Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Innkeeper

Sacred Heart Carol Service 20th December 2006

One of the most charming features of the Christmas season is the Nativity Play.
The children vie for the different roles in the drama: who will be Joseph, or Mary? Who will play the shepherds or kings? Who will be the angels, or the animals? Sometimes it can be very competitive - if not amongst the children, then certainly between their parents.

Let me ask a question. If we were casting a Nativity Play tonight, who would you want to be?
Mary, perhaps? Well, of course, many of the girls want to be Mary: to put on the simple blue robes, to rock the baby in front of the crib, to be the ultimate centre of attention. It is, after all the leading role - to be the one who shows their love for the child Jesus, and so represents everyone there.
Or Joseph? Yes, the lads might want to be Joseph. The most important man in the scene, caring for his wife with some tenderness. Looking on with wonder at the new born child.
What about a shepherd? or a king? Yes, the rest of the lads will fight over who would be a shepherd or a king. Lots of shepherds of course - and that’s easy: a towel for a headdress and some old pyjamas, just about suffices. Rough and ready, the shepherds: that suits most of the lads. The ordinary working folk who come to worship their maker.
And posher people can be the kings - well to do that you have to be a bit more clever. You have to carry important objects, and perhaps even speak, saying “where is the child?” and “follow the star” and remember to say “frankincense” and not “frankenstein”. It’s the kings who remind us this baby is the real Lord of heaven and earth.
And the rest of the girls get to dress up as angels. Oh yes, I know that in the Bible angels are always male, but in a nativity play what lad wants to dress up in a white frock with a halo and wings? Get me an old towel anyday! And so the girls serve as the angels, who bring the worship of all creation before its Lord.
And there are some other roles, especially for the also rans, the last ones to get picked for the team, the ones who can’t be trusted to keep still or who could never remember their lines. They get to be sheep and donkeys and - if they are really naughty - the back end of the camel. In their humility they remind us of the humility of God himself.

So who would you be? Which role would you like to take on?

I’ll tell you who I’d like to be: the innkeeper.

Not because he gets to look after the beer - though that has its attractions. Nor even because his inn is undoubtedly a four star trattoria of culinary excellence.

No - I would want to be the innkeeper because he is the one who gives the Son of God his first earthly home. Simple, basic and makeshift at that. But a roof over his head, a home nonetheless.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And the innkeeper did not turn him away. Or ignore him. Or leave him for others to deal with. He welcomed him. Come, let us adore him.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Ordinary Time Sunday 24

Who do people say that I am?

On one level, this is a very odd question. Jesus of Nazareth. Son of Mary and Joseph. Carpenter from Galillee. Preacher. Even healer perhaps. They knew exactly who he was. He never stole anyone's identity. He did not impersonate another person for his own, or anyone else's gain. They all knew his name. Where he was from. What he did.

And yet, they kept asking this question. We hear it again and again in Mark's Gospel. When he forgave the sins of the paralysed man, they said 'who is he who forgives sins'. When he stilled the storm, they said 'Who is he, that the wind and waves obey him?' At his trial before the Jewish council, they asked 'Who are you - are you the Christ?' And Jesus asks his disciples the same question - Who do people say I am? Who do you think I am?

Identity runs far deeper than a name, a face. Identity is much more than a fingerprint, a retinal scan, DNA. All they do is say that you are not someone else. They cannot tell us who someone really is.

When we truly know someone, it is not an encounter of the mind and intellect. It is a meeting of the heart. I remember when I was at university I knew a lad, same age as me, who had an identical twin. They weren't always together, so I knew one twin, but not the other. They were identical in appearance. Identical fingerprints and DNA. They moved in a similar way. They even wore similar clothes. And when I once met the other twin, I knew straight away that he was not the brother I knew. Perhaps it was a facial expression, the fact he did not know me. I don't know - but he was certainly different.

Knowing someone, truly knowing someone, is being able to anticipate some of their attitudes, their actions. It is knowing likes and dislikes, dispositions, interests and concerns.

Recognising, knowing Christ, as Peter truly does in todays Gospel, is not appearances, titles, names. It is a matter of faith, of commitment, of love. It is his heart speaking to our heart. It is not so much about ideas. It may be something that is hard to explain or even justify.

