Christianity

The prodigal son smells

After taking and squandering his inheritance early, his new homeland was struck with famine, and he ended up working with pigs. And in fact, he was treated worse than the pigs.

So, when he comes to his senses and returns to his father, he is very dirty and very smelly. When his father sees him in the distance, he sees first of all just a man covered in pigs muck. Then he recognises him as his son, and everything else becomes secondary.

He runs out to him, and doesn’t think twice about clasping him tight and tenderly kissing him, despite inevitably getting smelly, unclean pigs muck on himself. He takes on his sons filth, and embraces him in it. And his tears, borne of long sorrow and fresh joy, begin to cleanse the son.

And then he orders the best robe to be brought out and put on him. He is clothed in his father’s righteousness, dignity, and glory. He is his father’s son, and all the father has belongs to the son. 

No doubt he will be washed first. To put on the father’s robe, he will first be stripped and washed. His shame will be removed, to make way for his glory, that is the glory of his father.

The transformation is striking, from penniless wanderer, reeking of pig, to honoured, celebrated, dignified son. He is a new creation.
God bless you!

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Self-destruction on the other hand…

‘Self-improvement is masturbation. Self-destruction on the other hand…’

I’ve written before about my love for this Fight Club quote. Now, it’s coming to my mind again as we begin lent.

There’s a common tendency to view lent as another chance at New Year’s resolutions, and with it self-improvement. An opportunity to diet and/or save. To become a better version of yourself.

But originally and traditionally and essentially, it is about self-destruction over improvement. That is, it is about uniting ourselves to Jesus upon the cross. It is about putting yourself to death.

Why do we do this? Why have many saints down the ages gone to extreme lengths for lent? Because our selves are prisons to break out of, into the freedom of divine love. Because true life is not a matter of preservation, but of giving ourselves away, even to death. Because God Himself lives in this way, dying and giving Himself away.

If we are nourished and taught and loved by such a God, we will come to imitate Him. God expresses Himself to us in love, and therefore His image is impressed into us. We love, because He first loved us.

So I just want to encourage you to destroy yourself this lent, because God loves you.

It is true that we can only destroy ourselves and take up this freedom because we have received His love. It is not possible in ourselves, but only in Jesus Christ, by the power of His death. And yet also, the more we willingly submit to the consuming fire of the divine love, the more freely His love will enter us and transform us into Itself.

God bless you!

What’s the point of monks & nuns?

I was thinking recently about the contemplative life – the life of those who give themselves up entirely to prayer, night and day – and had those common, critical thoughts about it: Isn’t it cowardly, abandoning the world? Why don’t they do something good and useful for the world instead? Isn’t it selfish, to leave the world in its misery, and go to seek your own heavenly bliss?

It troubled me, because I know the Church teaches not only its goodness, but (at least traditionally) its superiority to the active life. Jesus Himself said, Mary chose the better part, and it will not be taken from her.

And then (thank God), I realised that I was judging the contemplative life not even by the standards of the active life, but by the standards of the world. The contemplative life is on a different plane, and can’t be comprehended by the world. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot grasp it.

The contemplative life weds Heaven to earth, marries God to creation. That is why it is linked to celibacy (that, and practical concerns). In the Contemplative, creation is surrendered and offered to the Father, through and with and in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Through the Contemplative’s prayer, she is divinized, and all of creation with her. In her prayer, we are being brought to fulfillment in Christ.

The contemplative life appears cowardly, because we miss the true battleground of life. To a communist, the wars of the capitalists are stupid, not brave, because the true war, the war that will resolve all others, is the class war; to the Catholic, both are foolish, and every other human war too, because the true war, the one that will resolve all others, is the spiritual war.

It appears useless, because it is the very meaning of life. And how could the ultimate meaning be recognised by those who set their minds upon the use of things, rather than their final ends?

