Our journey to God is a slow and rocky one

Frances writes on next weekends Bible readings :-  Many, mistakenly, think Lent is about giving up something – usually food, so that the period turns into a slimming exercise. But our readings, both from last week and this, suggest it is much more about the taking on of something very significant in our lives. Last week, we saw Abraham discover his identity in his relationship with Yahweh, the God of Israel. Here today, it is the turn of Moses. I think we are to presume that during their time in Egypt the Israelites lost much of their relationship with their sole God and turned to the worship of the gods of Egypt. Certainly when Moses fled and ended up marrying into the household of the Midianite priest Jethro, (Exodus 3:1-8.13-15) we meet a priest of pagan gods. Archaeological evidence has unearthed a sanctuary to Hathor near their important Bronze Age copper mines at the top of the Sinai peninsular. Hathor was an Egyptian mother goddess, a giver of fertility to man and beast, sometimes presented with a cows head, at others with that of a lion. She was a god of joy and dancing, often accompanied by models of silver or bronze snakes. So shades of Moses’ career clearly come from this syncretism. Our passage is about his rediscovery of the God of the Hebrews, and the empowerment he discovered as his vocation as leader of the Exodus, driven it appears by this dawning understanding among the clan of Midian.

The enigmatic tale of the burning bush is, I think a pointer to Moses’ journey of rediscovery of his faith and that of his people, and clearly we are meant to see that it all took some time. The script gives us a single conversation between him and God, but perhaps we should think of it as a gradual process in which, once sparked into thought, the young man Moses was moved to progress further and further, until under his rediscovered faith he understood what he was called to do.

Our Gospel presents a similar picture. (Luke 13:1-9) There is no historical record of the incident recounted by Jesus about the appalling actions of Pilate, quite simply because it was considered insignificant. It probably arose from some minor fracas, a bit of a riot over pilgrims and their behaviour. Of course, for the Jews, it would have had great significance, a Passover polluted by human blood, let alone the tragedy for those involved. Naturally, interpretation relied on age old tales of human sin in the victims as being responsible for the deaths of the Galileans. For Pilate and his staff it would have been simply a consequence of crowd control, not worth the mention. Similarly, with the collapse of the tower near Siloam, part of Jerusalem. We know that in Rome and elsewhere buildings regularly fell down, often with tragic consequences, for no other reason than shoddy construction. Many men grew rich on precisely this kind of situation, rushing in with offers to clear up and build again. In an age in which one writer has described ‘demons as common as microbes’, we can appreciate that finding some reason for the chaos, blaming the victim, clearly made some sense. Jesus would have none of this rubbish! His attitude was to look at the heart of all fallen humanity and see their need for God, a need which had nothing to do with corrupt officials or substandard building. Our real need is for God, and unless we detach ourselves from the fables of this world, by which we can and so often do separate ourselves from the rest of fallen needy humanity, we are truly lost.

Jesus therefore challenged the basis on which their society functioned and asked his audience to do the same. His tiny vignette of the fig tree is his picture of God’s patience with erring creation. He speaks of the slave whose diligence and care knows that some good things just take a bit longer, more patience, more generosity before they – we quite literally – bear fruit. It is a parable about the diligence of God himself, who does not immediately rush in impatiently with a hatchet wiping out the sinner to start all over again; but will give his creation time, time to discover and get to know and respond to him, just as he did with Moses.

St Paul, God’s slave, as we know had endless problems with converts to Christianity. Here (1 Cor 10:1-6.10-12) he is still mulling over the whole question of foods offered to pagan gods and whether or not the convert could buy and consume such meat. It is clear from the letter, that some rigorously avoided such items, whereas others adopted Paul’s view that as the gods didn’t exist nothing happened in their sacrifice. But then there was the question of the more gullible, even syncretistic convert and how one’s own behaviour might affect them. In this part of the letter Paul does not jump to hasty conclusions, or even self-righteous ones, he mulls the situation over. Part of his answer therefore is his pondering on the Moses/Exodus experience, and their gradually dawning realisation of the truth. It all took time. He and his Corinthian Christians would probably have known the Exodus story quite well, and so his appeal to its lengthy and indeed all too rocky progress in the Jewish faith would stand as a warning to the Christians too. The message seems to be “Go carefully, thoughtfully, prayerfully. Our journey to God is a slow and rocky one calling for growth and discernment and trust in him, rather than in our own hastily reached answers.” We have to learn to live with the Lord, a master who looks on our struggles with much more kindliness than we do  ourselves.

