Lent is the time when we engage in a period of reflection, repentance, and spiritual renewal in preparation for Easter.
Central to this observance is prayer, which serve as a means of deepening one’s connection with God, seeking forgiveness for shortcomings, and strengthening faith.
Through prayer, we seek to emulate Christ’s forty days of fasting and prayer in the desert, drawing closer to God and embracing a spirit of self-discipline and humility. Lenten prayers are an integral part of the Catholic journey during this sacred season, guiding us toward spiritual growth, transformation, and a deeper understanding of God’s love and mercy.
In this particular Lent, we share the anguish of Jesus in the desert as we view the state of the current world today, its conflicts, anger and hatred, all the antithesis of the message of Christ. We unite our challenges, our ailments and our sufferings with the torment of Jesus over the state of the Earth to help us prepare for Holy Week, the chance of forgiveness, redemption and renewal for us and humanity.
Here are three prayers for Lent. See also our Lent resources page for further reflection and prayers.
The desert waits (an invitation to Lent)
The desert waits, ready for those who come, who come obedient to the Spirit’s leading; or who are driven, because they will not come the other way.
The desert always waits, ready to let us know who we are- the place of self-discovery.
And whilst we fear and rightly, the loneliness and emptiness and harshness, we forget the angels, whom we cannot see because of our blindness, but who come when God decides. that we need their help; when we are ready for what they can give us
Ruth Burgess from ‘Eggs and Ashes’ (1990)
The Beatitudes (inspired by Matthew 5:3-12)
Blessed are the poor… not the penniless but those whose heart is free.
Blessed are those who mourn… not those who whimper but those who raise their voices.
Blessed are the meek… not the soft but those who are patient and tolerant.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice… not those who whine but those who struggle.
Blessed are the merciful… not those who forget but those who forgive.
Blessed are the pure in heart…. not those who act like angels but those whose life is transparent.
Blessed are the peacemakers not those who shun conflict but those who face it squarely.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for justice… Not because they suffer But because they love.
P. Jacob in ‘Bread for Tomorrow’.
Cafod Lent Prayer 2024
Loving God, when our boat is rocked on the sea of life, by poverty, illness or disaster, you quiet the waves, calm the storm, and lead us safely to shore.
When we work hard, for our daily bread, but at the end of the day go hungry, you walk alongside us, calling, “cast out your nets”, knowing there is enough for all.
When we are lost, and uncertain of how to make a change in our world, your words ring out: “Come, follow me”, guiding us to new life with you.
Lead us then, Lord, to play our part in calming the storm and sharing your gifts with each other, so that all people throughout the world may look to the future with hope.
CAFOD have a range of Lent resources including prayers, reflections and an interactive calendar. Sign up to the calendar and receive daily Lent emails of prayer, reflection and practical actions, offering an opportunity to pause, reflect and pray as we prepare for Easter.
Many of us in our parishes in the Diocese of Leeds had an opportunity before the October Synod 2023 to discuss some of the issues facing the Catholic Church.
Our feedback was sent to the Diocese to be considered, to go forward ultimately to the Synod. So, instead of being a top- down process, it started at the grass roots around the world and responses were synthesised – all brought together – at diocesan, Bishops’ Conference and Continental levels. Our Bishop Marcus Stocks along with John Wilson, the Archbishop of Southwark, represented the Bishops’ Conference at the Synod, and a number of lay people, including Professor Anna Rowlands of Durham University, went to Rome to take part in the Synod. This inclusive approach was promising.
Preparation did not happen in some parishes, but it is not too late to become involved now and encourage others to do so. The Synod Part 2 meets in Rome in October 2024. Inevitably some ideas in October 2023 got diluted or left out during the synodal process, but I think us older people have become accustomed to knowing this is what can happen in all walks of life, and to continue to concentrate on the important things – and not to give up.
I hope that if you read through to the end of this Reflection you might find some aspects to feel engaged and optimistic about…
What relevance does this all have for us older people? I think it is important for us to be involved in this worldwide consideration of the future facing the Church for a number of reasons.
The Synod Part 2 takes place in October 2024 so there is not much time. There are a number of worthwhile issues to consider that were raised last October – to feed back to Rome in the autumn. The Synodal process has emphasised the importance of priests and people listening, speaking and working together, which is key for the future.
