Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Mass’ Category

It’s a Tuesday morning.  School run done and car parked, I hurry up the path to my house.  Key in the door whilst shoving with one foot only to be met by a happy Honey Basset blocking my way in.   Whilst fussing her I’m hit by the lovely smell of fabric softener; clothes drying in the house, too cold outside today for anything to dry on the line.  I walk to the radio left on in the kitchen for the aforementioned Basset, and hit the Off button.  Silence! 

Coat off.  Washing-up away.  Load of washing in and set to wash, all in the space of about five minutes.  I have to be careful not to get engrossed in domestics or, before I know it, they’ve become a procrastination, a means of prevarication, a distraction.  I’ve been doing domestics since 5.45am this morning so everything else can and should wait because I need to pray. 

Matches in hand I head for the lounge to light my prayer candle which sits in my plain but beautiful St Beuno’s candle holder on my altar; I only have to look at it to be instantly transported back to that beautiful place.  I grab this month’s Magnificat and begin.  I stand in front of my altar to pray Morning [Lauds] prayer.  Evening prayer [Vespers] can happen anywhere, in my bedroom, in the car outside school, wherever the opportunity presents itself.  I pray Compline [Night prayer] in bed usually, if I can stay awake.  I am lucky that I have the time to devote to this practice at the moment.  Not working might mean less money but it has the huge benefit of being able to spend more time with God.  After praying I make myself a latte and settle down with this year’s edition of Sacred Space to study today’s gospel.  It’s a time to reflect, to talk to God and just be.  Listening.  Waiting.  [eta Sacred Space for 2019 is out now ~ click the link in the side bar >>>]

Now, in an ideal world every day would be just like today.  However, some days life takes over and prayers are missed or don’t happen at all and that’s just the way it is.  But ideally I like to be able to spend time in prayer every, single day.  Even if it’s just once for a few moments. 

Pray, I hear you ask?  Why would you do that?  It’s not Sunday, you’re not at Mass so why?  And this is a really valid and sensible question and one I’ve asked myself a lot over the last few years.  Why do I feel the need to pray daily?  Have I always done so and does it do any good?

First I feel the need to explain that I am driven to pray every day, it’s a need, a desire, almost a necessity.  If I don’t do it I miss it, something just doesn’t feel right, I feel empty and a bit lost.  As I said before, prayer doesn’t or can’t happen every day, some days I’m just either too busy [not always procrastinating with domestics but running errands etc] or quite simply too lazy.  I don’t give myself a hard time if I don’t get round to it because that’s pretty pointless.  However, I have the intention to pray every day; morning, evening and night with Mass thrown in if I get there.  It’s an act of fidelity.  The definition of fidelity is:- ‘faithfulness to a person, cause or belief, demonstrated by continuing loyalty and support.’  Prayer is me being faithful to God.  As I said somewhere else, it’s a bit like being married.  You are faithful to your husband or wife because you love them and you [want to] show that love through acts of fidelity which can be anything from a hug, a loving word, a gift, washing the dishes…anything done in love for another.  So, back to the question why do I pray?  Because I can’t not, it’s that simple.

Have I always done so?  No, absolutely not.  Certainly not in those early days but in the last few years it’s become a habit that I can’t break.  It ebbs and flows according to employment and commitments but it never completely stops.  It really is a way of life now and is vital to maintaining my faith and my relationship with God.  As my faith has grown and matured, so has my prayer life.

What isn’t always obvious to those ‘looking in’ is that this relationship is a two-way thing.  I am faithful to God and He is faithful to me.  “For the son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matt 20:28 NIV  I’m not sure what I feel about Christ serving me [that was actually a question in last Sunday’s gospel study] and I suspect that’s a post for another day, but in any event this is relationship of equals.  I can sense that all of the time.  I show up and God is always there, never late, never awol, constant and reliable.  He comforts, strengthens and guides me.

