All is change in two of our worldwide churches at the moment.
As we approach the celebration of Holy Week and Easter in 2013 it would seem a good time to reflect on the changes that we wish and pray for.
The Roman Catholic Church has a new Pope and he has chosen to call himself after Francis of Assisi. This is hugely significant. He has already spoken out to encourage the protection of creation and the defence of the poor. Saint Francis could be said to be a very modern saint as his love of creation and his love of Holy Poverty are still very relevant to today’s world.
Justin Welby is just beginning his time as Archbishop of Canterbury and it is very significant that he has spent a week on a pilgrimage of prayer beginning in our very own City of Norwich. Having worked in the world of commerce he may well be able to speak out on the side of the poor with some knowledge and wisdom. He has already shown a willingness to challenge the government on the effects their welfare reforms are having on the disadvantaged in our country.
There is a wonderful prayer that Franciscans use, which I would encourage all to use in these coming days.
when the world was growing cold,
to the inflaming of our hearts by the fire of your love
you raised up blessed Francis
bearing in his body the marks of the Passion of your Son
mercifully grant to us your people, true penitence
and grace to bear the cross for love of Him
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit
One God now and for ever more. Amen
I believe, when looking at this prayer, we ourselves could also be said to be living in an age “when the world was growing cold’.
When Saint Francis began his journey of faith he heard God saying to him, “Rebuild my church, which is in ruins”. We too need to rebuild the church as much of it today is in bad repair.
We need to ask God to kill off the bits of the church that are redundant, dead, or corrupt, or those bits of our churches that do not reflect the love and generosity of God. We need to pray that God will give to his church the new life of the resurrection and of his Spirit. We should not be afraid of death and resurrection. It is at the very heart of our faith.
We need God to give us discernment as to what is worth preserving. We need to pray, as Jesus did in Gethsemane the day before he was crucified, ‘Father your will be done’. Jesus said, ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit.” (John 12.24)
The whole world needs to make the shift from living out selfish lives. The selfish gene is very much alive and kicking and many people live as if they are the centre of all that matters. This way leads to great unhappiness and is destructive of communal life and abundant life. The way of happiness is the way of the cross. To put to death all that is selfish in us and to bring to life a way of life that is centred on God’s love and the love and care of others. The needs of all God’s creatures are important and particularly we need a bias towards enabling the poor and the dispossessed to inherit the earth. While there is still one suffering creature on this earth we need to work for relief from that suffering.
When one suffers we should all feel that suffering, because we are all diminished by the one who suffers. When there are many suffering, then our work is great. Let us remember we are all brothers and sisters. All one family.
Let us pray that in all the change that it going on around us that the seed of God’s love may take root in us and in all our churches. Let us pray that Pope Francis 1, Archbishop Justin and all of us can embrace the cross and resurrection and move forward to that place of abundant life that Jesus promises us.
Rev Philip Young is the Norwich Diocesan Environmental Officer for the Church of England. He is also a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and a Novice of the Third Order of Franciscans. His work for the Norwich Diocese is part time. The rest of his time he reads and writes on spiritual matters. He is able available to give talks, presentations or to preach and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.