I know many of us acknowledge the future of the Church will be in the hands of younger generations, but we have a voice too…and hugely valuable experience to impart! Older people have years of experience in our families, parishes, charities and church organisations and encouragement to offer to younger people during this synodal process. We are the ones who have experienced the reforms of Vatican 11 in the 1960s and can see what still needs to happen.
A Summary Report of the First Session of the Synod was written, and I quote from its 41 pages below.
It was proposed that “each local church equip itself with suitable and trained people to facilitate and accompany processes of ecclesial discernment.” (page 8.) “Among all the baptised there is a genuine equality of dignity and a common responsibility for mission, according to each person’s Vocation. By the anointing of the Spirit who “teaches all things’ (1Jn.2:27) all believers possess an instinct for the truth of the Gospel, called sensus fidei,” (page 9)…which can lead to a consensus of the faithful (consensus fidelium),” as at the Synod, “which is a sure criterion for determining whether a particular doctrine or practice belongs to the apostolic faith “(page 9.) Stated at the beginning of the Report, this potentially allows for inspired thinking at every level from lay people and clergy. It is encouraging for the future but we need to act on it now.
Throughout the Report references are made to more decision making in the future at diocesan level, rather than in Rome. Pope Francis has previously said this e.g. over pastoral decisions being permitted at diocesan level about divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion. It seems to me that he has continually been trying to devolve decision making during his papacy. Here it is reiterated and timely for inspired, sensitive to culture, inclusive, localised thinking. In my view we need to encourage our Bishops and people to work together on these ideas.
Women in the Church
It was stated (page 21) that “women constitute the majority of those who attend churches.” However, “clericalism, machismo and inappropriate use of authority continue to scar the face of the Church.” (page 22). There is a hint of considering inclusive language in liturgical texts (Page 23). Research on women deacons is to be continued and hopefully results presented next October. There have already been two Commissions which have not yet agreed to women deacons. (I know of many women who support women as deacons, while not wanting to clericalise the diaconate.) Women being included on theological programmes, seminary teaching and women judges in canonical trials are proposed. (page 23.) If we agree with these ideas, we can continue to voice them.
Seminary Training should be more “linked to the daily life of communities,” so there was some mention of reform (page 25.) The Report says compulsory celibacy needs to be further discussed. I have been told that married priests are mentioned once, in the 41 pages of the Summary Report but I cannot find the reference.
The potential conflicting difficulty in abuse cases where a Bishop is both father and judge was raised (page 28.) However, dealing effectively, promptly and consistently with clerical abuse has to be continually tackled as it is so damaging and is a top priority to people of all denominations and faiths.
Synodal working and the more transparent and active relationships between the Roman Curia, Cardinals, Bishops ” and more attentive listening to the voice of the local churches” was raised (page 29.)
Formation of all
Education for all, including lay people was mentioned and is a theme that, in my experience, is expressed all the time in meetings. How to listen to each other, especially with complex issues including painful excluding issues, was also raised.
For me, one of the most promising pointers from the Synod was that Bishops, women and men met in small groups to listen and speak in turn at round tables. This was instead of sitting in serried rows at previous Synods to listen, as spectators. There were some speakers in October, but apparently people remained at tables. This, to me, was a powerful symbol of the Synod.
So, where does this leave us older people?
A lot of preparatory work, offered to all parishes, but which included some of us, was undertaken, and the feedback we got from the first parish sessions was useful. We didn’t get feedback from our second parish sessions, I understand this was because the administration of it became overwhelming. However, feedback would have been useful for each of our parishes who took part.
Those who attended the Synod in Rome worked hard at a large number of issues. Christopher Lamb, until recently Rome Correspondent at The Tablet, described it as a consultative rather than a deliberative assembly. This might account for the numerous proposals raised, rather than decisions made. Is there time in our Diocese to come up with draft action plans for some of those proposals by next October for the Synod Part 2?
I think many of us over the years have raised the need for more adult theological and pastoral education locally and globally. There are some courses available but they are expensive, at a distance and few locally. Let us hope this situation changes soon as there are fewer Priests and Religious working in the Diocese, and an ever greater need for more lay people (paid and voluntary) working at all levels.
Mention of the role of women and the presence of around 40 women attenders with voting rights was, personally to me, very welcome. Ideas of how to include more women at all levels were not clear but is happening in some of the Departments in Rome. However, yet again the proposal for women deacons was, for the third time, deferred for more discussion. Deciding how women can be assimilated into the current clerical structures has to be worked out without adding to clericalism, but decisions need to be made soon either way. Many younger women, with this kind of calling, accustomed to equal opportunities in secular life are walking away.