Does prayer do any good?  Hmm well that’s tricky and I can only answer for myself and from my own experience.  Firstly, it doesn’t do any harm that’s for sure and it can be very cathartic.  I try to keep a journal of personal intentions and people/situations that I pray for and I can honestly say that I often go back and find that 90% of them will have been answered.  I also find that during unstructured prayer or silent contemplation I often receive the answer to a problem or have a sense of peace about an important decision or difficult situation.  It’s nothing tangible but it’s undeniable and it’s happened too many times to be a fluke.

So, who can pray?  Well anyone obviously.  Those of faith or of no faith.  There are no qualifications required.  Anyone can talk to God, anywhere, at anytime about anything.  It really is that simple.  You don’t need all the structure and books that I use.  I use those things to keep me focussed and accountable but I also have unstructured times when it’s just me and God.  Prayer is not a ‘one size fits all’ thing.  It’s unique to each person to pray as they feel.  Sometimes, it’s just a word thrown heavenwards.  An arrow prayer launched towards God in a moment of desperation or difficulty.  It’s quite simply a conversation with God where you get to say what you want or just sit and listen with the ear of your heart.  

God bless. . .

Sharon xx

You might also like this previous post = “What is prayer?”

Read Full Post »

We left off yesterday with a new plan for my returning to Mass with a view to trying out a new [to me] local parish where I wouldn’t know anyone. I think I had forgotten, or possibly never appreciated, that my faith is between me and God.  I’m not answerable to the church or to a priest, just God. Once I took that onboard going to Mass seemed easy and finally felt right!

So that’s exactly what I did.  Just a couple of days after speaking with Sr M I plucked up all my courage and went to an early morning, weekday Mass.  It was perfect.  No more Mr Nagging Doubt, just me and God.  That was about six weeks ago and I’ve been going regularly ever since.  I’ve also managed a few Sundays when family commitments allow and I go to the weekday Mass as often as possible, which can be up to three times a week and I’ve not really looked back.

Back to the original question of why I go to Mass at all, especially as finding or ‘hearing’ God there is rare, the answer is multi-layered.  Superficially I go to Mass because the Catholic faith expects that of me and it’s kind of what I signed up for, but we already know that’s a flawed and potentially flaky reason at one level and there has to be more driving you than obligation.  There is also the joy of worshipping alongside like-minded folk.  Sharing your faith through group worship is lovely.  We, the people, ARE the church, without the faithful there can be no church.  The church is not just a building or a priest.  As the bible states in Romans 12:5 “We are one body in Christ”.  

I love the physical and spiritual beauty of the Catholic Mass, the rise and fall of the faithful, the bells and smells, the joyful message of the Psalms especially, and the comforting repetition as the liturgical year rolls round reliably and predictably.  I am a girl of routine so, for me anyway, this is all a plus.  Also, given the choice between a swanky new auditorium or an older atmospheric church with stained glass windows etc., I’m going to choose the latter every single time.  It just does it for me.

On a deeper level it’s probably unfair to say that I rarely, if ever, find God in the Mass.  It’s truer to say that I don’t ‘hear’ Him so clearly there, it’s busy with all that standing, sitting and kneeling lol.  However, I often get echoes of previous encounters through the Gospel or the Psalms.  I hear a familiar piece of scripture and I’m instantly transported back to a time when God placed that scripture on my heart during a time of struggle or in response to prayer.  For example, I cannot hear the start of Psalm 138 [Hebr. Ps 139] “O Lord, you search me and you know me, you know my resting and my rising,” without breaking into a smile, because that was the Psalm I studied at St Beuno’s [more of that next time as promised] and that message comes back to me afresh each time.  The Homily [Sermon] occasionally gives up gems that feel like they’re meant just for me.  Not so much during weekday Mass as the whole service is shorter and devoid of music or hymns, but Sundays are longer and more time made available for the Priest to share his thoughts on the scripture of the day or a relevant issue.  You can be in Mass and just feel wrapped in a warm presence of love and comfort…surely that must come from God?