It appears as selfish, because in our selfish worldview, we wrongly assume that happiness and the desire for happiness are selfish. We assume that happiness comes from the self, when in truth, it is from the death of the self, and the Life of God. Contemplatives are happy insofar as they die to themselves, and no further. We have died, and the life we now live is hidden with Christ in God.

So what shall we make of the active life? The active life must be brought to entirely serve the life of the Spirit. Our work is not its own end, however good it may be, but is there for us to encounter and adore God in it.

The contemplative life is superior to the active as the end is superior to the means. Yet, if the active is a servant to the contemplative, it may thereby not only participate in the contemplative, but even fulfil and supercede it by humility. The first shall be last and the last shall be first.

God bless you!

Have we become worldly?

Can I honestly say, that when I look at myself or at my Church, locally or universally, that I recognise followers of Jesus, the Body of Christ, or the Kingdom of Heaven?

‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!’ [Lk12:49]

Where is this fire?!

I don’t see it in my life. And I rarely hear it in homilies. And I hardly see it in the Church. I start to wonder if we’ve forgotten Jesus.

There are saints amongst us, though. There are holy bishops and priests and religious and lay people, living the gospel. There are orders, and movements and organisations and just people. There are many people out there who sacrifice themselves with Jesus, living the reckless, radical love of the Father.

I just wish it were the rule. I wish that I heard this fire in every homily, and saw it in every Church activity. I wish that we were obviously so much more than a club, or an NGO. I wish that this fire was burning in all my flesh, down to the marrow.
But I’ve read, that all that’s needed to become a saint, is to will it. God wills it already; we just need to cooperate, accept His grace, obey His gospel.

And the truth is, there’s no real life apart from Jesus’ life. It’s a choice between life and — far worse than death– not-life. I could perhaps call it half-life, but I think not-life better captures the emptiness I’m thinking of. Or being, “lukewarm”. 


I hope I’m not alone in feeling this way. Please pray with me, that we will together be set on Jesus-fire.

‘Dip it into the sauce of the blood of Christ’

‘If ever anything sad befalls you, or anything grieves you, or if perchance something causes you weariness or bitterness of heart, or sweetness of soul turns insipid, lift up immediately your eyes to your Lord hanging nailed to the Cross. Look upon Him, His head crowned with thorns! Gaze upon the nails, the iron nails which fasten Him to the Cross, and upon the lance piercing His sacred side. In all trying moments, picture and contemplate the wounds in His hands and feet, picture to yourself the wounds in His most blessed head, the wound in His sacred side, the wounds of His whole body. Call to mind that He was wounded for your sake, that he suffered for you and that His sufferings were so great because He loved you beyond compare.

‘Believe me, a glance at such pictures and thought on such sufferings will quickly change your sadness into joy. What was heavy to bear will become light. What causes your weariness will become something to love. The rugged and the difficult will be changed into sweetness and relish, so that soon, with Holy Job, you will begin to exclaim: “The things which before my soul would not touch,” now when I look upon the “anguish” of Christ “are my meats” (Job vi, 7.) It is as though you were to say: The good things which were distasteful to my soul are now become through the passion of Christ, which I realise, sweet and savory.

‘In the Chronicles of the Franciscan Order there is related the following story (Cf. Chronicles xxiv, 3): A certain man being converted and having entered the Order eventually became impatient with the frugality of the Friars. The discipline of the Friary, too, upset him. Once, being very perturbed and lost to all patience on account of these things, he threw himself down before a crucifix. With bitter tears he enumerated the intolerable hardships he was called upon to endure: the burdens of the religious life, the scant and frugal fare, the tastelessness of the food and drink. While he poured forth his grievances, suddenly blood began to ooze from the side of the image of Christ nailed to the cross. As he continued his weeping and wailing, the bleeding image of the crucified Christ spoke to him these words: “When you find your food or drink distasteful, dip it into the sauce of the blood of Christ.”’
-St. Bonaventure, Holiness of Life, Chapter VI: Remembrance of Christ’s Passion

Does prayer change things?