But to know Christ is to know that he has given his life for us, and that we give our lives to him.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Ordinary Time Sunday 23

Readings for Today

Ephaphtha, Jesus said, be opened

We have a problem with miracles stories, because the first thing we think when we hear them is 'how is this possible'? The sceptical modern mind looks for explanations, methods. We never even get off the blocks in understanding the tale.

We are, of course, asking the wrong question. For an ancient people, for whom the world was still a wonderful and mysterious place, miracles were part of the fabric. They would not ask 'how' because they knew how, by the power of God. They knew the story is not some trick or puzzle to be worked out. They knew the right question to ask: not how is it done? but what does it mean?

What can it mean? Mark makes this very clear to, by giving us not only the sense of what Jesus said, but the actual word, as uttered by the Lord. Ephaphtha. Open up!

So often we close ourselves off to God. We resist his will. We avoid his claims on our lives. We skirt round or steer clear of what challenges the Gospel presents to us. It is not that we are wilful, wicked people. It's just that we prefer to keep something back. We go so far. But only so far. We know that we should be generous, but we cannot be sacrificial. We try to be curteous and tolerant, but we find it hard, so hard, to love our enemies. We like our home comforts, not just the physical, material ones, but also our spiritual comforts and security. Our hearts remain closed.

Open up! Ephaphtha! Jesus calls us to cast off our fears and anxieties, to allow his grace to enter us, to be filled with the love of his most Sacred Heart, to put our own comfort second and the promptings and pushings of his grace first. He calls us not to resist what we know to be right. He charges us not to relax in the security of habit and inaction but to embrace his will.

Courage! Do not be afraid! are the words of Isaiah which begin the first reading. Words with which John Paul II begin his papacy. Words which challenge us now. We need courage not to venture into the unknown, but in order to see clearly what we truly know. We need to open our hearts to hear his heart speaking to us.

Open up! Ephaphtha! Courage! Do not be afraid! For the Lord your God is coming. He is coming to save you!

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Ordinary Time Sunday 22

This people, Jesus says, honours me with lip-service

Lip-service! We all know what that means. What a wonderful English phrase it is. The service of the lips and nothing more. Words and nothing more. Ritual and nothing more. Empty words and phrases. Worship that is worthless.

There is a way of arguing, of making a point, which by slipping in just one little word seeks to undermine and devalue the other point of view.

Let me explain.

There are several words which can be used, but they all amount to the same thing. The words are just, or mere, or only or perhaps some other word or phrase which means basically the same thing: this, and nothing more. Politicians and campaigners often use this way of speaking. You can read and here them every day in the newspapers, on television and radio.

In this way of arguing, an apology can be said to be 'just words', a great ceremony 'mere ritual', an important person 'just a man'. The little word plays a trick on the listener. It appears to make a statement of fact, whereas actually it is just an opinion: every apology is words - but just words? Every ceremony is ritual, but mere ritual? Every famous person is a human being, but just a man (or woman)?

This way of making a point is basically a form of trickery. It has a technical, latin, name reductio ad absurdum - reduced to the absurd. It is like saying that football is only 22 men chasing a pig's bladder round a field for 90 minutes. The statement is true, but it tells us nothing about why football is important to people. The word 'only' hides a real concern for understanding.

So it is possible to describe things in such a way to make them appear pointless or worthless, empty and foolish. Words and actions, if they are only words and actions, can be very empty. Lip-service. Worthless worship. It does not mean, of course, that the words themselves mean nothing, or that there is no point in ritual at all. Jesus is not condemning here formal worship or spoken prayer. But he is saying that if our hearts are far from God, then we are little more than hypocrites.

True worship, true service, living liturgy must always be filled with love from the heart. We know this from our very ordinary lives. 'Sorry' can be said grudgingly, out of duty, or with deep sorrow. 'Congratulations' can be uttered with joy, out of politeness or even with bitterness. A handshake can be warm and welcoming, or formal and cold. A kiss can express the depth of love, or be an act of betrayal. Because it is possible to give them emptiness, does not mean that they are always so, or are even meant to be.

And indeed, saying the words, following customs, observing the rituals can actually lead us into not only good habits, but good attitudes. By observing our traditions we may actually come first to understand, and then to mean what we say.

