On Same Sex Marriage

“Marriage is a gift of God, through which husband and wife Rainbow Flag
may grow together in the knowledge,
love and service of God.”

These words mark the beginning of the description of Christian marriage received by the Church in Wales and explained in the Preface to the 2013 Marriage Service, and they help us to understand what Christian marriage is really about. The preface goes on to discuss marriage as being:

  • For the couple to increase in love and trust;
  • The foundation of family life, in which children are nurtured (children being born is an optional addition for couples who are planning to try and have children of their own)
  • A source of strength and companionship;
  • and a means of enriching society.

This preface immediately prevents us from thinking of marriage as merely for procreation, a principle argument against Same Sex Marriage, and demands that we look deeper into the theology of marriage. Marriage is not simply about becoming a production line for the next generation, demonstrated not least by the increasing number of heterosexual couples choosing not to have children of their own, and so we must find the locus of Christian marriage somewhere other than in procreation.

For me, the most compelling place to begin a discussion of Christian marriage is fruitfulness. Jesus demands that we be fruitful, and he has given his Church grace to bear good fruit in the world, of which marriage is one. Within marriage, as the preface suggests, many fruits can be produced: love, companionship, trust, stability, a fulfilling sex-life, mutual up-building, a shared ministry to world and society and, of course, the raising and nurturing of children. Obviously, these fruits are not equally produced by each married couple; some couples devote their life to fostering children, others to their church communities and some even to caring for another member of their family. Fruitfulness is as diverse in the Church as the diverse band of folk whom Jesus has called together as his followers.

With this concept of fruitfulness as the foundation of the Church in Wales’ doctrine of marriage, it is difficult to contest that the sacrament of marriage should be open to people of same-sex orientation. I say this because science and experience have taught us that homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice, it is part of the innermost Gay-Marriageself of a huge number of people, including many within the Body of Christ today. To be a lesbian or gay person is to have been created as part of the beautiful diversity of God’s cosmos, given the same grace-filled potential for fruitfulness, and the Church has a duty to welcome and embrace this beautiful group of people.  To not do so is deeply damaging, not simply because of the huge numbers of young people who refuse to be part of what is seen as a homophobic institution, but also because we are restricting the work of God’s grace in the world.

We gather together to worship our incarnate Lord, who came to preach peace to those who were near and those who were far off, he defied all the prejudices and challenges of his time to call people who previously had been exiled from the religion of their time. Today the Church has this same duty, to dismiss the prejudices and misunderstandings of the past and strive to create that inclusive, welcoming and fruitful community which Jesus lived, died and rose again to form. I pray that we may do so soon, and begin the process of healing the many wounds we have caused to the gay and lesbian community, and so that we get on with the truly important work of bearing good fruit in the world.

Article written for the Teulu Asaph, Diocesan Magazine for Diocese of St. Asaph, Church in Wales

Home by Warsan Shrine

In this haunting and powerful poem, Shire opens our eyes to remember the desperation of those who are refugees. Lord, have mercy on our lack of compassion. 

Read my blog-post on the refugee crisis here.

Home by Warsan Shire4427921003_c12b7b7d8c_o

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

Mary the Dawn, Christ the perfect day

Our Lady of the Sign

MARY the Dawn, Christ the perfect Day;
Mary the Gate, Christ the heavenly Way.
Mary the Root, Christ the mystic Vine;
Mary the Grape, Christ the sacred Wine.
Mary the Wheat-sheaf, Christ the living Bread;
Mary the Rose tree, Christ the Rose blood-red.
Mary the Font, Christ the cleansing Flood;
Mary the Chalice, Christ the saving Blood.
Mary the Temple, Christ the Temple’s Lord;
Mary the Shrine, Christ the God adored.
Mary the Beacon, Christ the Haven’s Rest;
Mary the Mirror, Christ the Vision blest.

– Anonymous Medieval Hymn
(Taken from Draft Rule of the Sodality of Mary)

This hymn has been a real source of reflection and blessing for me over the last few days – I post it here, just to commend it as a wonderful, ancient part of our tradition worth spending some time with. 

S. Joseph: Patron of the Ordinary

Despite our nations frequent cries that we are not a religious country, ask 99% of school children who Joseph is and they willjesus-and-st-joseph tell you, Jesus’ dad. Joseph is up there with Our Lady and the shepherds as the immediately recognisable characters of the Gospel – yet his appearance in the Gospel is brief to say the least. The Church has recognised this reality and named Joseph the patron saint of ordinary people, the patron saint of you and I. The normal people, the carpenters, the ones who rarely feature in the big news stories…  the simple Christians, those that don’t make headlines or suffer martyrdom – yet we gather together and do extraordinary things: we remember these great heroes of our faith; we celebrate sacraments ordained 2000 years ago, which look forward to the end and fulfilment of the world; and we try and live good lives in the name of a man who we’ve never met and know quite little about. And this is the wonderful thing about our faith, and about Joseph who we celebrate today – he shows us what God can do with the raw materials of our ordinary humanity.

The Christian life is a little like an orchestra – we have all given up playing our own discordant tunes and have come together to be conducted by Christ, our strength and our song. When you watch an orchestra, there are people that immediately stand out more than others – the conductor and his elaborate gestures, the violins and their central position, but, in the main, we struggle to pick out every instrument – and that’s the way it should be! Each individual effort is taken up into the beauty of the whole. For St. Joseph, his solo ended after the first few years of Christ’s life, but we can be certain he continued to do Christ’s work, and continues to play his part in that eternal orchestra.

So we pray that God will ever more take from us our fallen will, and give each one of us grace to take up our instrument and join the orchestra, whose conductor is the redeemer of the world and whose song is love unknown! Let us learn to recognise the distinctive gift and calling which God has given every single one of us, and learn to live and work to the praise and glory of God.

