Journal of a Parish Priest in Lockdown

Day 93: June 27

When so much is being removed from you, as it happened during the lockdown, you begin to think differently about so many things. I, too, had to consider what is my motivation and what gives me satisfaction. The list is long, and, in that regard, I am very blessed. I am blessed with caring people around me. I have the pleasure of doing my work. I enjoy the company of many persons who are eager to cooperate with me. I live well and comfortably. I look forward to visit members of my family and spend time with them. I love the celebration of liturgy, be that the Eucharist or the other sacraments. I look forward to the occasional visit to the library to draw a novel or follow an interest in psychology, inspirational biographies and community life. I enjoy a meal with friends and family. A good conversation, from which I can learn or develop ideas always invigorates me. So do meetings, from which I come inspired. There are so many other fulfilling moments. But all depended on one thing: access to persons and places. Most of these two things were drastically curtailed by the lockdown protocols. On a deeper level, it actually meant that my sources of happiness and fulfilment dried up. Into their place moved a sense of emptiness and disorientation. I then realise that I must use the opportunity to re-focus, in fact to re-think the causes for happiness.

The desire for happiness is something we are born with. Right now, this can mean different things to people. For some it is food security, for others to get a job again or being able to salvage a business that is laying in ruins. For the matriculant it is the expectation of finishing the syllabus and writing finals. For the grandparents it is the wish to see grandchildren and being able to hold and hug them. All of us had to reconsider our position and find those things that can make us happy.

First, I literally mourned the loss of many precious things. But then I had to re-define the things that make me happy. I could dust off the one or the other book that I have wanted to read for a long time. I had to slow down, and it meant more time for meaningful prayer. I could re-connect to some people from the past to have a chat with them. It was an opportunity to look into my relationship with my siblings. The parish community became even more precious to me. A challenging time for all, I was blessed to be able to offer some help. Some people lost dear ones, and I could give them comfort. Finally, spurred on by the promptings of the Holy Spirit, I could start doing some writing. I had a lot of time for reflection on my life and work to see what I can do better. It was a good time for introspection and some change of old habits, which will hopefully last longer. As I followed the experiences of people around the world and country, I could feel their loss and pain. The lockdown allowed me to assess the importance of relationships that inspired me. Silence and solitude became a wonderful experience. Though alone, I could feel the love and care of many people for me. The lockdown made me an individual, on my own, yet with profound solidarity with the rest of the world suffering the safe fate at the mercy of the Coronavirus pandemic. Looking back, all of this would not have been possible without the lockdown. This time introduced me to new forms of happiness.

Happiness is always inner happiness, as Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple computers, said facing death. Nothing can buy it; no material thing can secure it. So often did I find such happiness in people who have to contend with so little. Over time we have all come to realise how important relationships are for our lives and our involvement in the lives of others. At some point, we must decide what makes us really happy. A state official in the Clinton administration was a hard-working man who came home late every evening. He followed his routine by saying goodnight to his son who was already asleep. One night it shook him – he was becoming a stranger to his son. He immediately resigned from his high position. Saturdays he watched his son play football. Every day he supervised his schoolwork and played with him. He could see the development of his son. And it gave him such happiness. There was no material reward for it. It was inner happiness.

The pursuit of happiness can never focus on happiness itself. It is about the journey or process that enables happiness. I find that if I engage with a certain project, which looks promising, then I sense that deep feeling of happiness. Or when I have had a conversation with someone, from which both of us emerge wiser, I feel happy. When I hear of a young person who is making a success of his or her life, it makes me happy. When I plan something and work towards it in the different steps, I feel happy. Happiness falls into place as the fruit of such a process. There are people who wrongly try to focus on being happy, and usually here and now. Inevitably, the focus is on themselves, on their ego. Happiness inside is to be found out there. That is its ambivalence. I must move away from self and go in search of others, and happiness illumine in me.

The lockdown has been a tough but excellent teacher to ask the real questions about happiness: what makes me happy? This question is all the more relevant because the usual sources of happiness are not available. It has been a time to reduce to the main sources and simplify the over-complications that usually go with being active. But also, the lockdown played an important role to distinguish between true and fake sources of happiness. For example, I have heard from several how their interest in sport and the success of their teams waned into the background. “There are more important things”, they said. Then there is the importance of boundaries. Boundaries restrict because we must put them in place due to our limitations of health, spiritual, moral and emotional shortcomings. Boundaries protect and enable. If we disregard them, we end up being unhappy. Boundaries enable greater development and lay the platform for happiness. Finally, there is no happiness where there is no sacrifice. Achievement of any kind is based on sacrifice. I must overcome myself or put stringent steps in place to achieve a certain aim, no matter what kind it might be. Any form of striving for happiness is always inclusive of the highest form of happiness, which is salvation, God’s grace to us be with him. In other words, our innate striving for happiness is so dynamic that it wants to reach into eternity.