The challenge for us is for our words not to be mere utterances, but words which come from the heart. Lying is wrong, not only because it is meant to deceive, but because our words do not match our hearts. It is good to be polite, but it is better to love - even to love our enemies. Taking part in the Mass, in the sacraments is one thing, but to be open our hearts to God's grace is what it is really about.

There is one last thing I want to say. There has been a lot of fuss in the Catholic press in recent weeks about the bishops' dcecision to move some of the Holydays from Weekdays to Sundays, and a lot ot the complaints have talked about the obligation, about people no longer being willing to make sacrifices to go to Mass in the week, and so. Oh, this is all so negative! 'Love the Mass' wrote John Paul II. The obligation of the Mass is to lead us into love - but without love, we are nothing.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Ordinary Time Sunday 21

Today's Gospel is about conflilct and rejection. It is also about truth, and about faith.

We live in a world where we yearn for compromise, for harmony, for reconciliation. We ask ourselves why Arab and Israeli, Jews, Christians and Muslims cannot live together in peace in the Middle East. Surely, we think, there can be give and take, live and let live. We are confused that there are Muslims, who believe in a merciful God, who in the name of their faith carry out terrible acts. And - before we become too complacent - let us not forget that it is not so long ago that we were troubled and disturbed by atrocities carried out in these very islands by those calling themselves catholics. When there is conflict, we want there to be peace - where there is discord we want harmony. If there is any prayer that sums up the feeling of the age, then it is that prayer of St Francis, 'Make me a channel of your peace'.

And these aspirations are of course good. We feel discomfort in the charge that it is made that religion has been the cause of war and suffering and pain in the world. We feel discomfort because we know that sometimes it is true. However, we feel that faith is about love, forgiveness, harmony, reconciliation - peace. Didn't Christ say 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you'?

But there is a problem. Didn't Jesus also say 'I come to bring not peace, but a sword'? Didn't he also say 'He who is not with me is against me'? Did he not also say 'Blessed are those who are persecuted'? Didn't he also say 'Brother will betray brother to death and the father his child'? Didnt he also say "If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes and his own life too, he cannot be my disciple." and in today's Gospel, didn't some of his followers say 'This is intolerable language' - and didn't some of them leave him, and stop following him?

The trouble is that truth is disturbing. It challenges. It threatens those who live with lies. Justice is troubling. It unsettles those who live comfortably off the exploitation of others. The light shines into the dark corners where things are hidden away from the clear light of day.

We could have a kind of peace which is based on lies, ignorance and deceit. We could ignore or hide the truth, pretend it does not matter, or say that there is no such thing as truth anyway. We could fool ourselves that all views are equal, all positions are valid as one another, everything a matter of choice, or private preference.

Or we can be honest.

There is no contradiction in longing for peace and facing rejection. Sometimes love is ridiculed and trust is exploited, but this does not make them worthless or pointless. True peace, true reconciliation must come from truth - but that truth may not always be welcome or comfortable or soothing. But truth is the only way, the only certainty.

Lord, Where else can we go?

You, Lord, have the message of eternal life, and we believe, we know,
that you are the Holy One of God.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Ordinary Time Sunday 20

He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in him.

Sometimes the Christian life is called discipleship. It is as if we are one of the twelve, or one of the very many more who followed Jesus around in Palestine and learned from him. Or sometimes, the Christian life is called 'the imitation of Christ' - there is a very famous book by this very title - and so it seems that we should try to copy what Christ did, live as he lived. As some Christians will tell you, when faced with a moral decision, we should ask the question "What would Jesus do?" Indeed, you can even get badges and car stickers that have the letters WWJD, just to make the point.

Well, these ideas are all very worthy, but I'm afraid there is something not quite right about them, or at least, not quite complete. It is not catholic teaching. It does not match up to today's gospel.

The idea of the Christian life being about following, or even imitating (though that is a little better) is that it seems it is all about effort. You know, like the school report which says 'Must try harder'. The Christian life, it seems, is about how hard I work at it, how much effort I put into it, how well I follow, or copy. Just do that little bit more, and - so it might seem - I will be perfect... And if I manage to do that, who should be praised?

Ah! We can see the fault in this approach.