The use of exclusive language about ‘men and brothers’ in liturgical readings to congregations with a majority of women, in my view, has to change now. Many of us already make inclusive language changes but this needs to be approved officially and the sign it would give would be powerful.
To conclude, for many of us these issues have been raised before. For us older people we have the life experience and some acquired confidence to encourage our parishes and priests to discuss and act on these issues. This can be done formally at diocesan level, Parish Pastoral Councils, parish meetings and in homilies. It can also be raised informally wherever we are at: after Mass at coffee, at prayer groups, with friends and people we don’t yet know around us. We have now been given the opportunity to speak and listen to each other, and to try and give some feedback to parishioners, priests and our Bishop about what we think and feel.
As we reach the end of Advent, we celebrate the joyous feast of Christmas.
It is a moment when we contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation, the divine becoming human, and the immense love of God manifest in the humblest of forms. In the midst of the festive decorations and the warmth of our gatherings, let us take a moment to turn our hearts toward prayer, seeking to deepen our understanding of the profound significance of this holy season.
As we pray during this Christmas season, let us ponder the miracle of the Nativity, where heaven touched earth in the form of a tiny child born in a humble manger. Christmas is a celebration of hope, peace, and love, encapsulated in the gift of God’s Son to humanity.
At this challenging time in human history and facing the challenges of our own lives, we celebrate that the darkness is pierced with the greatest light to shine for all humanity. The words of the angel to the shepherds echo through time, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).
In our prayers, let us express gratitude for the light that Jesus brought into the world—a light that dispels darkness and offers us the path to eternal life. May we find inspiration in the Holy Family, reflecting on the obedience of Mary, the courage of Joseph, and the vulnerability of the newborn King. As we exchange Christmas greetings, perhaps give and receive gifts and share meals with loved ones, let our prayers extend to those who are lonely, marginalised, or suffering, echoing the compassionate spirit of Christ.
This Christmas, may our hearts be filled with the true meaning of the season, and may our prayers unite us in a sense of shared joy and purpose. Let us open our hearts to receive the abundant blessings that flow from the manger in Bethlehem, embracing the transformative power of God’s love and mercy. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we offer these prayers, entrusting ourselves to the grace of the Christ Child born on this holy night.
Growing Old Grace-fully, Christmas 2023
Here are three Christmas prayers:
God of Joy
Remind me to rejoice Wrapped up in my Christmas gifts Tied down in my debts I have forgotten
God of peace, Remind me of your calm In my anxiety And in my haste I have forgotten
God of all Remind me Of the true light of Christmas Of your gift shared
In my own wants And in my own needs I have forgotten Wrapped up in my little world Remind me of your world God of joy, remind me To rejoice
In the star we see the cross; Its points, the thorns, The azure ring, his robe. The light which shines on all The arms which embrace all.
And this despite their mockery, Mock majesty, pageant pantomime and pomp. All human conceptions of kingship Border on the Vaudeville Verge on the burlesque.
Kings in a stable out of proportion Distorted, like the body on the cross. Our attempt to nail down Divinity Racked and disjointed, Still suffering our mock homage.
Cast crowns, cast lots, cast off your Tawdry kind of kingship – So much dressing up – Christ rides triumphant over cast-down cloaks Every inch a king with none of the apparel.
His crown, the star The cross, his throne where he Invests the cosmos with his gift of Love, unadorned.
Sr Laurentia Johns OSB, Stanbrook Abbey
The Hope of Christmas
The hope of Christmas God, our dayspring and our dawn, We turn to you when we fear the dark And all around us weep. We pray you greet us with your shining light That we may spread your warm embrace And kindle the hope of Christmas In all whose lives remain in shadow. Come and be our strength O Lord, our hope and our salvation.
Advent, a season of anticipation and preparation, invites us to pause, reflect, and open our hearts to the profound mystery of Christ’s coming at Christmas.
In this special time, we find solace in the promise of hope, the light that pierces through the darkness, illuminating our path towards spiritual renewal and transformation.
At this difficult and distressing time in history, with so much conflict, we pray with the hope of Christ for peace and for justice as we reflect on the true message of Jesus’ birth in an dirty, drafty stable, far from home and material comforts.