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I find the idea of prayer often tests my faith. It brings out my inner cynic. When I see #PrayFor____ on twitter, or 1 like = 1 prayer on Facebook, I find myself cynical. Almost instantly, I think the whole thing is a pointless ego boost for the poster, and that we should care enough to actually do something. I even stumble when I hear about sincere religious, devoting their entire lives to prayer in isolation from the world.

It’s easy to believe the boring explanation that prayer works simply by changing us. At its most basic, that’s obvious psychology. And it’s not too tough to believe that prayer “allows” God to change us, or that we “open ourselves” to God. Or to believe that we send out spiritual energies or whatever you like, which become reality. But to really believe that simply asking can actually make a difference to the world, that God actually listens and reacts in the world, is a challenge.

Yet this is at the very heart of our faith. Our age has a tendency and desire for divine principles over divine persons. Why? Because principles can be harnessed and made useful, whereas people are free, and therefore (we fear) free to oppress. We want something to tap into, not someone to live in us. This idea can even seem more “spiritual” to our modern minds.

But our God is personal. This doesn’t mean that He is some guy in the clouds, with a will and attitude as temperamental as our ours, nor even that He’s the best guy in the universe, and so the least temperamental. He doesn’t possess an arbitrary will like we do.

It means God is free, and God is freedom. He is not bound by any rules (*gruff voice* not even his own). But God’s freedom is not merely our freedom from, by which less external force constrains the fulfilment our wills; God’s freedom is the entirely positive freedom, to truly exist, to truly and completely go out from Himself, as Himself. And even further, He Himself is this going out from Himself. Nothing conditions God’s existence or actions, not even an arbitrary “divine nature” we might (wrongly) suppose God in some sense was given. God’s personhood, God’s freedom, God’s love, is His nature.

Now if we truly believe that God is personal and God is free, we must believe that He can act on behalf of those He loves. We have to truly believe that God acts.

It is true that in prayer we do not, and cannot, change God. God cannot be bought or bartered with. Nor can we change God’s plans or actions. God is not within time, and so neither God nor God’s choices can change. And yet, from His throne, in the Divine Eternity that He Himself is, He subjects Himself to the temporal wills of His beloved creatures. From Eternity, He accepts requests from time, which He answers from Eternity and within time.

When God answers a prayer, He was always going to answer that prayer because it was always going to be prayed. The answer to the prayer was determined from the foundation of the world, because the prayer was heard at the foundation of the world.

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God bless you

How does Baby Jesus love us?

At mass on Christmas day, I wondered, how does the newborn Jesus love us? What does it mean that He loves us?

Babies are sort of pathetic (in the nicest way). They pretty much do nothing, apart from eating, sleeping and crying. They are dependent on others for literally everything.

This is how the newborn Jesus loves us. Not by being powerful and doing us favours, but by being powerless, giving Himself into our hands and accepting our care.

Jesus gives Himself away, and opens Himself to receive us. Whoever welcomes Him with their care, is more truly being welcomed into Him.

Merry Christmas and God bless, to you and your kin!

I’m writing a book!

For a while now, I’ve been slowly working on a book of Philosophy/Theology. It began as just one or two philosophical thoughts, but as I wrote them down, I found myself stumbling into other thoughts, including some very theological ones. I don’t really know where it is heading, because every time I revisit it, it seems to lead me in some new direction.

I don’t want to give any details away just yet, firstly because the paint’s still wet, and secondly because I think these thoughts need their proper space. So please forgive me for being vague. I believe these ideas are powerful, and I need to handle them carefully.

I will say that I’m very excited by them. They’ve changed my understanding of basically everything. They’re not particularly similar to anything I’ve written on this blog so far, probably because they can’t easily be slipped in, one at a time. Also, they’re just not ready.

Please say a prayer for me and my book. That I’ll write in humility and truth. That I’ll actually write it, and not get scared and bury it in the ground like the wicked and lazy slave in the parable of the talents. That whatever is true in it thrive, and whatever is false in it wither.

Thanks, and God bless you!