OUR BISHOP'S VISION
The Church of Clifton is called to be a people who believe in Christ, who celebrate Christ, and who live the way of Christ.
The Church is created by God to live, not for itself, but for others; to be a people who share in the mission of Christ, to proclaim the Kingdom and to make disciples so that the world will be transformed according to God's plan.
Our Parishes and Communities should be places where Christ is celebrated, shared, proclaimed and lived, where everyone is welcomed and valued, and all have a sense of responsibility for the life of the community and the world.
We are called to be disciples who not only know about Jesus but also come to know him in prayer. Our liturgies should be celebrated in such a way that Christ's word is heard, his presence known, and which are so connected to our lives that we joyfully take up the command ‘Go in peace glorifying the Lord by your life'.
LORD TEACH US TO PRAY
From the Gospel of St Luke
Once Jesus was in a certain place praying, and when he had finished, one of his disciples said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘Say this when you pray:
‘Father, may your name be held holy,
your kingdom come;
give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive
each one who is in debt to us.
And do not put us to the test.’
He also said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend and goes to him in the middle of the night to say, “My friend, lend me three loaves, because a friend of mine on his travels has just arrived at my house and I have nothing to offer him”; and the man answers from inside the house, “Do not bother me. The door is bolted now, and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up to give it to you.” I tell you, if the man does not get up and give it him for friendship’s sake, persistence will be enough to make him get up and give his friend all he wants.
‘So I say to you: Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives; the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him. What father among you would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread? Or hand him a snake instead of a fish? Or hand him a scorpion if he asked for an egg? If you then, who are evil, know how to give your children what is good, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’
In a letter to the Romans St Paul writes:
‘The spirit too comes to us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words, and God who knows everything in our hearts knows perfectly well what he means, and that the pleas of the saints expressed by the Spirit are according to the mind of God.’
Each time we feel called to prayer we can be confident that God is tapping us on the shoulder. If we do not respond he never gives up on us but the more we seek out the one who seeks us the more attuned we become to his call. To pray is to respond to him and to place ourselves in his presence.
There is a poem by Jessica Powers that calls us to imitate what Mary did and to offer up our emptiness to God:
‘If you have nothing
the gesture of a gift is adequate.
If you have nothing: laurel leaf or bay,
no flower, no seed, no apple gathered late,
do not in desperation lay
the beauty of your tears upon the clay.
No gift is proper to a Deity;
no fruit is worthy for such power to bless.
If you have nothing, gather back your sigh,
and with your hands held high, your heart held high,
lift up your emptiness.’
ENCOUNTERING CHRIST IN PERSONAL PRAYER
From the Gospel of St Luke
The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. He went in and said to her, 'Rejoice, so highly favoured! The Lord is with you.' She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, 'Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God's favour. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.' Mary said to the angel, 'But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?' 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you' the angel answered 'and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.' 'I am the handmaid of the Lord,' said Mary 'let what you have said be done to me.' And the angel left her.
Mary is unique and she has a singular mission as mother of the Lord and yet her experience of encounter at the Annunciation can teach us about the ways of prayer. There is a process of call and response that always seems to be present in the encounter with God that we call prayer.
The Angel sent by God waits for Mary’s answer. St Bernard of Clairvaux imagines the whole of creation awaiting Mary’s response. And it is worth quoting a good portion of his homily:
‘You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us. The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life. Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race. Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.’
Mary says, ‘Let what you have said be done to me’, and the Angel leaves her. In St Bernard’s terms the whole of creation breathes a sigh of relief because God’s plan of redemption is made possible by the simple yes of this young Jewish girl.
God has a plan, a mission for each of us which he has made in the silence of his heart. Our response remains crucial because whatever plan God has for each of us, the God who is rich in mercy and in love makes himself poor in that he waits upon our ‘yes’ to the mission he proposes for us.
From the Gospel of St Luke
Mary set out and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord? For the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.’
Throughout the gospels we catch glimpses of Jesus’ conversation with the Father. Jesus prays:
‘I bless you Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes Father, for that is what it has pleased you to do. Everything has been entrusted to me by the Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’
When you pray call on the Holy Spirit to help you.
Prayer is of the heart rather than the lips.
God listens to the heart of him who prays,
rather than to the words uttered by the lips.
And so when you would pray,
enter alone into the solitude of your heart,
and with your spirit and mind recollected
and emptied of cares, go into the place of prayer.
Stand in the Presence of God...
Gather together all the restlessness of your soul
and all the distractions of your heart,
and in God alone fix your whole desire.
When the love of Christ absorbs the whole
affection of someone in this way, he forgets himself,
for his heart is afire with desire for Christ...
…the Beloved is brought to the inmost core
of the heart, where He is given pride of place
because He is loved above all things
from the very depths of your being.
Happy the soul which is rooted in the Peace of Christ
and grounded in God’s love…
To read the gospels is to encounter Jesus Christ and, having met the Lord we have already begun to pray. God not only draws near to us he also gives us the words to pray:
‘Say this when you pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’
IN THE LITURGY
From the Gospel of St Luke
As Jesus looked up he saw rich people putting their offerings into the treasury; then he happened to notice a poverty-stricken widow putting in two small coins, and he said, ‘ I tell you truly, this poor widow has put in more than any of them; for these have all contributed money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in all she had to live on.
Jesus is in the Temple and he observes how people behave in God’s house. He sees people making their offerings. He notices that the rich give from what they have left over and so there is no sacrifice, they give without giving because they won’t miss what they have offered. So, in fact, they give up nothing. Then Jesus notices the woman who gives ‘two small coins’.
This is a turning point in St Luke’s Gospel. It is the last event before Jesus’ words about the destruction of the Temple and the Passion narrative begins.
Here Jesus sees his teaching put into action. For years he has been teaching his disciples that they must leave everything and follow him, that they must place all their trust in the love and mercy of the Father. Again and again the disciples fail to understand what Jesus is saying, that they must give all to God who gives everything to them. This event is so much more than a story of what we put into the collection basket at Mass. It is Jesus pointing out to his disciples the response he requires of them.