Well done everyone!
While voting for any particular party is a matter of conscience, the bishops encourage people to use their vote at this pivotal time for our nations, as we prepare to leave the EU.
When using their vote, people are encouraged to consider where their candidate and party stands on issues including refugees and asylum seekers, leaving the EU, protecting life, religious freedom and prison reform
Additional information is available at the church entrances.
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.’ The world contains great joy and great sorrow. There is great love and great hate. There is great health and great illness and pain. There is great hunger and great abundance. There is great good fortune and great misfortune. How does one reconcile this suffering with a totally good God. It is true that much of our suffering and pain results from ones own actions and words and much from the actions and words of other people. Even if I can blame myself or others for a lot of my suffering there still remains a lot of suffering which I cannot blame on anybody. So where does this leave me? It leaves me with the very same problem; Why does a totally good God allow suffering? Why did the Creator create a world where suffering is endemic? Over the years I have read everything I have come across on this subject. All are helpful to a greater or lesser degree on a theological and intellectual level. Not very useful on a practical, ‘ad hoc’, here and now situation. At this stage in my life I think that the answer must come from within, on two levels. Firstly, the person best qualiﬁed to bring comfort is one who has suffered the same type of pain or grief. One who actually feels the pain and grief of the sufferer. This ability is a precious gift to those who have actually suffered and grown with the experience, and should be recognised and used to bring comfort and acceptance to others. This is a ministry which many of you possess without realising it. Anyone of you who have undergone or are still undergoing, pain and grief, and still hold to your faith and trust in a totally good God, have a great potential to bring comfort and healing to those presently experiencing pain and grief. Not so much by what you can say to them but rather by your compassionate and understanding presence. By sharing in their pain and loss. Secondly the person them self who is suffering, must try and reach into them self and hold tight to their faith and trust in the total goodness of their God despite what they are going through now. For example; After Jesus was tempted for forty days in the wilderness and was exhausted, and again in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was overcome with dread of his approaching execution, we are told that angels came to comfort and strengthen him. Here, Angels can be taken as symbols, meaning that Jesus received comfort and strength from his total belief and trust in his God. It was his belief and trust in the total goodness of God and that his total wellbeing was safely in God’s hands, that gave him comfort and strength to live through this pain, grief and distress. This is what I mean when I say that the answer to pain and grief must come from within. From within the comforter and the sufferer. It must come from my God who dwells within me. How else could the early Christians face or even contemplate being torn to pieces by wild animals in the colosseum for the amusement of the crowds. How else can a parent survive the death of a child and yet believe in a totally good God. How else can one survive the long drawn out pain and death of a lifelong marriage partner and yet trust in one’s God. So when all is said and done we are left with the mystery of God and the apparent contradiction between perceived reality and the words of Jesus – ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.’
“I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” Like most of Scripture the above statement has meaning on a number of levels. Firstly it means that my life here on this physical earth is never full or complete. Can never be full and complete. All life here on earth can never be permanently sustainable. It is limited and circumscribed. It is fragile and changeable. Can swing from great to terrible. As the years go by It is subject to an ever greater need for healing. Permanent and deﬁnitive healing and fulness of life is not possible in this physical world. The life of Jesus of Nazareth was subject to the very same laws and restrictions during his whole life here on earth. For him fullness of life only came with death and resurrection. Permanent and deﬁnitive healing only came through death and resurrection into the Eternal Life of God. This is the gift he gave us. So too for you and I. Fulness of life, permanent and deﬁnitive healing will only come to us with death and resurrection into the eternal life of God. That is our destiny. That is why we were created and born. Secondly my life here on earth can have a certain direction and fulness or can be directionless and empty. Some young, unattached people, and not so young, unattached people can boast of their freedom. They can, up to a point, do what they like, when they like. But a time comes when this much vaunted freedom seems to pall, seems empty and pointless. There is something missing. It is only when their inward focused attention and self-centred concerns begin to look and focus outwards that life begins to bring a certain fulness. It is often when they commit themselves in love to another person and begin a family that their life begins to ﬁnd fulness and meaning. The very sort of life they avoided in the past is the very thing which brings satisfaction, fulness and meaning to their life. So fullness of life is possible, up to a point, even here in this physical world. Strangely enough it comes, not from self-satisfaction but from selﬂessness. Not from acquisitiveness but from sharing. Not from freedom to do whatever I like whenever I like but from the freedom to serve the needs of others. Is this not embryonic Christianity? Is this not the ﬁrst step in understanding the message of Jesus of Nazareth? Christianity is recognising all people as my immediate family – especially orphans and refugees. John 4. ‘Jesus said to them. My food is to do the will of him who sent me.’ John 6. Jesus said ‘I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.’ How strange it is that even here on earth fullness of life only comes from looking after others, from service to others and not, as one would expect, from just looking after oneself.