Happiness, by definition, is to possess the highest good. And that is God. To be with God is true happiness.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies July 25 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 92: June 26

It has taken the world by storm and sparked a dance frenzy around the world. If you haven’t heard it, then, like me, you must ask the question where you have been all these months. I am referring to the song “Jerusalema” my Master KG, sung by Nomcebo Zikode. All over the world people are taking part under the #JerusalemChallenge. In Italy a group of priests and nuns took to the street to show off their dance steps. The song that was released on December 12 2019 has had 45 million viewers on YouTube. It is number one on iTunes in Africa and in the top five in Spain, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. The prediction is that in terms of the dance effect, it will reach the same level as Ayy Macarena. People are dancing during the Coronavirus pandemic. Alas, most people focus on the dance rather than the lyrics. Even the creator of the song, Master KG never ever refers to the text.

The creator of the song, Master KG, says of it: “When we created this song, I never thought it will do this!!! GOD is amazing.” In an interview on eNCA, Nomcebo said that every morning when she woke up, she prayed that God would give her such a song. And with that I have found the more fascinating side of the song. It is actually a Gospel song! People seem to be very attracted by the dance. I can only wish that they will also listen to the words in our times of helplessness because they infuse such hope into our hearts. The image of the hope is the heavenly city, Jerusalem.

The lyrics:
Chorus
Jerusalem is my home
Guide me
Take me with You
Do not leave me here
Jerusalem is my home
Guide me
Take me with you
Do not leave me here.
My place is not here
My kingdom is not here
Guide me
Take me with You
My place is not here
My kingdom is not here
Guide me
Take me with You

Guide me the
Guide me
Guide me
Do not leave me here

The theme is the heavenly Jerusalem as our home. The song is reminiscent of the Spiritual “The Rivers of Babylon”, which sings of the people’s hope to return from Babylonian exile to Sion in Jerusalem. “Jerusalema” is a prayer of hope and faith. It appeals to Jerusalem, our heavenly Mother, to take us home. Beautifully it puts our lives into perspective – my kingdom is not here. The Old Testament, especially the Psalms and Isaiah, speak beautifully about the new Jerusalem, the city, which will gather all nations. For now, our hope and desire is to be there. It is the city where God lives (Ps 46; 48; 76; 87) where the holy mountain Sion is His seat. On Sion in Jerusalem God is worshiped and dispenses His blessings upon the people. In later interpretations Jerusalem is the Virgin, the Daughter Sion, who is attached to God like a woman to her husband. (Ezechiel 16). From Jerusalem, i.e. the heavenly Sion, the Messiah will come. In the New Testament Jerusalem is the city that kills its prophets. It is here that Jesus proclaim his message of the kingdom of heaven, suffers, dies and rises from the dead to become the Redeemer of the world. Luke’s Gospel emphasises God’s salvation begins in Jerusalem. In Jerusalem the Apostles receive the Holy Spirit to form the first community of the followers of Jesus. The lyrics of “Jerusalema” are very close to the text of the Book of Revelation 21: 1-7: “I saw the holy city, and the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, as beautiful as a bride all dressed for her husband. (…) You see this city? Here God lives among men. He will make his home among them. (…) He will wipe away all tears from their eyes; there will be no more death, and no more mourning and sadness. The world of the past has gone.” These are words of hope in eternal life in the heavenly Jerusalem.

Our faith inspires our hope in eternal life. God Himself will lead His people home through His Son Jesus Christ, the Lamb that sits on the throne.

Let us listen to “Jerusalema” and draw enjoyment and hope from it.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies July 25 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 91: June 25

What happened to our Church? I am so accustomed to the presence and functions of the Church that take place routinely. During the week, children milling around as they come for catechism classes, catechists getting them sorted out, parents outside waiting for their children, the rooms being occupied. There is a buzz around the place. This continues into the evening when different meetings take place or, if not, I can hear the sound of the practising choirs. The wheel of parish activities turns day after day, week after week. Then there are the funerals, visits to the sick and dying, the weddings and baptism conversations, the discussions with parents and couples and the preparations. Come the weekend, the time for Confessions, Holy Mass and the mingling of people. Sunday has its own routine of Holy Mass in morning and evening. Adoration takes place 24 hours every day of the week. Wednesdays we have the seniors for Holy Mass followed by tea. The groups meet to discuss how to implement the parish pastoral programme Love in Action. And so, we go into the next week. Although the parish schedule can be very different at times, most of the times it is quite predictable. The life of the parish revolves by and large around the three functions of the Church, proclamation, liturgy and charity.