We who receive Christ's body and blood do so, so that we may live in him and he may live in us. The Christian life is not about effort and toil, but about the indwelling of Christ, the working out of the grace of God. To live as people transformed by the eucharist, filled with life with this spiritual food, we have only to let Christ dwell in us and live in us. How can I live like a disciple? - the world has changed so much in two thousand years. How can I copy what Christ did? - my background and my circumstances are so different from his.

Yet I can allow Christ to live in me. I can allow my words and actions be filled with his wisdom and compassion. I can let his love shine on others though what I think and do and say.

Or not.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Assumption of Our Lady August 15th

Today we celebrate the taking of Our Lady, Body and Soul into the glory of heaven. It is an ancient feast, and an ancient belief, but it was only officially defined by the Church in 1950.
Perhaps you've never really thought much about the meaning behind this feast, but for some people the Assumption is a problem. It is not described - at least not directly - in Scripture itself. For some, outside the catholic church, it seems that we are making Mary into a sort of divine figure. They say we are claiming that Mary did not die. They say we are giving Mary honour which is due only to Christ.
Most of these points are easy to dismiss. To honour a human being, the greatest human being ever, is not to take away from the glory of God. On the contrary, it is to praise him even more for the wonders he performs through his creation. As Mary herself says "All generations will call me blessed, for the almighty has done great things for me". When we honour Mary, we praise God for the great things he has done.
But there is another reason why people might feel uneasy about the Assumption. Not because it expresses the glory of God seen in a human being, but because it seems to say something a little odd. This belief, this feast, says that there is no body of Mary on earth, no bones, no relics, no dust and ashes, but that she was taken up into heaven, whole and entire - that is what 'assumed' means.
Some might say 'why?' After all, don't most people believe that when we die our soul goes to dwell with God in heaven? Isn't our soul, our immortal soul, who we really are? our essence, our personality, our memory and identity? Surely, we have no need of a body in heaven?
This popular belief, that when we die our soul goes to heaven is inadequate for two reasons.
Firstly, because when we die our soul does not go to heaven -- it goes to judgement! This is why we pray for the dead. This is why we try to lead a good life. This is why we say 'pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death'. We trust in God's great love and forgiveness - but we should never rely on our own goodness. We pray that purified by God, our soul may indeed enter heaven to dwell with him.
And secondly this popular belief is wrong because heaven is not the end of the story, or, to put it rather better, our soul is not our essence, our full identity, or whatever we wish to call it. As Christians we do not believe in immortality, certainly not in reincarnation, but we believe in Resurrection - that at the end of time, after the last judgment, soul and body are reunited to live not just in heaven, but in a new heaven and a new earth. God restores his creation and we share in it through our recreated, transformed bodies. This is what Resurrection means - the rising of the body to new life in a new creation.
We might like to think that our bodies are only our temporary dwelling places, somewhere we must dwell just for a while. We might even like the idea that one day we will cast off this ugly and suffering flesh to be truly free. But that is not Christianity. We believe not in a spiritual Lord only, but a risen Lord. We believe that this world is not a temporary dwelling place, but the Lord's creation. We look forward to a new heaven and new earth, the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
That is why this world, the way in which we treat it, the way in which we behave in it, is so important. It is not just the stuff which will decay, as if it can be burnt away to be no more. It is the material of the new creation.
And Mary shares in this new creation. Just as she gave from her flesh in the incarnation of the Son, so her flesh shares in his risen flesh. This is a wonderful feast, a glorious doctrine, an awesome truth.

Orindary Time Sunday 19

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

John Henry Newman (Anniversary of Death August 11th)

Preached at the North Staffs Deanery Mass for the beatification and canonisation of John Henry Cardinal Newman at the Sacred Heart Church, Silverdale, on 11th August 2006.
A Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit: Readings for the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary

Although we celebrate a mass of the Holy Spirit with the intention of the beatification and canonisation of John Henry Cardinal Newman, the readings we have heard are those for the feat of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. I have chosen these for very good reason.

Back in his days as an Anglican, when he was Vicar of St Mary's, the University Church in Oxford, he delivered a series of sermons. They still make excellent and inspirational reading. There is one in particular which comes to my mind, when he takes the text which we find in this Gospel 'Mary pondered all these things in her heart'.