For many years I was plagued by the ogre of obligation. Religion for me was a plethora of obligations to be fulfilled. This attitude and belief was nurtured by those plagued by the same ogre. I now believe that this is the devils greatest tool for denigrating God and destroying the peace and joy which worshiping God should bring. It presents God as a demanding taskmaster who punishes for noncompliance. Nothing is further from the truth.
The root of the problem seems to be anthropomorphism. That is attributing to God our own human attitudes and mores, as for instance equation God with our own kings, emperors, rulers etc.
Within our church (and all churches and religions, as in politics and all social organisations ) we have the people who believe that members must be compelled and required to do the right thing in all aspects of life by passing laws which must be obeyed under pain of punishment. This is what I mean by the ogre of obligation. It deprives a person of freedom by instilling the fear of punishment for non compliance. One can see the point of this when you consider aspects of life like traffic laws etc. but when it comes to God, where the whole point and aim is to love God and our neighbour it is totally inadequate and counterproductive not to speak of insulting. How can you legislate for love? How can you compel love? How can you demand love under pain of punishment?
1 John 4. ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.’ Rom. 8. ‘For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, Abba, Father! The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.’
In the secular world love is commonly downgraded to physical intercourse, or love of another’s bank account or power or fame. But the love of which we speak here is appreciation, admiration, trust, mutual support, liking, friendship, steadfastness, honour, gratitude etc.
This is the love one hopes for from a marriage partner, from one’s children, from one’s friends and relatives. This is the love that God hopes for from his beloved children. It cannot be legislated or demanded or required or compelled. It is spontaneous, it is genuine, it is truth, it is persistent. So you can see how inappropriate it is to set up obligations when it comes to our relationship with our God. You can see how inappropriate it is for me to even think of obligation in my relationship with my God. Obligation under pain of censure poisons my relationship with my God just as it would poison my relationship with my marriage partner or my children. True religion (no matter which brand) is built on the realisation of what my God has done for me, and appreciation of God’s goodness, faithfulness and love. This gives rise to a sense of gratitude to my God. Then all my religious practises ( be it mass, prayer or sharing my good fortune with the needy) flow from this ever increasing sense of gratitude and hopefully (with God’s help) will evolve into genuine love.
Another way of looking at it is that an obligation is only an obligation if I do not want to do it. I have to be compelled to do it under pain of some punishment for non-compliance. For example I can only oblige you to run a marathon if you are not willing to do it freely. If you are willing and want to run a marathon I cannot oblige you to do it. The obligation fades away in the face of your willingness to do it.
So doing something because I am obliged to do it only proves that I do not really want to do it. Gratitude and love cannot exist under these circumstances.
‘Jesus said to him. Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ It is not just Thomas who found it hard to believe that Jesus of Nazareth had risen from the dead. All the Apostles had the same problem. We read; ‘When he had risen, early on the ﬁrst day of the week, he appeared ﬁrst to Mary Magdalene. She went and told his companions who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.’ ‘The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them. When they saw him, they worshiped, but they doubted.’ ‘Then they returned from the tomb and announced all these things to the eleven and to all the others. The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James; the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles, but their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them.’ The Apostles had to see or at least experience the presence of the Risen Lord in some way before they could believe. It was not sufﬁcient for them to be told. I suppose there are people who can believe in the Risen Lord just because they have been told by people they can trust. There are people who can believe in the Risen Lord (in God) by their power of deduction, reasoning and logic. Many act as if they believe because it is the safest option. But for most of us our belief is, at least halfhearted unless we have had some experience of the Risen Lord. These experiences can be as different as the persons who experience them and can be meaningless if explained to others. They are personal to the person. It is very often through suffering, rejection, failure and other types of distress that we receive these experiences. It can be an ability to forgive, the diminution of anger or hurt, the ability to love or the realisation of being loved etc. etc. I do not know if one should actively seek or pray for such an experience. It seems that our God visits these experiences on his beloved children in his own good time and when they are capable of receiving them. The general idea is to keep the door open at all times.