Boys And Girls

Dear Girls and Boys,

You are living in the best time of history the world has ever known and you must help the grown-ups to understand. You know how you can talk and send messages to family and friends in any part of the world.

You will keep on learning in ways many grown-ups will not always understand but they will be happy for you. Be gentle with them and smile as they try and understand new ways, new technology. Some of them will want to tell you of “good old days” when they were younger. Let them tell you because people like to share happy memories. When they were young they did not know much about what was happening around the world so it did not disturb or worry them. You know more about climate change, earthquakes, refugees and migrants than they ever knew.

Nobody told them. Wicked people did not want them to think for themselves but only to think what they were told they could think. The people who told them were dictators. They were in governments and religions and willing to kill anyone who stood in their way, even saying it was good to kill.

But it is your world and you can change it. You can show us how to be friends with everyone around the world. Will you show us the way? You may already be the best young people the world has ever known, able to make friends everywhere. If people learn from you we shall have a beautiful world where people are kind, helpful, and no one feels left out.

When you have shown the way the young people who follow you will see you growing up to become older but still full of kindness and they can be the same – and so will the young people who follow them!

You can give the world a new start, show us how to like and love one another and to love and look after all Creation. I want to believe people will say “The girls and boys of 2023 gave a wonderful new start to our world. We shall always remember them.” Be like Jesus and help people to love one another as he did. That’s how we see you, being like Jesus.

God bless you,

Fr John

(28th May 2023)

Related Links: Popular Reads and Fr John’s Parish Newsletters

The Greatest Suffering, Dementia & Alzheimers

I have been in hospital chaplaincy for eight years in south Wales, six years in East Anglia, twelve years in Leicester. The greatest suffering I have seen over those many years is Dementia/Alzheimer’s (D/A), the burden borne by loving families and carers. The terrible switches in mood, the confused vicious and spiteful words of those who are ill listened to by people who love them.

Two sisters had a mother who needed to be looked after. The one refused absolutely, saying she could not bear to live with her mother. She would visit every month. No more. In those monthly visits the mother would grumble about the daughter looking after her to the ‘lovely’ daughter who came to visit her. It was hard for the care-giver sister to take. When she begged her sister to look after the mother for a week or two so that she could have a holiday with her family she was told to pay to put the mother in a home out of the care allowance that she received.

I have sat with family when the D/A sufferers have formed new relationships. The husband or wife has to watch the spouse holding hands lovingly with someone else, knowing they have no place now in the memory of someone they still love but who does not even know who they are. They have told me of the loneliness of going home when the warmth of memories become cold, sad and painful.

Children are affected in various ways, finding their loyalties divided, even siding with one parent or the other and remembering moments in previous years which suddenly are recalled. Children remember not being favoured more easily than being a favourite and old jealousies can come alive. What bitterness might be in the earlier years that was not resolved, resentments were buried, but are suddenly brought alive in hurtful shouting and sneering insults, daughters confused with mothers and sons with fathers, even grandchildren disliked because they remind the D/A sufferer of another family member whose place in resentment they discover they have been given.

Ignorant and arrogant people pride themselves on knowing more than caring family or experienced care-givers. They take at face value what the D/A person says, give credence to delusions and say “There is nothing wrong with you” which causes tensions in the day-by-day burden of care and mood swings.

Suffering is hard to witness but good nurses and doctors taught me by their example. Every patient receives full attention but must give way to the next patient who will also receive full attention. To move from someone making a recovery to someone almost certain to die is the day-to-day in dedicated nursing. The work on the ward round is to reassure every patient “We are here for you and you must allow us to be equally here for everyone else.” I was grateful for learning from such wise and caring staff. I asked one doctor what he felt about being a doctor. “Grateful,” he said, “that I can help bring healing.” That was a perfect answer.

To help make life worth living is a privilege all of us can share by acts and words of kindness and gentle silences. But it costs. The rejection by loved ones, unable to remember anything good about you, can cause great loneliness. Care for the carers is our duty: help and appreciation they need, not criticism.

We pray for all carers but especially for those hurt by the D/A sufferers and those who think they know better.

God bless us with understanding and gratitude for those who care with love,

Fr John

(21st May 2023)

Related Links: Popular Reads and Fr John’s Parish Newsletters

Church And Church Attendance

Church and school were only a few hundred yards from my home and I tried to go to mass every morning when I was a teenager. I loved the silence.