Mary pondered in her heart the great mystery of Christ's incarnation. She pondered in her heart the message of Simeon, that he would suffer and her own heart would suffer too. She pondered in her heart as she raised and taught her son, and as she watched him begin his ministry of teaching and and preaching and healing. She pondered in her heart as he suffered on the cross and made her the mother of all Christians. She pondered in her heart as she prayed She could not have explained or predicted all that it meant or all that was to happen, but in her heart she knew. She knew it all.

This understanding, this idea of the Heart, is central to so much of Newman's thought.

At first, this may seem a little strange. Newman might have been Victorian, but he was hardly a romantic (at least not in the modern sense of the word). He was first and foremost an academic, and by all accounts a rather dry and formal person, measured in his writing. His great homilies, many of which have been handed down to us, were not proclaimed with oratory, but written and read. The 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica admits that Newman was 'no speaker'. His letters, countless hundreds of which survive - for he sent not only a letter to each recipient but made a handwritten copy for himself - cover many subjects, but rarely portray warmth or enthusiasm. He certainly could become fired up with anger or bitterness or zeal: his tremendous autobiographical note, Apologia pro vita Sua, was written in a matter or days after the Revd Charles Kingsley (the author of The Waterbabies) has effectively accused him of deceit. But warmth and tenderness, those human qualities are less easy to find. There is nothing sentimental about Newman.

However, this cannot tell the whole story about Newman, and although we have so much of his writing, this does not mean we have too much of the Man. Although he was an exceptionally intelligent, well educated man with original thoughts and ideas, at the centre of his entire philosophy, his entire life, was the conviction that it is personal encounter, not argument, which makes all the difference. As a young man he underwent an evangelical conversion, and the profound sense of meeting with Christ is something which is reflected in his thought and action thoughout the rest of his life. His first Catholic home in England, after he returned from Rome, was at Old Oscott, on the outskirts of Birmingham. There he would have prayed in the oldest shrine to the Sacred Heart in the British Isles. He renamed the house Maryvale (Santa Maria in valle). Near the end of his life, when he was made a Cardinal, he chose the motto Cor ad Cor loquitur - Heart speaks to heart for his coat of arms.

For Newman, it was never the argument which convinced, however forcefully or thoroughly it may be put. It was always the heart which embraced the truth. Anticipating many ideas which only took full shape in the next century, he developed the idea that Christian truth is not a list of ideas, but first and foremost a person, Christ himself, whose heart speaks to our heart, and calls us to love him and trust him and follow him. In most aspects of our lives, he argued, we do not wait to be convinced that something is so, we simply trust that it is. So much that we easily and without difficulty accept as true what has not been proved to us and perhaps could never be - but we know that it is so, because we trust that it is. This is what he called The Grammar of Assent, the process by which we commit ourselves to accepting and acknowledging the truth.

Heart speaks to heart. So as we come together we pray that this great and holy man may be recognised for what he truly is. A saint and patron, an acknowledgement that rightly awaits the full judgement of the Church, but which is truly and certainly already known in the heart of God.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Transfiguration of the Lord (August 6th)

I have always enjoyed detective stories, plays and dramas, especially TV series. One of my favourites in the past was always Columbo with Peter Falk. Some still get shown on afternoon TV and satellite channels.

Columbo was different not just because of the eccentric detective, nor only because of his detective powers, but especially because in every episode in the first few moments the viewers saw who the murderer and was, and, to a certain extent how he or she did it. Columbo is not a ‘whodunit’ or even a ‘howdunit’, but instead a ‘how-did-he-work--it--out’? For this reason, it was really important not to miss the first few minutes of the show!!

Now - Mark’s Gospel is like this. At the very start in verse one we were told ‘The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ - and yet all the way through the disciples don’t quite get it, the people don’t quite get it, the Jewish leaders certainly don’t get it. Time and time again we hear that the crowds discuss ‘Who can this man be?’, his enemies say ‘Who does he think he is?’ and his disciples fail to understand what he teaches them.

But we, like the Columbo viewer, know exactly who he is, who he thinks he is, and what he means when he teaches them about his suffering, death and resurrection.

And so, in the Gospel, there are the occasional moments of insight, of revelation - the ‘light bulb moment’ when suddenly, and sometimes briefly, all is made clear. His baptism is one, when the voices speaks from heaven. Many of his miracles are like this, especially when someone shouts out ‘You are the Holy One of God!’ - and Jesus silences them.

And today’s Gospel, today’s celebration is especially one of these. The voice speaks from heaven and says ‘This is my Son, my beloved, listen to him!’ In a flash, a bright flash, all is made clear. This is who he is. This is what he has come to do. And what happens? Peter bumbles away, and the disciples puzzle what on earth Jesus could possibly mean.

In many ways we are so like the disciples, in the middle of a drama, a puzzle, to which the answer is very clear if only we can stand outside it. In all the puzzles, struggles, doubts and trials of life we struggle to do something, anything - a bit like Peter - that can make some sense, or we scratch our heads like the disciples trying to work it all out.

When we see the whole picture, the truth will be clear. When we are able to look back on the path we have trod, with all its uncertainties and wanderings, we shall be able to see the guiding hand of God.

What can we do? Build tents. Scratch our heads in bemusement. No - the voice of God which speaks from heaven has the answer. Remember what he says? ... This is my Son, my beloved ...

The proper response may not be frantic activity, searching for something, anything to do - like Peter. And the answer may not be found in our many questions and searchings, our discussions, debates, arguments and reasoning - like the disciples. Both responses suppose that the answer lies within us. It does not. The answer to the struggles of life lies with God. We must wait on him. Be ready for his promptings. Open to his grace.

Don't speak. Don't do.


Ordinary Time Sunday 17

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Ordinary Time Sunday 16

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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Ordinary Time Sunday 15

July 16th 2006
In today's Gospel Jesus sends out his twelve apostles in pairs. To do what? We would most likely respond 'to preach the Gospel', but when we read the text we learn something which is both more practical and more basic.

They go out with authority over unclean spirits. They go out to preach forgiveness. Time and time again as we read and listen to Mark's Gospel this year, we hear about this conflict with demons, unclean spirits, the devil. Time and time again we hear that Jesus' fundamental message is a call to repentance. 'Repent and believe the good news', these are the words with which Jesus begins his teaching. Yet for us, the talk of repentance is uncomfortable, and the language of demons and spirits is, well, the stuff of films and eccentrics, not the matter of down to earth, day to day Christian life.

How can we understand this? Well, first, do not be too ready to dismiss demons and unclean spirits. I remember in C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters, the words of a senior demon, that one of the greatest achievements the devil can ever have is to convince people that he does not exist. Think about it. If we say there is no evil, then we may fear nothing, but we do not escape danger. We live in a world where there are many competing ideas, many differing views, many beliefs. And the tendency is to say that they are all equal, all as good as one another. This is my choice, people say, and that is your choice - your belief and my belief. There is not - to the modern mind - any right or wrong views, just different choices. It is all a matter of choice. Choice is King. Perhaps it is the only value left, the right to choose.

But some choices are good and some are bad. To go back to the Gospel, some spirits are clean and some are evil. Good and bad do exist. If we think there is no evil, only different choices, then we are in very great danger.

Another wise man, G.K. Chesterton, famously said 'When people cease to believe in something, then they will believe in anything'. And so it is. Strange and wonderful ideas about life, spirits, angels, afterlife, reincarnation, horoscopes, fortune telling, chance, fate, superstitions of every kind abound. It isn't that people don't believe anymore - on the contrary they believe in almost anything so long as it not traditional, tried and tested. It must be some kind of novelty, something different: their choice.

But all ideas cannot be right, so some of them must be wrong, and if they are wrong, they could be dangerous. Some spirits are good and some are bad. Bad means unclean, in the language of the Gospel, in other words evil.

How can we know? Here is a simple test. If the ideas, beliefs, fads are only about self-improvement, self-esteem, assertion, fulfilment, individuality then we are right to be suspicious. These obsessions are basically selfish. They exclude others, and they exclude God. However, if our belief, our way of life involves sacrifice, self-giving, commitment to God and to the needs and good of others, not just of ourselves, then we may have turned to the right road.

That is what it means by 'repentance': a turning again of the individual away from an obsession with ourselves, and towards God and the needs of others.