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Counsel the doubtful

One of the things that we are meant to do when we try to reflect God’s mercy in our lives is “to counsel the doubtful”; for it is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy that I am talking about this Lent. Now the first thing I want to say about this, is that we do not help the doubtful by appearing to be too certain of things ourselves. We have to be very careful about this, because people assume all too easily, if they look at us on the surface, that if we are Catholics and are at Mass every Sunday then we must have a rock steady faith with no problems and no doubts. You all know that this is not the truth, but that’s the impression people have of Catholics, and so we need to work quite hard to deal with these false assumptions. Now if you think it’s hard for you, it’s even harder for us priests. We are supposed to have a rock solid faith; and because of this many people with doubts are afraid to share them with us, because they assume they will simply be told off for being weak.

 One of the ways I suggest that people share the faith with others is by telling them about their own experiences of God. A story of something that has happened to you or me, in which we have felt God’s presence or help, is a million times better than just talking about the faith in a general way. But here too we must tell our story in such a way that people do not think that once we had this experience of God, everything has been plain sailing.

 Abram in our 1st Reading today (Genesis 15:5-18) – Abraham as he was called later – did not have it easy after his vision of God in the midst of his deep sleep. He was to struggle with the fact that, despite this vision, he had to spend many many years without the child, and thus the descendants, he had been promised. Later, when he did have a son late in life, he agonised about whether his love for his son was more important to him than his love of God; and he even thought of killing his son, to show God his love was real. No easy faith for him then!

 In our Gospel too (Luke 9:28-36) Peter, James and John were not given a certain faith after their vision of Jesus transfigured on the mountain. Indeed they simply found the vision confusing; and it was not until they had lost their faith and run away when Jesus was killed on the cross, and then found it again when Jesus appeared to them at Easter, that they could make sense of what they had seen. And Jesus too had to face the agony of that Thursday night in the Garden of Gethsemane, before the soldiers came and arrested him. How easy it would have been to slip away and avoid the conflict and pain that he feared so much. It took great courage in the midst of uncertainty to choose the hard way, to do the will of the Father.

 So when people are doubtful, they need to know that we struggle with doubts and temptations too, don’t they?  They need to know that we often fail to be good Christians. There is nothing more comforting in the confessional than to hear the priest say of some sin that we are struggling with, that this is one he struggles with too. Of course we must share the joys of the faith too, the sense of the presence of God in little things and unusual places; but we must also share with people that sometimes we come to Mass and feel nothing and wonder why we are here at all. It is like being a parent with a baby. There may be joy, but there is also hard work and sleepless nights; and both are part of the way we show our love. Love is not a nice feeling all the time, it is also an act of will – a choosing to do something for another. or for God, however hard that may sometimes be.

 To say to someone who cannot see the point of coming to Church, that it means so much to us, may not help at all, To say instead “Yes it is hard for all of us sometimes. It is hard to continue believing and trusting in God when sad or bad things happen. It is hard to be at Mass when we would rather be sleeping or watching the football or walking in the countryside.” To say things like that, to share our own struggles, that is surely a better way to help and counsel those who are struggling too.

 Of course there are moments when we must be more definite, and I will say more about this next week when I talk about “instructing the ignorant”; but we must never be definite in a way that makes people think we never struggle or have doubts ourselves. St Paul shows this in our 2nd Reading (Phil 3:17-4:1) as he talks about his tears, and then says to comfort them “Do not give way, but remain faithful” Listening to people, even weeping with them, allowing them to share what they are struggling with, this is the better way.

 

God’s glory in times of upheaval

Frances writes on next Sunday’s readings :-  “They saw his glory.” (Luke 9:28-36) We, rather like the disciples, can easily be swept away by the account of the Transfiguration, Jesus’ great moment of acclaim by God and the affirmation that he is on the right tract, fulfilling the story of Judaism here represented by Moses and Elijah. It seems that he is to be viewed as in accord with the Law, given to Jews by Moses and the work and example of the prophets, here represented by Elijah. The crunch however comes in the brief line “They were speaking of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem.” We of course realise that this refers to the passion, but in Greek the word for departure/passing is ‘exodus’, which immediately brings a much greater array of suggestions and meanings to our story. The story of the Exodus under Moses from Egyptian slavery, and the making of the people of Israel in its relationship with their God, is of course well known. On that event, whatever it was, hung the bastions of Judaism, its Law, its taking of land by brutal force, and its obsessive clinging onto it, and its ultimate building of the temple in Jerusalem.

