All of us need calm and tranquility somewhere in our lives. A sense that we can find a time to stop, even for a short moment, to find an inner peace that grounds us in some basic way.
This week we have celebrated the feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, that reminds us of God’s presence amongst us in the world and the challenge we have been given to live out faith inspired by the life of Christ. As the Holy Spirit is not visible, physically, it is often represented by wind, fire or a dove. It may help us to have something tangible to think about and represent the power of God.
All of us have been shocked and horrified by the recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester and mourn the innocent loss of life. Sometimes we can only understand it fully by thinking of our families, our children, us being in the same position. It can make it more real to us rather than just the latest images on 24hr news. The challenge is for us to use this time of darkness to bring greater light and hope.
We live in a democracy and as we prepare for our general election this week we need to make a commitment to not relying on tabloid headlines that divide us or breed distrust or hatred. We need instead to make a renewed commitment to tolerance, understanding and unity in all that we do.
Working in education we are privileged to have the opportunity to transform the lives and futures of every young person in our care. This is a gift but also a great responsibility. Let us grasp this opportunity to make a real difference in all we do.
When we find ourselves challenged by all that happens around us this is an opportunity to ask for God to be with us – “come Holy Spirit”. Rather than disbelief I hope and pray to find God in the love, compassion, care and selflessness of people who reach out and act with such loving kindness.
A few questions for the week ahead;
- What can you do to encourage love, tolerance and understanding when faced by the challenges we see in the world?
- How can we use the gift of education to transform people’s hearts and minds and build a better future?
- How can we feel the presence of God amongst us as we think about the power of the Holy Spirit?
Thank you, in advance, for all you will do this half term to make St Paul’s a place of vitality, happiness, light and hope.
In education we are challenged to never give up and offer hope in even the most challenging situations. We are also given wonderful opportunities to let every students’ light shine.
The most rewarding part of working with young people is the vitality, energy and progress you can see. We have an opportunity to transform a person’s life by showing belief, inspiration, love and care. We have been given the enormous responsibility of having the power of words to build someone up or knock them down – we remember to use these words preciously.
In a world with challenges and uncertainty education can be “the glue that holds” society together. I once taught a boy, George, who was in foster care and had been placed in over 14 families – they ran out of placements in the city when each came off the rails and were looking to move him to a residential school in a different part of the country. I urged us to find any way to keep the one part of his life consistent whatever challenges were there outside of school. We needed to be the family he never had.
This week in the Gospel we hear how Jesus says we are “the salt of the earth… and light of the world”. So what does this challenge us to think about?
- How can we add flavour to life? Without salt our food would be without variety and taste. There is a great joy in the variety to life, our God-given talents and gifts bring joy to life. Let’s celerate this diversity and difference as well as cherishing all that binds us together.
- Let our light shine… we need to find ways to be full of light, life and hope. We should find ways to ensure faith can shine out and bring light in times of darkness.
I am proud to say that in our school community this challenge lies at the heart of what we look to achieve each and every day. Thank you for being a part of it in whatever you do.
When we think about conversion in an educational sense we would normally think of a few key examples;
- converting grades to the right outcomes
- converting behaviours or attitudes to make a change
- converting a relationship that needs to be changed…
This may tell us something of change and transformation but this week is the feast of the conversion of St Paul, our patron Saint. He had a pretty dramatic change in his life which can make us think more deeply about our faith and life.
St Paul was originally Saul of Tarsus and he lived a life dedicated to persecuting the early Christian church including being involved in the stoning to death of St Stephen. He was sent from Jerusalem to Damascus to arrest and return with the Christians he captured.
It was on this journey to persecute the Christian community that he actually found Christ in probably the most dramatic conversion. He was “blinded by faith” and heard Jesus call him to a very different life as one of His disciples. We now talk about having a “road to Damascus experience” where we can see something from a fresh perspective or with a new pair of eyes.
His conversion was so dramatic that Saul was to start his life afresh as Paul and become one of the founding fathers of the Christian Church. He was to go on to travel relentlessly to spread the Good News.
So what can we take from this account today…
- How can you be open to being changed for the good in your life?
- How can faith bring new light to your life?
- Will you be attentive to God’s call for you and be willing to respond?
- What can you do to spread the Good News today?
Far from feeling that St Paul represents a failed image of discipleship or faith I love his simple humanity. We can all see that at times we may sometimes be headed in the wrong direction, perhaps not as dramatically as he was, but if we are open to God’s plan for us we too can be disciples and bring faith to those we meet.
So say a prayer this Thursday, 26th January, that we too will be transformed by the light of faith and converted too.
So we are here already – in the life of the Catholic church we have already just started a new year in the 3 year liturgical cycle. We are also being challenged to get ready and be prepared.
So what are we getting ready for?
We know it is coming towards Christmas when we see the latest Christmas advert that has become a great British tradition. It can start the feeling of hope, anticipation and preparing something special for all of us and our families, a special time for all of us.