St. Joseph protector of Christ, pray for us.

St. Joseph most obedient and faithful father, pray for us.

St Joseph patron of the ordinary, pray for us.

Homily: The Assumption of Mary

‘Gaze on Mary’
Preached in St. Mary the Virgin, Mold

Silvestro de Gherarducci – Assumption of the Virgin (c.1350)

In nomine…

It took me quite a while to come to terms with Mary. I couldn’t understand the point of fostering a relationship with Jesus’ mother, I wasn’t even sure you could foster such a relationship! Of course, I loved Mary, her ‘yes’ to God had inspired my own vocation; her quiet pondering fascinated me; and her pain at the foot of the Cross moved me… but, I thought, this was as far as it could ever go. But then, one Sunday morning, gazing up at this very statue of Our Lady, I felt so certain of Mary’s maternal love for me, I felt so powerfully in her gaze, that I was forced to rethink my relationship with the Mother of God – I’d like to share with you this morning, the results of my pondering as best I can.

Mary “is an echo of God” – St. Louise-Marie

The most common way I hear people attempt to discourage and belittle Marian devotion is to say that it distracts from the worship of Jesus… they say that she takes away from her Son! I’ve realised that the people who say this are only ever those who have never spent any time with the Mother of God. In the words of St. Louise-Marie, Mary “is an echo of God” she speaks and repeats only God, “if you say ‘Mary’ she says ‘God’”. In a sense, Mary and her Son are like the moon and the sun – everything about Mary draws our attention to Christ, her splendour and blessedness are the gifts of her Son, just as the moon only shines because it reflects the Sun’s light. The sun is the superior light, because without it the moon would never shine. For those of you, like me, who like to watch the night sky – you’ll know that you can stare up all night at the moon, while the sun’s intensity is overwhelming. So it is with our Lord, he is so wonderful, mysterious, beautiful and glorious that sometimes his presence is so awesome and powerful that we feel we must withdraw because of our unworthiness and his holiness. Not so with Mary… with the Lord’s Mother, we can gaze on her as we gaze on the moon, seeing in her the reflected light of her Son and learning to love God in the same obedient and beautiful way which Mary teaches.

It is because of this that the early Church Fathers believed Mary to be foreshadowed in the burning bush – she shines with the presence and power of God but is not consumed by that power. We learn from her that the closer we are to God, the more truly we are ourselves – God elevates and enlightens me and you, he makes us fully alive, which is being fully ourselves, God never forces us to be anything we’re not. Within Mary, in the most tangible and literal way, Christ was alive – yet she is not overwhelmed or suppressed by Christ’s dwelling in her, she is made luminous and glorious, she is made the Mary she was meant to be.

This is why, in the midst of her pregnancy, when she has been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and is now the dwelling place of God, she is able to cry ‘my soul magnifies the Lord’ – her soul is made glorious because Christ dwells within her.

Our Lady became transparent to God’s love in that moment when she accepted the Angel’s call – known as the moment of her fiat. The moment she says, ‘fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum’, ‘let it be to me according to you word’. At that moment Mary becomes pregnant with God’s own life. In a related way, all of us, the Church of Christ, when we accept God’s Word, God’s life takes root in us. Here, Mary teaches us an important lesson, the new life Jesus promised comes only with radical trust in God. It is at the limits of our strength, the limits of what we can do as humans, that is where God acts – it’s when we open ourselves to God that the divine life breaks in and God’s life is born in us.

Here then is the challenge which our pondering of Mary’s life puts to us – we are called to follow the example of the Blessed Mother. Elizabeth says of Mary, ‘blessed is she who believes’ – this is the reason for Mary’s glorification, because she believed! We then must have faith like Mary! Our Lady shows us that there is space in our human nature to bear the reality of God – we can be vessels of God’s light and life to the world. St. Gregory and Bishop Lindsay are fond of calling Mary “the container who contained the Uncontainable!” – but we too are containers which can contain the fullness of God… at this altar Christ gives the fullness of his being to us, at Baptism we are born again with the fullness of God’s Holy Spirit. You and me are containers of the uncontainable God – temples of the Holy Spirit – and Mary teaches us what it means to respond to this reality with faith and hope and love.

Then we come to our reading on this solemn feast – Jesus, on the Cross, uses his dying moments to give us, his beloved disciples, his Mother – to entrust us into her care and to unite us as one family in him. The angel called her ‘full of grace’ in the beginning of the story, but now we realise that this grace she has is for you and for me – Mary does not jealousy store up grace and blessings for herself, she is our Mother and she ministers grace to us throughout our life and at the hour of our death. Mary then is the summation and overflow of all that is best in our redeemed humanity – to draw near to Mary in prayer only leaves us better, leaves us nearer to her eternal Son who made our human nature his own in Mary’s womb. Our Lady’s heart at this solemn moment on the Cross was widened to include all of us who receive life from his Cross, she is fully transparent to the tender and maternal love of God. Another quote of St. Gregory says that Mary, that container who contains the uncontainable, “is the treasury and overseer of the riches of the Godhead”.

So, in Mary we see what we can be and we find the sure support we need to be true disciples of Jesus Christ. And, on this Feast of the Assumption, the day the Church celebrates that Mary has been taken up into heaven to live forever with her Son, we see the destiny of our human nature. We will be like Christ, with Mary, in glory, crowned with grace – this is the final destination of the pilgrim people of God and the assumption is proof that Jesus is faithful to his promise that he prepares a dwelling place for the human family in his Father’s house.

So, my dear friends and fellow children of Mary, gaze on Our Lady as you gaze the moon – see in her the pattern of grace which God longs each of us to follow and find in her a faithful friend in your journey of discipleship.