The Coronavirus came and turned the entire Church upside down. The focus was taken away from Church, in fact from any form of organisation, be that in the hospitality, transport, entertainment, manufacture or education sector. The impact on the Church could not have been more severe. It was almost as if Church ceased to exist. It did come to a standstill from the point of view of our normal understanding of Church life and functioning. And when we do return to the celebration of Holy Mass, how are we going to manage the small numbers?

Everything we planned has come to nothing and we are in abeyance as far as Confirmation, First Holy Communion, First Confession, Baptisms and Weddings are concerned. Church became just a place of gathering for the law makers, a place which could be dangerous for the spreading of the virus. Churches are unfortunately notorious for the transmission of the virus as it was so often the case when precautions were not taken at funerals or weddings. Under the lockdown protocols it is treated like any organisation, secular or sacred. Church as we know it simple disappeared from the face of the earth. And even with the permission to open, Church leaders still don’t deem it safe enough to open. And so, we remain closed until further notice. The reason is and remains to protect life by stopping the virus from spreading. What kind of Church are we left with? A Church without the presence of our hierarchy (bishops and priests); a Church without the sacraments, which are the mainstay of Church life; a Church without its building as the centre of gathering; a Church without its proclamation and teaching; a Church without its free access to its charity projects; a Church without its central form of worship in the Eucharist; a Church without the possibility of Adoration. We were left without the Church as we are used to it.

One might argue that we are reduced to a bare minimum. Or that a miracle of Church revival has occurred. Something wonderful happened. The Church is the People of God. The Church awoke in the hearts of our people who reacted to the absence of normal Church life. And what a bonus that is. The core of Church life became the home, the family and the small group. It is the very same people whose desire for the Eucharist grew day by day. As one man said to me this week: “The absence of the Eucharist in my life has become unbearable.” In all of these new circumstances, there is a strong awareness of parish identity as Good Shepherd Catholic Church. The spiritual bouquet for Mary definitely helped in this regard to unite the parish in a common purpose. The live streaming of Holy Mass and the Rosary with Benediction contributed vastly to remain focused as one community.

It is a unique situation, never ever experienced before in the history of the Church. Any comparisons with times in the history of Christianity when the Church was persecuted are completely out of place. It was interesting to see how Church reacted. It shifted from being more an organisation, well structured and functioning, to an organism that had to adjust. New forms of life and structures had to be found to preserve and express Church identity. Our response as Good Shepherd Catholic Church was fascinating because we still saw this time of separation and restriction as an opportunity rather than a handicap to our life. We reacted as a living organism, searching to remain active and creative. The WhattsApp groups of the various organisations and ministries surged into activity. People closed the ranks in these groups with great spiritual, moral and emotional support. This was Church not just reacting; it was Church alive, dynamic and personal. Our social media in the form of Facebook and the website became sources of information. Life goes on, but in a way we could never have predicted. Families are beginning to spend time with each other, couples are talking and praying, and people are re-discovering what really is important to their lives.

God emerged in the minds and hearts of people. But so did the reality of pain and suffering and the Cross. So many people in our parish died during this time. The funerals were difficult because of the restrictions enforced by the lockdown protocols. There were those who contracted the Coronavirus but, thanks be to God, recovered. Some parishioners have lost their jobs and now they must look for new employment. The Cross of Jesus is erected in our lives.

It has been a very intense time thus far. We need endurance and prayerfulness to continue. We must just be conscious that we are trying to do God’s will, and that should continue to motivate us. The spirit of solidarity in the parish will get us through.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies July 24 2020

Day 90: June 24

Authority is indispensable. The lack of authority leads to anarchy. Authority is, as stated yesterday, either institutional or personal. Either way, also institutional authority must be personally embraced. One of the main grievances that pop up so often nowadays is the lack or manipulation of leadership. Many people accuse the government of cowering to lobby groups or backflipping on decisions. We need good, transparent, decisive leadership that knows how to communicate with its base. Any leadership that is detached loses credibility and trust. The victim in such a dire situation is truth and trust.