Going to Mass is also an act of fidelity, an act of faith.  It’s part of your relationship with a God you love and who loves you, a bit like a marriage.  I never show up and find that God is late or AWOL, He is always there waiting for me.  It’s a two-way thing.  I think people sometimes assume that we do all the work and get nothing back, nothing in return but I have never found it to be that way.  The more time I spend with God the more He does in me and through me.  We’ve come a really long way, God and I.  He has transformed me into someone I actually quite like. 

Sunday Mass is officially the start of the week for catholics, a place to renew and refuel for the week ahead and hopefully you take God with you when you leave.  Faith is not just for one hour on a Sunday morning, it’s really the other six days and twenty-three hours that are the most important otherwise what’s the point?

Finally there is receiving the Eucharist.  The thing that gave me the most angst and heartache in the beginning and for so many years.  Well, what can I say.  It’s a simple process with the most complex meaning.  It comes from The Last Supper and we get to share that meal with Christ every time we go to Mass.  It calms, renews and sustains me.  It’s probably the thing I missed the most in other denominations.  It’s the thing that draws me back because I can’t find that anywhere else.  It’s the culmination of Mass, we show up and so does Christ.  Perfect!

To wrap this up if you’re looking for a place to worship and you’ve no idea where to start then start with prayer and an open heart.  Think about practicalities too, can you get there easily, do the worship times suit your availability?  Don’t set yourself up to fail by choosing a church that you have to drive forty miles to or take three buses ‘cos chances are you’ll always find a reason not to go.  If you’re surrounded by a young family then look for somewhere that caters and welcomes little ones.  Is there a crèche facility and a sunday school?  Is there a ‘Messy Church’ being run near you?  If you go a couple of times and think it’s not a good fit then try somewhere else.  However, remember above everything else, it’s just between you and God and He loves you!  He isn’t really at church at all, He’s there in your heart, always!

 

Sharon xx

 

 

Read Full Post »

between-you-and-god1

So, following on from yesterday’s post about church and possible reasons why people do or don’t attend, I thought today I’d write a little about my relationship with ‘church’ and how that has changed over the years.  Yesterday’s post might make some people wonder why I go to Mass [church] at all if I rarely find or ‘hear’ God there so I thought an explanation was in order.

Naively I always thought that people of faith just went to church and that was that.  Easy!  They might attend a church they always went to with their family or they might find a new one if they moved, but either way it seemed pretty clear and straightforward.  Hmmm lol the reality turned out to be a little more tricky than that.  To recap I received my Calling in June of 2006.  I didn’t live in MK then, I lived out near Banbury, in a little village called Sulgrave.  For three years after my calling I remained purposely non-denominational.  Partly because I was unsure what the next step was and partly because, in the May of 2007, I moved to MK.  Once here I tried lots of churches and denominations on for size.  I’d mostly worshipped in Anglican ‘pointy spire’ churches as a teen and in my twenties, which encouraged me to give that a go here.  I also tried the Quakers, the charismatic evangelical Happy Clappys and the Baptists.  All were lovely, all were welcoming but none felt like Home.  

2008 found me still without a spiritual home but there had been some defininte and persistent nudgings from God towards catholicism which horrified my mother who was a lapsed, pre-Vatican II, cradle Catholic.  Taught by nuns and raised in “fear for her immortal soul with the distinct possibility of burning for all eternity in the fiery pit”.  You can see her point but I felt things had possibly moved on by 2008 surely?  They had indeed, I found an amazing Priest in Fr J, told him I was a divorcee and he told me, “God meets you where you’re at” and before I knew it I was attending Mass every Sunday and yes, finally I felt I’d found my spiritual home.  During the Easter Mass of 2009 I was received into the Catholic church, it was beyond wonderful!!  My mother didn’t attend. 

