Knowing Christ

“I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8)

This week we celebrated the Feast of the Conversion of St Paul. From that dramatic moment on the road to Damascus Paul’s life would never be the same. And given his effect on Christianity, we can say that the world would also never be the same. Yet I find that quotation a bit scary. It’s that word “nothing” – it’s so absolute. For Paul, there was nothing in the whole wide world more important than knowing Jesus. Does this depth of faith seem way beyond our possibilities – to truly know Christ?

In the last two Sundays’ gospels we have heard about the calling of the Apostles. Why did they do it? Why drop everything, why face an unknown future? At the end of the day, it was quite simply meeting Jesus that made them drop their nets, and leave their counting houses. It was He that reassured them that you did not have to be perfect to follow him, and that He could take care of the future, no matter what it held. Again, it was all about that “knowing Christ”.

Can we join that same journey as the Apostles and St Paul? Yes, we can. So this year we are doing something to help us all on this wonderful adventure of getting to know Our Lord. This week we are starting our “Do You Love Me” project. Over forty parishioners have signed up to follow together the beautiful little book of that name produced under the guidance of the Bishops of England and Wales. This book, I guarantee, will indeed bring you closer to Jesus, help you to know Him better and build a real relationship with Him.

The book is based around the last chapter of St John’s Gospel that I like to call “Breakfast on the Beach”. We are taken step by step through this climactic scene as the apostles encounter the risen Jesus, and Peter faces his three denials and experiences being rebuilt by just one question: “Do you love me?”

The project is not complicated. Every person reads a chapter at home then meets in small groups of about six to share their thoughts. Each group sets its own timescales. If you would like to be part of this project for 2018 and have not yet signed up, it’s not too late as we can make up new groups. Just email me at matthew@3churches.org

Fr Matthew

Father may they be one

We are in the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Week points us to just one of many broken unities in our human race. “The Cold Within” was written in the 1960s by American poet James Patrick Kinney.

Six humans trapped by happenstance, in bleak and bitter cold; Each one possessed a stick of wood, or so the story’s told.

Their dying fire in need of logs, the first man held his back, For of the faces round the fire, he noticed one was black.

The next man looking cross the way, saw no one of his church, And couldn’t bring himself to give the fire his stick of birch.

The third one sat in tattered clothes, he gave his coat a hitch; Why should his log be put to use to warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought of the wealth he had in store, And how to keep what he had earned from the lazy, shiftless poor.

The black man’s face bespoke revenge as the fire passed from his sight. For all he saw in his stick of wood was a chance to spite the white.

The last man of this forlorn group did naught except for gain, Giving only to those who gave was how he played the game.

Their logs held tight in death’s still hand was proof of human sin: They didn’t die from the cold without –

They died from the cold within.

Small things… Great love

We are into the season of awards – the Golden Globes ceremony took place last Sunday, the nominations for the BAFTAs were announced on Tuesday, and the Oscars can’t be far away. These glittering occasions remind us of the achievements of our celebrities, those public people who inhabit our screens and magazines. But what about the achievements of those who are not celebrities – our next door neighbours, the good deeds done by members of our own family?

As a priest, one of my responsibilities is, of course, to conduct funerals. Although this is part of my “job”, I count it as a great privilege. Before a funeral I’ll always sit down with the family to plan the service, after which I ask if it’s OK to talk about the deceased, so that I can make what happens in church more personal. They always agree, because they’re often very relieved to do so.

What happens next is like an artist painting a portrait. As we chat, a picture emerges of the person’s life, family, work and interests. Finally I ask them about who they were. It’s at this point that I get the feel of the real person, and often it’s now that the most remarkable aspects of their life comes out. Often I have to scribble fast as I learn about the wonderful achievements of ordinary people. Like the son who told me very recently how his mother couldn’t understand why not everybody will travel miles and miles by bus to visit a sick acquaintance like she did, even in her advanced years.

Now there’s nothing worse than a funeral which depicts someone as an impossibly perfect saint. But learning about people and their fascinating lives, and then being able to share that at a service, means that each funeral can become its own award ceremony. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said “Not all of us can do great things. But we can all do small things with great love.” So Golden Globes and Oscars are not for everyone, but the love and care we show in day-to-day life – small things done with great love – is so often heroic. And if we take a moment to think about people we know – it’s happening all around us.

Fr Matthew, adapted from “Wednesday Word” 10th January BBC Radio Wales