As we are surrounded by commercial messages and the fake Christmas of the commercial world, we instead recall and reflect on the difficult, stressful and exhausting journey made by Mary and Joseph as we prepare for true Christmas.
As another year draws to an end, we also reflect on our own lives, our successes and failures, joys and sorrows, challenges and blessings and unite them all with this journey towards the first Christmas, towards hope, joy and the light of Christ.
Here are three Advent prayers to use during December as we prepare, reflect and above all, hope.
With expectant waiting we anticipate your coming. Come close to us, Lord, come very close.
Come, Alpha and Omega, who is from before the ages. Come, Son of Joseph and Son of Mary, who went down to Nazareth to be obedient to them.
Come, Morning Star, who named the stars.
Come, carpenter from Nazareth, who knows the smell of planed wood.
Come, Beloved Son of God, who knows the heart of God.
Come, Son of Man, who knows the hearts of God’s people.
Come, Lord of Life and Prince of Peace. Come, Dayspring and Rising Sun. Come, Wonderful Counsellor. Come Emmanuel, God with us; God very close to us.
Advent litany: Lord, we look to you
As we look to you for judgement, hold out your hand of compassion that we may be chastened by your show of mercy and reach out to others in reconciliation.
Lord, we look to you in whom we hope
As we contemplate our end, make us mindful of your promise of a new beginning that we may share your promise of life and bring hope to those who sit in darkness.
Lord, we look to you in whom we hope
As we remember Elizabeth in her barrenness, fill us with longing for the birth of a new creation that we too may be surprised with joy and labour with those who seek to make all things new.
Lord, we look to you in whom we hope
As John leapt in his mother’s womb, help us so to recognise Christ in friend and stranger that we may respond in love and learn to serve our neighbour with generosity not judgement.
Lord, we look to you in whom we hope
As Mary and Elizabeth sought each other, grant us the wisdom to recognise our needs that we too may seek each other in solidarity and offer strength to the powerless.
Lord, we look to you in whom we hope
As Mary proclaimed the salvation of the Lord, give us courage to stand alongside the downtrodden that we may sing of their hopes and join hands to realise their dreams.
Lord, we look to you in whom we hope and whom we long to see.
God of hope
God of hope, we cling to you, for your renew the face of the earth. Through the gift of your Son, our Lord Jesus, we follow you on the path of dawn. Enlightened by your love and wisdom, help us to lead each other and all creatures back to your open arms. Amen.
I am writing as we begin the next four weeks of Advent preparing for the gift of God’s son to the world, to announce that our our period of waiting for a new worker for Growing Old Grace-fully is over!
I am very pleased with funding support from the Diocese, the Day for Life fund of the Bishop’s Conference and Holy Child Sisters, we have engaged a freelance worker to support our work.
Welcome to Greg Mulholland who will be working with us part-time for the next year.
Greg is an experienced communications professional and will build on the excellent work of our previous freelance workers, in taking forward the work of Growing Old Grace-fully and delivering our vision and mission.
We have a clear brief to organise Zoom meetings to support parishes to be more Later Life friendly, as well as working with two parishes more intensely to support them in their work with older people. This is of course on top of our communications to our subscribers and supporters.
Greg says, “I’m delighted to be working with Growing Old Grace-fully, to deliver its important vision and mission in our Diocese and I look forward to working with the Board, volunteers and parishes to help older people across the Catholic Diocese of Leeds experience spiritual, emotional and physical wellbeing in positive and inclusive parish communities”.
This December mailing includes an Advent reflection from a member of our board of trustees, Pippa Bonner and some suggestions for prayers which you may want to use yourself or share with other parishioners
With blessings for Advent,
Carol Burns and trustees of Growing Old Gracefully
When I was a child I was on the verge of tears when I sang the words of the carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” written by Christina G Rossetti (1830-1864.) (1)
“In the bleak midwinter frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;”
It sounded bleak, hard and cold. I lived in Scotland where I could understand that ”snow had fallen, snow on snow”…. I realised that a Bethlehem birth might be cold and hard, but perhaps little snow. I knew the point was that the Son of God was born in very humble, challenging, drafty circumstances away from family and community. As I grew older, I appreciated more the challenge that Mary and Joseph faced travelling for some uncomfortable days in late pregnancy, on the orders of an occupying regime to register their names. It may be on that journey Mary did not have the understanding and support of some of her extended family. They found it difficult to find accommodation as many others had also travelled to register. The unexpected, miraculous pregnancy perhaps was not accepted by some in the couple’s families. Joseph likely saved Mary’s life from stoning, a punishment for supposed infidelity and pregnancy outside of a betrothal or marriage. Her reputation, and his, may have taken longer to be restored.