All sorted you’d think wouldn’t you?  Well things change, priests you didn’t realise you relied on so much move to another parish.  You listen to dogmatic people and read dogmatic literature which tells you that divorced catholics aren’t allowed to take Holy Communion.  You doubt yourself and before you know it you’re not enjoying Mass anymore.  You stand there feeling a fake and a fraud.  You try a new parish and all seems fine but eventually Mr Nagging Doubt comes back and starts pecking away at you again.  Let me be clear, no one in my parish ever said anything negative or unkind to me, it was all about my own self-doubt and feeling like I should ‘come clean’ which is ridiculous given that I’d ‘come clean’ at that very first meeting with Fr J.  Admitedly there were some priests that I felt wouldn’t have given me the time of day but, for the most part, all the clergy were lovely and supportive.  What I didn’t realise was that this was between me and God, not me and the Church. 

Fast forward to 2017 and the death of my mother in the July followed by the life-threatening complications after my surgery at the end of October, and suddenly there were more emotions flying around than I could deal with.  I certainly wasn’t up for the weekly self-imposed emotional torture of Mass.  So I stopped going and the certainty about my choice of denomination plummeted.  Not so much a crisis of faith, more a crisis of denomination.  If anything, my faith and relationship with God improved rapidly and drasticly once church was removed from the picture.  That was when I realised that church, instead of enabling and facilitating my relationship with God, was actually hindering it massively but I didn’t understand why and was still too all over the place emotionally to even begin to work it out.

In early 2018 I went back to a few of the denominations I’d tried before.  I also went to Mass very occasionally, but never in my own parish, only where no one would know me.  Nothing felt right anymore and I was very lost at this point and quite sad that I’d got it so wrong.  In early June ’18 I found myself on the St Beuno’s website looking at retreats, I still can’t remember what prompted me to do that. [my photo’ at the head of the page is one I took of St Beuno’s at sunset]  It was one of those moments when everything aligns; I had the money, despite it being close to the retreat there was still a space, it fitted with Simon’s schedule, I bought the very last train ticket for that day…it just all fell into place effortlessly.  Clearly meant to be. 

That weekend was truly fantastic and marked a huge turning point. I would do it an injustice to try and talk about that here so I’ll save it for another post but suffice to say I had an amazing Spiritual Guide in Helen and I left there feeling back on-track and with a promise to be put in touch with a Sr who lived locally to me here in MK so I could talk further about my issues with attending Mass.

True to her word I had an email from, and consequently a meeting with, the aforemetioned Sr M who was just lovely.  Such a down to earth, compassionate lady with a super twinkly smile.  Very intouch with real life and she put me straight very quickly.  What the Catholic Church teaches and what happens in reality and practise are not always the same thing.  Reading a lot of dogmatic literature can be damaging.  My relationship is with God first and foremost and the church second.  The church teachings and the recent papal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia clearly state that it’s down to your personal conscience regarding receiving Holy Communion at any time.  In my heart I think I knew all this but it was so good to hear someone actually say the words.  I felt lighter suddenly.  We also discussed the possiblity of Mass and, at her suggestion, I would try a different parish still close to me but not with people that knew me, a fresh start.  It also offered weekday Mass which was super handy for me as Sundays are often homework heavy and, if Si is on-shift, that just leaves me to help Ethan if he needs some support.  I do like a plan!!

This feels like the perfect place to leave part one.  I will carry on tomorrow. 

 

Sharon xx

Read Full Post »

As the Church of England announces a £27 million growth programme to promote new Christian communities across the UK I am left wondering whether that is really going to help increase numbers long-term.  Is a lack of churches really the reason why people no longer go to church?  It seems unlikely as there are more churches than I can count, all within a stone’s throw or short drive even from where I live.  Not enough churches of the kind that people want to attend might be more like it.  Certainly there is a huge growth in membership and attendance at the more evangelical charismatic churches.  Here in MK it’s one of the few church types that continues to grow in huge numbers.  Professional looking band at the front playing contemporary worship music and songs with smoke and strobes pulsing in time.  Concert style dimmed lighting in the auditorium [yes, I did say auditorium].  Great visual graphics and words on screens to avoid the need for books or sheets.  It’s actually totally fab as atmospheres go.  It really is like going to a pop concert.  I can see why it attracts a younger audience and that’s definitely one area we should be focussing on because that’s where the future of Christianity lies.