The beginnings of this Jewish nationhood and nationalism began as the glories of the Bronze Age began to wane in the 12th century BC. Mycenae and the great Hittite and Assyrian empires of Anatolia and others parts, came under increasing attack from Sea Peoples from the north and Arameans from southern Iraq. It was at this time that Abraham, or Abram (Genesis 15:5-12.17-18) upped sticks and left his ancestral home in Ur on an epic journey to find a new homeland in what would become Palestine. That story too would be one of land-grabs, war and slaughter. On this journey Abram jettisoned his ancient gods in favour of one single God and, as we see, entered into a covenant with this God which he saw ratified in the promise of land that he and his descendents would inhabit indefinitely. All through their subsequent story this ‘promise’, this understanding of their relationship with the One God bound up with territory, fuelled their understanding and life, through famine and exile, conquest and the threat of annihilation; and when later it was linked with the strictures of following the Law and its focus, ultimately in the temple in Jerusalem, we begin to realise just what a powerful, indeed, potentially caustic, set of ingredients dominated the Jewish psyche. At the time of Jesus, in the first century AD, this was brought to the boil by the Roman occupation of Palestine.

When therefore, in our story of the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah, those greatest pillars of Judaism spoke to Jesus of his ‘exodus’ which he would accomplish in Jerusalem, something very startling occurred. Did Jesus get the sense that his role in his passion was to reverse the exodus experience, challenging Judaism’s narrow conception of its mission only to its own? Was their great reliance on land, Torah and temple about to be challenged as the way to God and his confirmation of their status?

Certainly, when we look at the placing of the account of the Transfiguration in Luke’s gospel, it is surrounded by Jesus’ challenges to the law and its rules; and we see how his ministry is open to despised foreigners like the Gerasene demoniac and how he criticises the power of the temple and its priests. Jesus moreover sends his disciples out on missionary work as beggars, without staff, spare tunic, bag, money or bread. They are representatives of the landless and the utterly dependent, and, in keeping with all this, his ministry will be shaped by non-violence and an utterly different way of being. God, it appears, has identified not with the hallowed ways of Judaism but rather thrown it all away. This is the ‘Glory’ which the disciples witnessed, as the representatives of old Judaism announced to him what his path was to be.

St Paul wrote to the Christians of Philippi from prison in Ephesus (Phil 3:17-4:1) at a time of crisis in their community. Clearly they were in danger of adopting full Judaism, with its requirement of circumcision and all the dietary laws. There would have been a significant Jewish community within the city, and its potential for leverage on the nascent Christian group enormous in those early days. Not only was this to go quite against the example of Jesus and St Paul, it would have meant the exclusion of those Christians who had converted from paganism, Greeks whose life in the important city of Philippi would not admit of their following Jewish practices. Paul’s ‘watch out’ at the start of his letter in Chapter 3 is a great warning of the danger of this move, here in our passage centred on foods. Just as happened then, so it is now, with our need to discern what is at the heart, the core, of the Christian faith; and we need to pray for that discernment and the strength to follow our vision of the true faith, even in the face of great upheaval, and even threats from others more powerful that we perceive ourselves to be. Whether or not Lent is to be a time for ‘giving-up’ things or practises long held, and to which we have become deeply attached, it is certainly a time for discernment, for self-awareness and exploration under the guidance of the faith.

How hard it is to forgive

We all know that we are supposed to “forgive those who trespass against us”, because every time we say the Our Father that is what we pray; but to say it is one thing, to do it is another. Maybe it’s because for us to trespass is simply to walk on someone else’s land. It doesn’t sound too terrible, does it? But one of the traditional Spiritual works of mercy brings out its meaning more clearly, because it uses a stronger word. We are called to “forgive offences” and perhaps even more difficult “bear patiently those who do us ill”. Well I don’t know about you, but I can think of at least one incident in my life, where someone offended me so badly that I would still find it very hard even to meet him, let alone to indicate in any way that I had forgiven him.