Some people read from prayer books, others said the rosary, others simply knelt there. A community of separated prayer – but a community. We knew each other. Smiles, waves, no talking. Off to work, school, home, shopping, bed (after night shifts). We met at the silent mass.

On Sunday we had the 10.30 high mass. Now we could hear and sing the Latin, the only time. But people found it boring and I know other churches had the same problem. The intense nostalgia for the mass in Latin that I have met is romanticised. A parish heard the Latin once a week. The rest was silence.

Church attendance began to be recorded in the late 1940’s to help plan post-World War II renewal. Our parish priest told us that the number at mass each Sunday was disappointing – about 1,100, just over a quarter of the 4,000 in the parish address book. The good old days? Where were the nearly 75% who did not come? We understood his disappointment. Holy Communion was given only at the two early masses on Sunday, 15% of the parish came to Holy Communion. Confessions averaged 150 per week, 4%, many of them regulars.

Was your parish like that: 96% never came to confession, 85% rarely to Holy Communion? These figures were given me by three priests in our church in Cardiff, eight years after Vatican II. The good old days never were. They are the memories of people who want to imagine the best. There are no records to support them: 30% at mass, 15% at Holy Communion, 4% at confession. Those are figures of failure: 70%, 85%, 96% were hardly sharing Catholic life.

Unless we hear of God’s love the teachings of the Church will fail. It has failed miserably in our own lifetime if we measure by numbers. Jesus failed, too. Pontius Pilate had never heard of him; St Paul, a devout Pharisee and only eight years younger than Jesus, had never heard of him. God came and went and seemingly left the world unchanged. Religious men have tried to impose religion by war, conquest, crusade, cruelty, slavery, political alliances, and have failed.

Abuse of peoples in alliance with empire in Western Europe, Africa and the Americas, abuse of women and children by predatory priests, synod meetings straining at gnats like closing churches and changing mass times whilst swallowing camels like the use of nuclear weapons and tribal hatreds and slaughter as in Rwanda and South Sudan and the nominally Christian countries of Europe, 1914- 18 and 1939-45. Did the bishops of the Christian tribes talk to each other or did they kneel before the power of national loyalties? Uninspiring hierarchies wherever we look except for the brave ones who spoke and speak out and were/are condemned.

God’s love is the message. But I remind you of these words of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI “How much filth there is in the Church and even in the priesthood which ought to belong entirely to God.” The world knows. It hears the weeping of children and women and the voices of the Mystical Body, the living saints who speak of God’s love in all that they do. They are the mission and we hear them at home, school, in the parishes, where genuine love is lived.

They give God to us. We thank them.

God blesses us.

Fr John

(7th May 2023)

Related Links: Popular Reads and Fr John’s Parish Newsletters

Ukraine Invasion By Putin of Russia (3)

If we see Zelensky and Putin embrace what will you think? So much hatred there has been, so much suffering and death, and unhappiness will dominate the lives of millions. And those two embrace?

Would you feel glad or angry? Have you been praying for peace or for victory? If the two leaders embrace it will be peace: if they speak separately it will be victory and both will present their version of the truth to please those who want to claim victory.

In 1945 World War II ended. The people celebrated VE Day, Victory in Europe Day. There were no celebrations in Germany. I remember (I was ten) being angry in church. Candles, incense, singing, prayers, thanking God for victory. VE Day. A few months later, after atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we celebrated Victory in Japan day.

Are you praying for a victory in the Ukraine or for Ukraine, or for all who have suffered and need now to create or build a better world? When that day of hostilities’ ceasing comes we can go back to how we were or look forward to creating a new world with our children who know nothing of how we were. Today’s world is all they know.

The oldest amongst us can tell the children that something costing 50p really costs ten shillings. Ten shillings wouldn’t buy you an ice-cream but ten shillings was a day’s wage for a working man, £5 per week, in the years after World War II. The very elderly remember and are angry that their reality is no longer acceptable. Do you get angry or do you lose your temper? Being angry is good because it judges what is not right and that we must do something; but losing your temper does no one any good, it is being selfish or self-indulgent.

I want to see Zelensky and Putin embrace. I want them to love the people they have been killing, to regard them all as their own, to suffer for and with all of them whether their colours are blue and yellow or red.