Brought to the level of the Church, leadership is under scrutiny all the time, not just from outside (i.e. the media) but also from within. Some issues remain for people the lithmus test of leadership. I often hear from people their despondency that bishops and priests don’t speak more often about abortion. They attach this lack to cowardice. For others it is moral issues pertaining to sexuality and family matters. The expectations vary, but they are there and there are certain criteria and standards that people have. On the whole, it is still a long way to go for the Church to overcome its long history of clericalism. What it basically means is that people still wait for “Father to say”. The Church has moved beyond that with the Second Vatican Council and has endorsed the participation of the laity by virtue of their baptism to be part of the life and leadership of the Church. But old habits die hard, both on the side of priests and laity. Even the definition of the word “laity” is negative rather than positive. In other words, we are told what a lay person is not. There is still the tendency to separate the secular from the sacred, with the secular being assigned to the laity, the sacred to the clergy. By now we know, that though they must be distinguished, they are also very intertwined. The secular sphere of life has its own rules and processes but it, too, is the area of Christian proclamation and witnessing.

I am always critically assessing my leadership and encouraging feedback. There should really be an appraisal of the leadership of the parish priest by the Parish Pastoral Council. It would be in the interest of the priest and the parish. The point of departure is serving the common good of the parish as best as possible. It is, indeed, very interesting to hear what people have to say when they do mention their views. According to my experience, their comments are very helpful because they pertain most of the time to the area called “the blind spot”. That is where there are things others can observe, but I can’t. That is just a fact of human nature that we can’t observe ourselves completely. And I have had very good and helpful comments. Negative criticism is always uncomfortable or even painful. And that is ok. However, it is easier to take it if it is done with good intention. Sometimes this does not happen and there can be real venom in the criticism. Also, that must be taken with humility, no matter how painful. (In any case, in general people are more likely to be complimentary than negative. And that is nice!) A leader will always be more exposed and her or his limitations will be more visible than that it is the case with someone sitting in the pew. Ultimately, to be a leader is to rest within one’s own maturity and identity. I always believe that life is an on-going learning process, and leadership is not excluded from it. Leadership is about winning hearts on the base of respect and service. People want to know that they are in safe and reliable hands. And they return that sentiment with trust. Every leader must from time to time re-assess his set of values. In the Church, these values reflect the life and mission of Jesus. That is the reason why service, love, sacrifice, peace, unity and healing are a priority. Because they radiate the presence of Jesus.

The word “leader” implies community and organisation. Today we have a much better understanding of the leader as motivator. The leader is about fostering life and initiatives. This, of course, depends on the kind of Church we endeavour to be. An important aspect of the Church is to understand that it is a pool of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In that pool everyone has a gift, unique to that person. Yes, we can fit people into the structures and sodalities. But there are many other gifts that have to be articulated and explored to build up the Body of Christ, the Church. Some of these gifts are best used at home, in social groups, NGO’s or at work. Important is to see one’s gift as positive contribution to the lives of other persons. In this regard, everyone is an authority, that is a leader of enkindling and nurturing life. The best leader, Fr Joseph Kentenich, taught is the leader who leads through leaders. Consultation and collaboration are important aspects of such an understanding. Combined with listening and taking opinions seriously, it is also about showing initiatives, giving horizon to the striving of the community and patiently waiting for feedback. All leaders in Church must have but one concern: to find and do God’s will. Discernment is the most important aspect of moving with the community. For that reason, prayer as being with God and searching for His will is the most important task of the leader. To pray, so Fr Kentenich claimed, is to lead. Because it is in pray that we intuitively touch base with the direction that God is giving. The prayerful leader, like a detective, picks up the leads God is giving for the life of the community. Such an example is the offer of a spiritual bouquet to Mary. Her statue arrived just as the state of disaster was declared. What sign is God giving us? Then there was the processional Cross that was restored just in time. The Cross of Jesus is our banner, under which we live and move. There is the 20th anniversary of the Chapel of Adoration, which is key to our parish life. The love of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament expresses our gratitude for his presence and our dedication to be a eucharistic community of love, care and solidarity. All these elements were emphasised as we progressed through the time of lockdown. The promise of one million Hail Marys is fulfilled but parishioners continue to pray the Holy Rosary. The point is: these elements, which are God’s signs to us, could so easily have been overlooked. Another great sign was the challenge to community life and the way different groups responded, which is obvious on the social media groups.