 The temptation, if I met him, would be to find some way to make him look small. I wouldn’t resort to violence as some might, but I would use any other means at my disposal to make him know how angry I am about what he did. I hope you noticed that word “temptation”? … I hope I would resist the temptation to be nasty to him, that I would try to be friendly and kind, but I am not sure that I would succeed.

 That word “temptation” is, of course, central to our Gospel today. (Luke 4:1-13) Jesus too was tempted. But we tend to think that somehow it was easier for him because he was the Son of God. This is actually quite wrong. God chose to become fully human in Jesus. He did not pretend to be human, and so he had to face all the same problems that we face. He was “tested as we are” (Hebrews 4:15) and it was so hard, that (as we heard in the Gospel) he had to go away from everyone else as he struggled to resist these things.

We might also think that Nazareth, where he was brought up, was a quiet country village without the troubles and temptations of our modern life, where all sorts of things are now accessible to us through the computer. Again we would be mistaken. Nazareth was a town full of the hated foreign Roman soldiers; the archaeologists have even found their bathhouse! You can be sure therefore, that like any garrison town, all sorts of things were on offer, polluting the purer life that must have been there before the soldiers came.

So here is one temptation Jesus must have found very difficult to resist. He was tempted to use military power to put everything right. The evil voice within him said, “I will give you all this power and the glory of these kingdoms.” In other words, “I will not forgive these foreigners who have taken over my country. I will not forgive their awful offences. I will rise up as a great leader and smash them and their Empire to bits. Then I will rule the world and bring people peace.”  We know that he chose a different way – to bring a different kind of peace through love and service and sacrifice – but that was a hard road for him, as it is for us. He even forgave them whilst they killed him brutally on the cross.

 We could go further. Remember the story of the Roman soldier coming to Jesus for help? (Matt 8) Here is a time to make them look small. We are reminded here of one of the Corporal works of mercy –“to welcome the stranger.” And this man was not just a stranger, but one of the hated foreigners!  It’s interesting that Jesus has just crossed another barrier, and reached out and touched a hated leper. Now he reaches out to this foreigner, and simply says “I will come.”  Have you ever noticed that we are asked to echo the soldier’s reply every time we come to Mass “Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof”. We are called, at that moment, to think of ourselves as the offenders, those who spoil the goodness that God wills for the world; and yet in his mercy he forgives our offences. So, every day, we are taught to pray “Forgive us our trespasses” and called to try to forgive and to love in the way God forgives and loves us. For God never says “No. Go away” when like that soldier we ask for his help. God, in his mercy always says “I will come”.

 It is only as we think of ourselves as offenders in need of God’s mercy, that we have any chance of forgiving others who offend us. It is only as we think of how God bears patiently with us as we go astray, that we have any chance of bearing those who do us ill.  Jesus always replies to his temptations by turning to God the Father. He says “You must worship the Lord your God and serve him alone” .That must be our way too.

 

 

 

 

Sharing God’s glory

As I am sure you know, Lent begins this Wednesday – Ash Wednesday as we call it – and once again I will be trying to help us all to think, not of what we might give up for Lent, but what extra we might do for God and for others. And this year, being the Year of Mercy, I thought I would choose one or two of the traditional works of mercy each week, to help us think about this.

 I must admit that when I looked at these works of mercy there was one that made my heart sink – to admonish sinners. It conjured up in my mind those stories that some of you have told me of priests who, in the past, went on and on about sin and hell, and turned the Catholic faith into an opportunity to make everyone feel guilty. But then I thought, that this is the very one I should start with, not just because the readings today mention sin, but because it is very easy to turn Lent into a time when we think about sin, and how we ought to be better people, rather than about God and his love and mercy. How easily we start thinking about the naughty things we might give up, most of all things we eat or drink, and miss the heart of the message of Jesus.

So as we think about admonishing sinners, we need to think most of all about how Jesus did it. And as soon as we do that, we will realise that Jesus did not go on about sin at all. No, his message was all about God; and the only people he admonished were those hypocrites who suggested that they were perfect and that everyone else was a sinner. Listen to Jesus on this ;-  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”(Matt 23:27-28)

So that’s the hypocrites dealt with, but how then did Jesus admonish everyone else? And the answer comes in two of our readings today. Look at Peter in the Gospel (Luke 5:1-11) He does not become aware that he is a sinner because Jesus has gone on about sin. No, he realises he is a sinner when confronted with the glory of God displayed in the amazing catch of fish. And then, he does not reel off a list of things that he will try to do to show God his love. No, his only response, is awe and wonder. Not “Lord I will try to be better” but simply “Leave me Lord, I am a sinner.” 