What a world their embrace might begin to create. I wonder if football fans with their violence and fights would be inspired or turn on each other even more violently unless separated by police or soldiers.

What problems will remain when the war in Ukraine comes to an end? The ones we face every day now: nurses and doctors attacked on hospital wards, women and children and men battered in their own homes, people in labour and migration camps, alcoholics, gamble and drug addicts, greed, the very wealthy looking to be very very wealthy, the powerful to become more powerful, abandoned and rejected to be rescued, those without food to be fed and education for everyone to know the dignity of good work and given their place in creating a new world.

God is with us and we are with each other. Love of our neighbour is first, to be shared by the human family in ending all prejudices, and then love of God for those who believe in God. “Love one another,” said Jesus, and “Be perfect as you heavenly Father is perfect.” Embrace the world.

God bless us,

Fr John

Related Links: Popular Reads and Fr John’s Parish Newsletters

(30th April 2023)

Church, Community And Parish

Church is a community of people and the name given to the place where they gather. Parish is a territory, established by Church law regularly called Canon law. We are free to attend any church, feeling part of the community wherever we go; but we are required by Church law to be registered in a parish, otherwise we cannot request Baptism, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Marriage.

Feel welcome in the House of God, able to be in the church building or by sharing the prayer from around the parish, country, the world: we are God’s people. You are asked to register with St Joseph’s parish if you live here in our area of Leicester. Church is with whom you pray and you should feel welcome to pray with everyone around the world, but parish registration gives you rights from the bishop and his officials, curia, committees. Do claim those rights and the responsibilities that they include. Giving and being given are like a contract.

These are the legal requirements of our Nottingham Diocese and the Catholic Church but I am aware that there are many who come to the church, pray with us, give and help in various ways, at mass and in our community life. They are one with us and are also included in this request and invited to complete a registration form.

Come, feel at home, feel welcome. We belong together, listening to and learning from one another. How difficult that can be. I give you examples:

(1) Whose voice do you prefer when thinking of and praying for the child in the womb? Choose Jeremiah and Isaac “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”, “In your mother’s womb I called you by name”, or the pro-choice voices like President Joe Biden’s legislating for abortion even up to a moment before the birth.

(2) Whose voice finds echo in your heart: supremacy of race or colour or caste – or conciliation and the joy of being one human family?

(3) At the Paschal Meal/Last Supper when Jesus had given his sacramental body and blood to the families he said “Do this in memory of me.” Was everyone present included? Jesus makes no exception. It seems a divine command and the women are included. Explain the Church’s teaching which seems not to follow the divine command.

(4) My friend says “I have a lot of questions for God. I lost my job and family within a short space of time. Where is the life in this?” How do we answer such pain? Will you help me to answer?

The world seems to be shaping itself in new ways, above all by wonderful communication, and the children seem to understand. This is the only world they know. Isaiah said “A little child shall lead them”, and it is coming true.

God is asking us to accept responsibility in every area of life on earth. Do not be afraid. We can do it as all past generations have done. It is now our turn.

God bless us to be, not only Christians but also, other Christs,

Fr John

Related Links: Popular Reads and Fr John’s Parish Newsletters

(23rd April 2023)

Easter Prayer And Joy

Thank you to all who made possible our celebrations during Holy Week and Easter. The changing decor of the church reflected the themes of each service, which were reverently attended and served by our liturgical teams – sacristans, stewards, readers, ministers of the Eucharist, musicians and singers, the Maundy Thursday offertory procession. Thank you to my young helper at the Easter Sunday mass, who also added her inspirations to the tomb this year – the angel of the Lord, the Lamb of God and even Palm Sunday’s donkey. It has been a blessed time. Thank you.

I share with you again our themes of Lenten prayer and Easter joy:

1. Jesus is the living fountain of water for the Samaritans.
2. Jesus is the light in the darkness for the man born blind.
3. Jesus is the life of resurrection for Simon Lazarus.
4. Jesus is the sin of the world – crucified for us and we are forgiven.
5. Our punishment for sin and wrong-doing is in being forgiven.
Now we know the torment to have hurt someone we love. It is the ultimate pain. “I hurt you and I love you . . . I love you but I have hurt you.”
6. Heaven and hell are not places. They are within us, not we in them.
7. I know I am forgiven but I shall always be sorry . . . I know I love but I long to grow in love, infinite and eternal.
8. “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect,” said Jesus.
9. I can be like God.“
10. What is your God like?”
“Like me.”
“Then I can believe in God because I can believe in you.”