We know too that they became refugees when Jesus was still very young. It must have been traumatic in a regional massacre to hide their child and make a perilous journey to Egypt.
As I write, Palestinian refugees are making a treacherous journey amidst bombs and gunfire: women, some pregnant, men, many older people, children, newborn babies are riding on carts and are walking to South Gaza adjoining the Egyptian border. Many Jews support the Palestinians but the fighting between Israeli soldiers and Hamas has brought death, injury, homelessness and fear. The modern refugees are taking a dangerous journey. Did Mary and Joseph find food, water and shelter along the way? Did they have to hide? How long did they have to stay before travelling back to their homeland to Nazareth? Were they welcomed or not when they got to Egypt? Many modern-day refugees encounter danger, hostility, rejection, and a great sense of trauma and loss about what they have left behind.
The amazing belief we have in preparing for Advent is the Incarnation, the birth of the Messiah, the great hope enfleshed…
Advent is a time of preparation and above all a time of hope! As an older woman, every year I appreciate more that Advent is a time of hope. Amidst war in the Middle East and Ukraine and around the world the Saviour, a Sign of Hope and Peace is born.
Christina Rossetti’s poem finishes:
” What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man I would do my part; yet what can I give him – give my heart.”
As an older woman this last verse still moves me. Whatever our situation: enough money to pay our bills or not; working or retired; living with others or alone; bereaved; with plans for a way forward or not; security, directly affected by war, trauma, grief or poverty or watching it on T.V., we all have ups and downs. During Advent we bring to God ourselves, our spiritual gifts, our time, our life experience… and our hearts. Christmas brings hope. There are hymns, prayers, online Advent Resources from the Jesuits, Franciscans and others, parish and diocesan events and numerous ways in which we can prepare for Christ’s birth, whether individually or communally.
Christ brings Challenge AND Hope.
May you have a Blessed Advent and a Happy, Blessed Christmas!
Pippa Bonner, December 2023
(1) In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti.
(Published by many including Decani Music, Suffolk 1999. No copyright holder given. Laudate Hymnal number 144.)
Scroll down for a summary from our Chair of Trustees:
On the first page of our Newsletter Carol Burns (Chair of Trustees) reflects on what we have been able to do over the last 18 months, and looks forward to September and beyond.
A Year like No Other
‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you’ Isaiah 43:2
This verse from Isaiah was the title we chose for our 12 page booklet sent out during the first lockdown when we were all reeling from the devastating effects of the virus in the first wave.
We will all have our own stories of the ‘waters’ we have been through and the ups and downs of navigating them.
Maybe our sense of God ‘being with us’ has also fluctuated at times, but in faith we know He is constant and eternally present.
Given the ever changing circumstances over the last 16 months, the trustees are very glad to have had the support of Rhoda Wu who began working for us in January 2020. Her imaginative and creative ideas and ability to work well with us have meant we were able to respond effectively, producing and posting out 2 printed booklets for those not online, holding 4 online services or events with different themes, sending out monthly updates, and working in partnership with at least 5 different organisations.
We know from feedback that these have had a positive and meaningful impact on older people across the parishes of Leeds (and beyond), and we believe the ripple effect will have caused more outcomes than we will ever know, for which we are grateful. One positive outcome of online activities has been that it enabled some people to participate who may have felt excluded in the past, a welcome addition to our ways of working.
Like many others, we are now turning our attention to September and the year ahead, consulting with older people, reassessing our priorities, and making tentative plans which we hope will meet the emerging needs of older people and parishes as we all readjust for a different future.
Initial consultation has highlighted that people would welcome some sharing good practice events on ‘Learning from Lockdown – supporting and including older people more effectively going forward’ so we are aiming to plan this for the Autumn. In addition many would like something on the topic of ‘Finding our Calling in Later life’, so look out for more about this coming up.
We have an ongoing commitment and funding for a Demonstration Project for testing out a Lay Chaplain for Older People role in 2 parishes this coming year and have started discussions with a couple of parishes about this.
Do keep an eye on our mailings and website for up to date information, and we look forward to connecting with you in one way or another soon.