Our 1st Reading (Isaiah 6:1-8) also reminds us that we need first to look at God and his glory, not at ourselves.  Isaiah, like Peter, is blown sideways by this glory. He hears the words we now use at Mass. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. His glory fills the whole earth.’; and he responds “What a wretched state I am in”. But God doesn’t say “Yes you are”, and reel off all the things Isaiah should do to be a better person; no, he reaches out and touches his lips and takes away his sin, so that Isaiah, instead of launching into a massive scheme of self-improvement, can say “Here am I, send me.” In other words, now go and share the glory of God with others.

So as we begin Lent on Wednesday let’s do that too. Let’s do the ashing bit to remind us that we all are imperfect people, but then let’s get on with doing God’s work in one way or another. But as we remember that one of the things we are meant to do for God is to admonish sinners, we know that we do that simply by doing our best to share God’s glory, not going on about sin.

We are all lifted out of our selfishness when we see others doing good in tough circumstances, when we see, for example, people helping others in those refugee camps, or dragging desperate drowning people out of the sea. Most of us may not be able to do such heroic acts, but we can still help others in one way or another on a regular basis. We only have to look at that list of the corporal works of mercy to see what I mean – “to feed the hungry – give drink to the thirsty – clothe the naked – welcome the stranger – visit the sick – care for the imprisoned – bury the dead”  And I will be looking in more detail at some of these in the weeks that follow. Here in England however we will do two of these works of mercy soon as we have our CAFOD Fast Day and Collection in 2 weeks time.  Perhaps however we might think about doing a bit more about this? Maybe setting up a Standing Order so that we give to CAFOD or a similar agency every month rather than twice a year, or if we do this already increasing the amount we give?

 So here is a first suggestion for Lent. More to come in the weeks that follow.

 

 

Moving out beyond the rules

Frances writes on this Sunday’s Readings :- “To those who have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-25). My guess is that throughout the entire story of the human encounter with God, humankind has misconstrued the relationship, taking as folly, as foolishness, God’s actions towards us and believing that we know better. Even today, Christians find it almost incomprehensibly difficult to accept that Almighty God could become incarnate for us and suffer and die for humanity, whilst the notion that his intention for us is that we actually share divinity with him is simply risible. We can only think about God according to our terms; those parameters fixed by power, control and above all success; and however much we claim to follow Jesus the Son who died and rose for us we actually find it almost impossible. Each Lent, reaching up to Easter, its dramatic climax or damp squib depending on how one views things, we follow Jesus on the route to his death and our salvation, and the utter incomprehensibility and folly of God hits us in the face. Many will try to excuse the catastrophe of the passion and death by claiming that Jesus did not really suffer; that he did not really die or that the resurrection, when it came, was some elaborate psychological game. Those of us who do believe it simply have to shake our heads. It is quite inexplicable.

Perhaps this is why the compilers of our lectionary get us to explore the 10 commandments at this point in our Lenten journey. (Exodus 20:1-17). This set of rules, by which the people of Israel were to abide, clearly dates from considerably later than the time of Moses, though some of them may have come up from an earlier format and would have been rules to safeguard the smooth running of the community. We can see this in the injunctions against killing, stealing, and bearing false testimony. Others date from a period when the Jerusalem temple and the Jewish faith were more securely established and religious conformity was de rigueur. Such would be the demand to worship one sole God, (distinguishing him from times when many were known); the injunction against the making of images and their worship (one recalls the tales of the making and worship of the golden calf, let alone the influence of the pagans and their gods); and the setting aside of the Sabbath as a day of rest and thanksgiving. All of these latter commandments have very clear ties to the unique relationship the Israelites had with Yahweh and were designed to give that relationship shape and sustenance. In a way all of the commandments are materialistic, they shape and define Israel as much as they tell us about their relationship with God.