In essence this is what the Gospel is challenging us to do too… we need to be prepared and get ready. This isn’t just for one big day of indulgence or sharing presents but actually for the coming of Jesus into the world.
We are challenged to embark on a journey to get ready to welcome Jesus into our lives in a new way. It is an opportunity to get our lives in order, to pray and put things in perspective.
This in the most basic way could be the best present this Christmas, the gift of faith could last far longer than our discarded gifts or full stomachs.
I hope and pray this advent we can be blessed by renewed faith and hope in our lives and light in the world around us.
At times in life it may seem like it is straightforward to have faith. We can at times feel like things are going “according to plan”, the sun is shining on us.
Perhaps we can find it easy to feel the warmth of faith at this time and a definite feeling that God is looking out for us. I find that I cannot fail to be inspired by being with young people and leading a school community, it is truly a blessing and life-giving in every way.
At other times perhaps we feel a bit overwhelmed by the clouds or stormy waters… sometimes life may not make much sense. As a school community we can feel this when we are touched by tragedy, especially when a student has died too young or families have suffered and faced the toughest times in any way.
We are challenged by the Gospel reading this week to use the smallest seed of faith to bring great hope and life. Jesus challenges us to have faith and listen to God’s call for each and every one of us.
A few questions for us for the week ahead.
- What can we do to help faith flourish and get deep roots in the good times?
- How can we find light and hope when we feel overwhelmed by the storm?
I believe we are being called to be inspired to actively be witnesses to God’s presence in the world. This is what it means to have a living faith that will spread and grow to be something truly great.
This week our theme in school is “responsibility” – the Gospel reading talks about how Jesus called the disciples together and sent them out in pairs taking nothing with them in the challenge to live their lives of faith and spread the Good News.
What does this tell us as we come to the end of the school year and for the summer ahead?
- Let us travel light – perhaps we are weighed down by all that we want and own. The challenge is to cherish the moments, memories and people we are with not the gifts or possessions we bring back from our travels. We can sometimes live a “virtual reality” taking pictures and videos from our phones rather than seeing life in full technicolour. I remember being lucky enough to be in the Olympic Stadium the night Mo Farah won the 5000m Gold Medal at London 2012. How many people really saw it rather than through the screen they held in front of them?? Having watched the clip the memories flooded back – I saw it with my own eyes, I was there… I am glad it was not a memory I tried to capture on my phone but it remains deep within…
- We need one another – in the very essence of being human we are better when we are together. Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs – we shouldn’t forget the value of walking with someone beside us, we feel stronger and better… as we grew up my Mum used to say that she knew when we were with the right person in life as they made us better and more complete. I am blessed to be married to someone who definitely meets this challenge for me, we are better together. I know when I turn up to a dinner party alone I am not quite the guest I could be without my wonderful wife beside me. We can all walk in faith together and support each other with every step.
- We need to stick to our faith even when things get tough – in recent months we have been challenged by the depths of suffering around the world whether it is the tragic shootings in the Baptist Church in America or on the beach in Tunisia. We also recently marked the 10th anniversary of the 7/7 bombings. We have to trust in our faith and ask God to help us to lead and sometimes in the most tragic times we see the best of humanity. I was inspired to see Barack Obama show this in leading the eulogy and tributes in America. It was also striking how the families of those effected offered love and forgiveness even in the depths of their despair and grieving. I pray that God helps us all to show this mercy in our lives.
- So this summer I hope we can travel light but also cherish the value of living life to the full.
- Cherish those around us and find opportunities to show them the value of their love and support.
- Trust that faith will support us in good times and bad – by listening to the Gospel message of love and forgiveness we can live life without carrying our “baggage” we have picked up along the way.
Let us all give thanks for every experience we’ve had this year. I ask that the summer is a time of rest that helps us recharge and ground us in some way. As we set off on whatever direction the journey takes us let’s remember we are better together and that God walks with us every step of the way.
So we are there already preparing for Christmas once again… but what does this really mean? Is it the mad rush to get ready and prepare by splashing the cash? Black Friday gave us an insight of how far this can go…
Watching this for me and seeing the images over the weekend prompts me to think we may well have lost the plot… how can we see this as normal or an acceptable image of humanity? I hope we can go on a journey taking us far away from this low point.
We are called to go on a deeper journey… so what can it be like this year? What do I have a longing for this Advent?
- An opportunity to engage with what matters most in our lives – we can find time to put our lives back in order. We can invest time with family, friends and faith.
- A chance to look for ways to reach out to those in the world around us – we are working this year with two charities supporting those who are homeless in Brighton – http://www.offthefence.org.uk and http://www.stannesdaycentre.org.uk. We are encouraging families to commit to supporting our “Giving Tree” and look forward to sharing this with the charities locally.
- A way for us to take time to think of how we can bring Christ into our lives – we are not just challenged to remember the story of Christmas but to look to reengage with our faith and find ways to bring light and hope to those around us.
I hope this Advent brings us all closer to those we love most and to a deeper relationship with God – if we can do this we will be a living witness to Christmas once again.