Do you remember those themes at mass? They are wonderful for meditation and I hope that in your own prayer you carried from mass what we had all been sharing together. To be like God is a wonderful call and we have all received it.

This week I completed the weekly cycles of treatment I was receiving for myeloma. The hospital has told me how remarkable my recovery has been and will continue to monitor me through doctor’s monthly telephone consultations. Thank you for your prayers over these past months and for the many cards and greetings and gifts you have sent me for Easter.

Every day you are in my prayer. God bless you.

Fr John

Related Links: Popular Reads and Fr John’s Parish Newsletters

(16th April 2023)

Black Jesus

Pax Christi (Peace of Christ) thank us for our support at St Joseph’s and St Paul’s schools. We have just ordered another 10,000 of the Black Jesus Window prayer cards in Birmingham, Alabama, with the message of reconciliation and love. People locally and from around the country are asking us to send them packs. Each pack of ten cards costs 50p and finances the next orders. The ten you give to people who would appreciate them may cause ten other families to want to do the same.

Our Catholic schools are on mission in ways parishes at present are not. The schools influence every Catholic home through our students – a dynamic illustration of what Catholic education can inspire. Fausta at Pax Christi tells me they are overwhelmed by our support and on their website have told their supporters of what we are doing. We laughed at the possibility that everyone in the country might eventually receive a card – from our quiet beginning at St Joseph’s and St Paul’s.

The mission of Jesus “love one another” is alive in our Catholic schools and they can inspire our parishes. We are one in Jesus in the blessing of God.

Fr John

(12th March 2023)

Related Links: Popular Reads and Fr John’s Parish Newsletters

Windsor Framework

I was disappointed as I listened to Rishi Sunak and Ursula von der Leyen presenting their vision for Northern Ireland: how fortunate the North for having such a privileged economic position, we were told.

Northern Ireland is not an economic question, it is an emotional one. The DUP will not accept this offer. They want their hearts listened to more than business and trade deals. They want the Ian Paisley “listen to and understand our history” and similar speakers on both sides of the Peace Line who know and love their people and are ready to know and love the others. They want to laugh and cry and pray together, make friends across the divide, across the Peace Line.

Twice I gave 10-day parish missions in St Agnes, Andersontown, in West Belfast in the time of the Troubles. We had mass three times a day, a crowded church, and we prayed and longed for peace. One of the parish explained simply: “The problem and the solution in Northern Ireland is friendship. I am a Catholic and my best friend is a Protestant. That’s us. Friendship is the answer. We can stand together on the Peace Line and make peace a reality.”

The men and women of violence and the drugs gangs are the enemies of Northern Ireland: the everyday kindness of neighbours is the quiet constant healing. Two families told me of having Ian Paisley as their MP and how kind and helpful he was. The good voices in Northern Ireland are full of longing for justice and kindness and consider that more important than economic talk. The people need protection from violence, drugs gangs, robberies, as we all do, and they have a brave police force appreciated by the people for the courage with which it tries to protect them.

I longed for Rishi and Ursula to understand that Geoffrey Donaldson has a Northern Ireland heart that beats faster than trade deals.

God bless us heart and mind,

(Fr John)

(4th March 2023)

Related Links: Popular Reads and Fr John’s Parish Newsletters

Humble Of Heart

Pope Francis awaits. He is trusting us to pray, think and act with all our heart. Do you throw a few words in God’s direction and call them prayer? That is how the only parish priest saint in the history of the Church accused his people of thoughtless prayer. Are we the same? We know what Pope Francis inherited, failures by Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI and both admitted it. It is in Benedict’s last books. Francis knows the people are his hope because the old system has failed.

The people of God must hear the message of Jesus “Love one another as I have loved you” in contrast to the “Obey what we say” that encourages people to remain safely quiet. “We don’t come to church to think but to pray,” say some believers, having chosen a relationship with God that leaves them comfortable but leaves all that needs to be done to be done by others.

The moral approach to teaching the faith is the one many learnt at school: this is right, that is wrong. Many priests chose, and still do, to preach like that. In contrast, the pastoral approach starts with the persons who are hurt or feel excluded and asks how they want to be helped.