I personally struggle to find or ‘hear’ God in that setting.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a rousing hymn and a good jig around praising the Lord, but due to the vast numbers I also feel very lonely and insignificant.  It’s quite impersonal and difficult to feel part of things although there are ‘Welcome Teams’ and areas set aside purely for newbies to grab a coffee from the ‘in house’ coffee shop, and have a chat with existing members.  There are smaller Cell Groups that meet weekly to make things more intimate and personal and courses and workshops offered for those new to the church and/or new to the faith.  But despite all of that, there’s still something missing for me.

I’ve always ‘done’ faith on my own.  I was taken to Sunday School as a small child, left, then picked up later.  I was attending the Anglican church on my own as a teenager.  It’s no surprise therefore that my call to religious life at eighteen received a big fat ‘no’ from me due to my revelation being dismissed out of hand by my parents.  As a result I’ve done most things on my own so my lack of ability to be sociable is probably why I find the Happy Clappy [no disrespect meant] charism so lonely and difficult to fit into; it’s way out of my comfort zone.  It clearly suits the spiritual needs of many people though, especially in our multi-cultural city.

I need to be still and silent to ‘hear’ God.  I ‘hear’ Him loudest in places like Turvey Abbey, St Beuno’s, up a mountain in The Lakes.  Not in a church, in fact if I’m being honest rarely in a church.  My retreat to St Beuno’s [a Jesuit community in North Wales] in June of this year was singularly responsible for reviving my lacklustre faith which took a horrendous nosedive after the terrible events of last year; losing my mother to Lymphoma in July’17 and coming close to death myself due to complications after my hysterectomy in October’17.  I had a real crisis of denomination and I really needed that weekend of complete silence to listen, pray and discern what God had to say and where He wanted me to be.  It was an amazing and very emotional weekend!! 

Interestingly, even in the very beginning I didn’t find God in a church.  I found him in the bible stories I read as a child and many years later He found me in my LOUNGE!  He held out His hand and invited me to follow Him.  No pressure from Him and no answer from me either, at least not straight away.  However, a Call that profound is hard to ignore.  A privilege afforded to few but still no church you notice.

I worry that Ethan’s generation will never be still or silent for long enough to ‘hear’ such a call.  It will have to be heard over a cacophony of electronics and devices and will have to compete with and be more desirable than eight hours on the Play Station!!  There is something amazing about hearing God speak straight into your heart, I’m sad to think that he may never experience that.  Hence my concern that all this funding is brilliant but will it actually make any difference?  Church is central and important in uniting the faithful but there has to be more to it than that, it has to be desirable and inviting, more interesting than the instant hit of social media.  If people don’t have either the time or the desire to read that flyer or leaflet or spend ten minutes over a cuppa with their Christian neighbour who is full of enthusiasm about the new church in the town, then no amount of new Christian communities are going to have the hoped for impact.  Their curiosity needs to be piqued, they have to want it more than what they have already.  That’s going to be tough, really tough.  The priests and clergy will also have a large part to play and I pray that they’ll be warm, welcoming and Christ-like.  There’s nothing like a ‘hell and damnation’ speech and a large dose of dogma to put a soul off instantly and forever.  I also worry that people no longer want or need a faith, that they don’t realise how important their spirit is, that it too needs to be fed and nourished.  I’m praying that God has a plan and that He will use this new initiative in ways that I can’t fathom. 

So, where do you ‘hear’ God the loudest?  Do you listen for Him in those quiet moments?  Do you spend time in silence just waiting to see what comes back? Maybe you ‘hear’ Him in church.  We’re great at looking after our health, our families and our homes but what about your spiritual life?  You don’t have to be Christian or of any faith to get something valuable from being in silence for ten minutes or so a day.  No devices or demands, just ‘being’….quietly and comfortably, maybe with a cuppa or a flickering candle or maybe both.  Rest in that presence.  Surround yourself in the silence and renew your soul.  Try it, it’s truly amazing what you ‘hear’. 

Every Blessing

 

Sharon xx

ETA ~ Silence – Ignatian Spirituality

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: