What is blossoming in your life this Spring?


Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware.

(Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

Everywhere around us flowers are blossoming, trees are blooming, birds are singing, the whole of creation carries a message of new life. And yet, Spring is not a timid but a brave season. Little seeds planted in the soil first have to brave the darkness before they grow enough to pop-up their flower-head into the daylight. Often as they sprout in early Spring they are welcomed with wild wind, with rain and they need courage in order to keep growing. Flowers believe in Spring, somehow they know that a time of winter’s aridity will not last forever, they know that nature can change its course when warmer days come and as they blossom Spring will gradually heal the memories of darker winter days. In your soul there is a garden where flowers can bloom too.

At this time in your life can you notice areas that are blossoming? Those might be areas where you need to cultivate a little bit of courage. Is there a seed within your heart that needs nurturing, protection and encouragement in order to keep growing until it is ready to blossom? If a seed is to grow and develop well the soil needs to be ready, so you may need to do some preparatory work first, but that is okay. 

Take time to reflect on what has been blossoming for you in these first three months of the year. Set some time for prayer in order to talk to Jesus about it….or listen what He is telling you. You may also wish to journal about it, so that later in the year you can revisit the wisdom you gather at this time. I wish a blessing of thousand flowers upon your soul, and a soothing love of God to accompany you through life.

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland

Lenten Reflection: Compassion as De-framing

Lydia is the Education Adviser for the Bishops’ Appeal.  She explores the theme of compassion in this the second reflection of the joint Lenten Series between Bishops’ Appeal and the Church’s Ministry of Healing: Ireland.


Knowledge is Power.  This famous saying first attributed to Sir Francis Bacon has been unpacked and analysed from a multitude of perspectives over the centuries.  Knowledge provides confidence and security and its pursuit is certainly applauded as a desirable trait.

However, there is a flipside to this that can create a false encounter that prevents truth from surfacing, because our collected learning becomes our reality of someone instead of that someone being allowed to present themselves without our preconceived ideas or notions of them.  Our knowledge has replaced the reality in front on us and speaks for them instead of allowing them to speak for themselves.  With whom we feel connected, and for whom we feel empathy is not the other but our controlled pre-labelling of them.  In order to practise genuine compassion, the challenge is to relinquish that control – a purposeful self-emptying – not least so that we can tap into God’s infinite reservoir of compassion so eloquently spoken about in last week’s reflection.

From genuine connection flows genuine compassion.

Our stance becomes one that dies to the presuppositions that kept us safe and powerful in the knowledge of others and instead leaves us vulnerable to being transformed by the truth that meets us.   Particularly when the encounter is with a person or group perceived as marginalised or impoverished our preconception is that we have the opportunity and the obligation to transform them, to better them, to fix them, even to save them.  In those moments the truth of them retreats and they remain completely unknown to us.  When we respond according to achieving our own goals, even the goals of our good intentions, then the other becomes not a recipient but a means to our end.

And yet, if we respond to the Holy Spirit’s call to self empty, we become aware of the Divine Presence in the encounter ‘spinning the web of attention between the two who are facing each other’ (John V Taylor).  The response that the Holy Spirit commands is one that moves away from pre-judgment, fear and a desire to control.  It envelopes these by de-framing the self, by removing the power and by de-framing those who face us by allowing them to break free from the boundaries and minimising labels that we have imposed on them.

The beauty of the other exists beyond the self.  It is awesome beyond the capacity of the self to be awestruck by it and it is independent of any reaction the self may have to it or any relationship the self may form with it.

There are many ‘others’ in our lives.  Even those close to us, bound to us in intimate relationships – our partners, children, parents – can benefit from our de-framing of them in order that our almost intuitive and automatic knowing of them does not replace the truth of them.  As we spin the thread of our connected lives further out into the world, the other becomes our neighbours, our colleagues,  the sick, the elderly, those living with disabilities, the Travelling community, the International community, the poor both locally and globally.  Immediately, even these few examples spark emotions linked to stereotypes of those who have been named.  At once, we feel a certain way towards an entire group of people and that framing of them either creates a type of compassion based on our presumptions, or it ignites revulsion that quashes all potential for encounter or for compassion.

How do we overcome this?  We must again return to the Divine Presence in the midst igniting the possibility for genuine encounter, calling us to move beyond the boundaries of our narrow definitions and diminishing preconceptions to a place of seeing with ‘fresh eyes’.   As we allow the frames we have mounted to be taken down, then we realise we never quite beheld the picture we insisted it contained.

The Lent, take time to think of your opinion of two groups of people: 1 group you know well and the other that you only know about.

  • How could the awareness that your knowledge of these groups is not them affect how you think about/relate to them?
  • How could your attention to the Holy Spirit ignite your encounter with these groups?
  • How could a shift in perception from seeking to transform others to allowing them to transform you alter how you engage with these groups in the future?

St. Patrick, a missionary of God’s love

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye of every one that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

(from St. Patrick’s Breastplate)

St. Patrick is one of my favourite people from our Christian past. He was not born in Ireland but probably either in what is today known as Wales or in the North of France. At the age of 16 he was taken into captivity to Ireland, and as he admits in his “Confessions” at that time he “did not know the true God”. This is the image I have of that incident as it was happening: Patrick was on a ship, with thousands of others being kidnapped at the same time, and as they are being taken to Ireland, the Trinity looks down from Heaven; God’s gaze, like the lights on a stage, focuses on Patrick and God says, “This is the lad I want, I choose him to do my work”. That decision and Patrick’s openness to it changed the history not only of Ireland – but it changed Patrick too.

That same gaze is on us too. St. John of the Cross, a Carmelite mystic, speaks about a God who “constantly gazes at the universe, with a look that ‘cleanses, makes beautiful, enriches and enlightens’” (I. Matthew, The Impact of God, 112.). Same as Patrick, we need to allow to be captured by that gaze of God’s love; the gaze that will water the thirsty well of our souls, and nurture it with God’s Presence. St. Patrick’s Breastplate  is a very good prayer for practicing the Presence of God, especially if we pray it slowly, attentively. It brings to our awareness that Christ is everywhere we go. As Jesus said, “I am with you until the end of times”.

Now we remember Patrick as a saint, but he did not become who God intended him to be overnight. It took years for God’s plan to slowly enfold in his life. God used Patrick’s captivity for a good purpose; He made Himself known to Patrick, perhaps through those long moments of minding sheep and cattle somewhere on the Irish hills. Patrick’s calling was shaped like a pearl that is being formed out of dust. Dust coming into a shell is like any bad experience we might have in life. God’s grace and the presence of Christ transformed what could have been an extremely awful experience of captivity by forming Patrick into one the greatest missionaries the world has known. God can use any of our life difficulties too to draw us closer to Himself and to His purposes for us.

As I was reflecting on Patrick’s life a thought struck me: God was here before Patrick, God had a dwelling place in Ireland then, and He dwells here now. Patrick was open to recognise Him; Christ dealt with Patrick on a very personal, heart-to-heart level, as He does with us today as well. When Patrick came back to Ireland it was to give back to Ireland only what he himself received here – faith in Christ. Patrick is an icon of someone who mirrored God’s love to the people of this island, and through the communion of saints he does so to this very day. Patrick came to show Ireland, and all of us here, that we are the Beloved of God, which is after all the central message of the Gospel.

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland

Tapping into God’s Compassion this Lent

Imagining God's CompassionTraditional images for Lent often depict desert or wilderness, but this year, the image I’m carrying with me on the journey to Easter morning is this one, which for me has become a reminder of God’s compassion.

Thirteenth century theologian Meister Eckhart said, ‘Whatever God does, the first outburst is always compassion.’ We see this happen when Jesus heals the blind men in Jericho (“Moved with compassion, he touched their eyes”), when he feeds the multitudes with a few loaves of bread and some small fish (“I have compassion for the crowd” he says), when the father in his parable welcomes the prodigal son home (“his father saw him and was filled with compassion”). Time and again, we see that Jesus “had compassion on them”, or “was moved with compassion”, or “filled with compassion”.

I’m really grateful that that’s how it’s phrased, rather than, “And Jesus was such a compassionate person that he . . . cured, or fed, or forgave”. Undoubtedly, Jesus was–is–compassionate because we know that compassion is part of God’s nature. “For the Lord is compassionate and merciful” Ecclesiastes tells us. But Jesus’ life and stories invite us to participate in the kingdom of God. He shows us how to do it.

So it’s significant, at least to me, that his acts of compassion are not attributed to a personality trait, something you could test yourself on with a helpful online personality quiz. “Which of the twelve disciples are you?” asks a recent quiz making the rounds on Facebook. You could be St John (kind and caring), or St Thomas (intelligent and argumentative), or any of the other 12 and their associated characteristics. But seen that way, compassion can seem like a burden, something that, if not helpfully built into your personality profile already, is a virtue you must try, and many times fail, to achieve.

Jesus, however, was moved or filled with compassion, in what seems to be a spontaneous response to the suffering before him. I like to imagine that he was tapping into an infinite reservoir of God’s compassion that’s available to us, too, at all times and in every place. Maybe we don’t have to rely on our own reserves because there is an open and eternal invitation to receive God’s compassion and to take part in it. Participating in God’s compassion is not a burden, in no small part because it involves the relief of experiencing God’s compassion towards us.

So in this season, which offers us 40 days to try–and inevitably, sometimes fail–to discipline ourselves, I’m recalling the surprising splash of God’s limitless compassion.

What images are speaking to you this Lent?

How is Jesus inviting you to participate in God’s compassion?