Pope Francis wants us to welcome them all, reassured of God’s love and our lovingly welcoming them. Two different approaches, aren’t they: right or wrong, helping in any circumstances. With Pope Francis see how those two approaches blend rather than exclude one another . . . Jesus told the people of his day that the scribes and pharisees made the Law too heavy a burden whilst he wanted to make their burden light.

“I am gentle and humble of heart. Learn from me, my burden is light and you will find rest for your souls.” We should be humble of heart. We listen to Jesus rather than to lawyers but discover that Jesus fulfils the Law and brings it to perfection. In Jesus the moral and pastoral are made perfect. The more we become like him the more clearly we see that truth.

Pope Francis is inviting us to create this new balance but until he invites the women as equals half the Church feels excluded. Pope Francis knows that. How will you help him? “But whatever I think or do, others are just as I am – can’t I leave it to them?” They are leaving it to you. God longs to bless us. We must learn how to accept that blessing.

God is blessing us always,

Fr John

(19th February 2023)

Related Links: Popular Reads and Fr John’s Parish Newsletters

Abba, Father

At mass on Sunday 5th February I was overwhelmed. I told the people later. We were saying the first part of the ‘Gloria’ and I knew I was talking to the Father as Jesus told us we could, in the beauty of a child-parent relationship which, we all know, lasts a life-time. I was praying as Jesus did and he told us we can say “abBA” for his Father, meaning Dad or Daddy.

My friend Bill served in occupied Palestine at the end of World War II. Patrolling the street he saw a father and mother deep in conversation and their small son following behind them wanting to look at everything. The boy suddenly realised they were leaving him behind and began to run, calling out “abBA, abBA!” The father turned and came back to embrace and pick up his son. Bill was a priest when he told me that story. In that moment of enlightenment he understood Jesus’ gospel invitation that we can speak to the Father as he did. Last Sunday the understanding became a reality and I was overwhelmed.

No one has ever heard me say “Abba” in my 55 years as a priest but I have never heard a reader say “abBA”, which means they haven’t heard me. Sadly, I acknowledge that people only part listen to the word of God in church, just as we only part listen to the Word of God in our lives.

When you hear the gospel being read at mass do you know which of the four gospel accounts is being read? You were told only a moment ago.

Forgotten already? Not even heard, because you were thinking of something else. Strangely, these genuine and honest people claim they remember word for word what they heard in school or church many years before and will repeat that, but in different words, even an hour later.

All of us know that in time of war the enemy commit crimes but we bravely defend ourselves. Which army gave orders to send the conscripts over the trenches to draw the fire of the enemy and sent the elite troops to follow? Which army cleared a minefield quickly by forcing prisoners of war to link arms and walk across the mined area? The prisoners who survived dug the graves for those who were killed.

My grandfather was cramped in the air raid shelter with his family and waved his fist at the German bombers attacking the Cardiff docks, calling them murderers. He had three sons in the armed forces. He called them heroes. I imagined a German boy in an air raid shelter and his grandfather waving a fist at our heroes and calling them murderers. Another of my priest friends flew 25 bombing missions during World War II and came back from one of the easiest to discover he had helped in the blanketbombing of Dresden, an entirely undefended city in Eastern Germany. He never recovered from the horror of what he had done, the number of people he must have killed and at no risk to himself.

Some years ago I took Holy Communion to a man who was seriously ill, as I did every week. He refused, telling me he had lost £50,000 in shares the previous day, so he didn’t feel like receiving Holy Communion. Would you like everything you touched to turn to gold? Of course! So did Midas in the Greek myth. His daughter ran to meet him when she saw him coming home. He embraced her and she turned to gold. He understood his curse then. Do you know people who want only to become richer, to not care for or need people? Do you admire bling, the only way people like that have to show off? Gold bath taps?

A captain and his men were carefully making a reconnaissance to prepare for their unit’s advance. They came on a badly wounded German soldier, left to die by his own men. The captain had three choices: (a) continue, and leave the soldier to die; (b) abandon the mission and take the man back to the British unit for medical treatment; (c) shoot him to put him out of his agony. Which did the captain choose?

Have you followed the train of thought from my speaking to the Father as Jesus did to that final question? What links the various thoughts?

Everyone was a child of God.

God bless us all, children,

Fr John

(12th February 2023)

Related Links: Popular Reads and Fr John’s Parish Newsletters