In St John’s Gospel (Jn 2:13-25) the incident we call the ‘cleansing of the temple’ occurs at the start of Jesus’ ministry, directly after the Prologue, the call of the disciples, and the wedding at Cana. It will therefore set the tone of his entire ministry all the way through. Jesus is presented throughout as the one at odds with temple Judaism. His ministry will embrace dubious foreign women and from early on present an alternative core worship in his great Eucharistic exposition in Chapter 6 “I am the bread of life.” Unlike the brief synoptic picture, which presents the cleansing of the temple as part of the final build up to the arrest and passion, John has done something deliberate and quite distinctive with this well remembered scene. His account is far more detailed and raises the whole issue of the significance and power of the temple and speaks of its complete replacement by the person of Jesus. Why?

Can it be that Jesus believed that Temple Judaism had completely departed from its earlier call presented in the Exodus tradition of the 10 Commandments? Are we to think that his violent expulsion of the animal sellers and money changers represented precisely their adoption of a multiplicity of gods, money being their chief, with their idolatry made clear in their greed and their hypocrisy? Certainly the policy of the temple authorities in allowing these sales to shift into the temple precinct profaned the temple and made the Court of the Gentiles, (where the market was) impure. We know that there were shops around the perimeter of the temple which could offer animals for sacrificial sale, so there was no actual need to profane the temple, apart from the desire of its authorities to get a tighter grip on the sale of the animals. St John’s image of Jesus and of his actions and entire ministry, shaped as they all are by this dramatic incident, leaves us in no doubt that he intended us to see Jesus as someone distinctly at odds with Jerusalem and its brand of Judaism; and as offering the faithful a new and wholly richer notion of their relationship with the divine, summed up par excellence in his great prayer in John 17, in which he calls for our total unity with one another and the Father and the Son, their gift to us, with all its staggering possibilities.

And so, on the Third Sunday of Lent one feels that the pressure really has been turned up as we are faced with the great call of Jesus to move out beyond the rules and regulations, whether we abide by them or not, and to begin to accept the great offer that Father and Son are holding out to us as we, like the temple, prepare to be cleansed and offered new life in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homily on doing things for God NOW

As we are now in the world of instant messaging, you will not be surprised that the word that caught my eye from the Ash Wednesday readings was that one word “NOW”  (Joel 2:12-17) We heard it again in the 2nd reading too, “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”  (2 Cor 6:1-2)   It reminded me of how important it is to use the text message or the email whenever we can to send support and prayer to those who need it. It is so easy to say to oneself that I will get in touch tomorrow instead of doing it today. Or to say to oneself that I will pray for so and so next time I say my prayers, rather than actually to start praying for them straightway. This approach to prayer is so important. For our prayer must not just be time set aside for our prayers, but something we do as we live – on the bus or the train, in the kitchen or the office. Wherever we are we can and should pray. We should use the moment something or someone comes to mind and not leave it till later.

Making resolutions about something we might do later is rarely a good idea. It reminds me of New Years Resolutions, and Lenten Resolutions are much the same. As a regular swimmer I look at those people who arrive in the Pool every January clearly filled with the Resolution they have made to swim every morning. Every year it is the same. By the end of January most of them have disappeared, as we regulars knew they would, and of course we sigh and think ourselves so superior!! 

So I would advise you against making lots of plans for Lent about giving up this and that, or taking some things on. It is always a mistake to set ourselves on the course for failure rather than choosing one thing that we can do now whatever that may be. So remember to send that text message or email straightaway and let someone know now that you are praying for them. Never say “I will pray for you”. Always say “I am praying for you now”.

It is the same message that we get from Jesus when he tells us not to worry about tomorrow’s troubles, but just to get on with what we have to face today. (Matt 6:30-34) Living for today, living for now is such an important thing to do. Indeed it is at the heart of what the word “Repent” means. Repentance does not mean building up in ourselves a list of things we feel sorry about. It means turning to God now. For if we spend time creating a list of things that we should feel sorry about we are in danger of being obsessed with ourselves rather than recognising our need for God. That is what St Paul is talking about when he says “Now is the day of salvation”. He has just said “Be reconciled with God” and then he makes it clear. Do it now.

This is what receiving the ashes on our heads on Ash Wednesday is all about. We are told to remember that we are but dust and ashes. The priest says “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” and we are reminded that we may die tomorrow so we had better get in with doing things now rather than leaving them till it is too late. So away with lots of Resolutions for Lent. Let us rather decide to do live every day for God, and discover each day what we might do now to serve him.