s grace, peace can dwell in and rule our hearts.

‘Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful’ (Colossians 3:15)