Leadership: it is the authority to begin new life and take care of it. All of us are called in a particular, personal way to do it. It is our calling to follow our leader, Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth and the life.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies July 23 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 89: June 23

One of the crucial topics in the media and in private conversations concerns leadership. Just recently a friend from Germany posted on our WhattsApp group the picture of two rows of leaders. The top row was USA, Brazil, Russia, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy and France. They fared worst during the Coronavirus pandemic. The second row features the leaders of Germany, Taiwan, New Zealand, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Denmark. They are recognised as having best managed the pandemic. What escaped the attention of our dear friend and he appreciated when his attention was drawn to it, was that the leaders of the countries that fared worst were all males. The leaders of the other countries were all women. Was there something of the leadership style of these two groups, which set them apart? Undoubtedly, yes. Or the results would not have been so vastly different from one to the other. The female leaders were all accredited with transparency, honesty, decisiveness, humility and care. They instilled in their subjects the most important asset of a leader: the people trusted them. The opposite was often the case with the leaders in the top row.

Be that as it may, I think each one must ask the question about those whose leadership she or he enjoyed or endured. And so, I asked that very same question: how did I experience being led and how did that influence me? And I refer to the leaders I had in my formative years as a young seminarian because it was then that leadership played a central role in my life, which was about change upon change all the time. Looking back, I am truly blessed. From the very first day of my arrival in the seminary, I felt anything but the atmosphere so many seminarians complain about – anonymity, intimidation, joylessness and distance between priest leaders and students. I found a warm, kind atmosphere, for which primarily the leaders were responsible. They were persons I could look up to, almost without even thinking about it. A true leader, that became evident, leads the way through example without pretence, just by being himself. We could see their shortcomings, but they never reflected badly on them. They were just human. Students are their most critical during their study years and tend to go over everything with a magnifying glass. We did have the tendency to split hairs and make a mountain out of a mole hill. But they could put up with such scathing and, most of the time, unwarranted criticism.

Leadership who are secure within themselves, clear in their thinking and decisive in their actions always command respect. My leaders were by nature consultative, collaborative and participative. They wanted to know what I was thinking and valued it. They could listen, not just to me, but to all of us. Sometimes they had to see how the very persons who were in charge of certain sectors of the organisation made a mess. But they left them to learn from mistakes. Trust is the key for the success of a good relationship with a leader. Later only did I discover how fortunate I was in this regard. It was strange to me when I was later involved with the formation of students for the priesthood, how particularly cautious they were to have at least open contact with the rector as possible. The reason was that this could have jeopardised their chances of advancing towards ordination. They had every right to do so because Church law refers to the “forum internum” (basically personal, private matters such as Confession and confidential matters) and the “forum externum” (matters spoken about outside where there will be no negative repercussions. It means that the student would go to a person outside of the seminary for personal conversation or counselling). I can see the sense of it if it is true that the leaders might exploit or abuse their powers, which is a very real possibility. Even more, when looking back, could I see just how blessed I was. All the years in my seminary life my Rector was my confessor. He was the very person who wrote the reports for the higher superiors for my and our promotion to the following stage of our membership – or not. In other words, following the other mentality, I could have been stymieing my own chances. However, this was a thought, which never entered my mind. There was trust. And I wanted him to know me so that he could write truthful reports, affirm or correct me. If his opinion would have been that he did not favour my continuing, I would have been the first to know it – directly from him. And it was not just me. There were others who felt and did the same, even though we had the choice of other priests in the seminary to go to.

Our leaders higher up, so I felt, were deep thinkers and good priests. I was always excited to hear them speak and looked forward to their visits. I never doubted for a moment that they wanted the best for me. And they showed it. For my part, I was never reluctant to be transparent and open to them when they approached me for a chat, or when I sought their guidance. This was the kind of relationship with leaders, which prevailed. Later I could analyse this experience and compare it with the literature of the founder of Schoenstatt on leadership. His teaching was clear: a leader is someone who serves the otherness of the other person. That demands maturity of self-control and respect for the uniqueness of the other person. In a word, a leader is a spiritual mother or father. She or he engenders life and accompanies it to reach its own fulfilment whereupon it would be standing on its own feet – independent, self-reliant, respecting barriers, free to serve others.

While I am reflecting on these positive leaders, I also think about my own leadership. It had its good and not so good moments. I know that there were times that I disappointed or buckled to pressure. Even so, the buck stops with the leader. I have learned not to abdicate my leadership responsibility to others, which would have led to undue competition and, confusion and chaos. However, it is a blessing to be a leader. There are two ways, I have learned, to become a leader – by appointment and by the strength of your character. The appointment prescribes the parameters of your leadership, and you may not shy away from them. If appointed parish priest, then that is what you are and that office expects you to live up to it. However, the second form of leadership that is character is the ability to serve life. This presupposes that you strive for fulness of life to become a person of motivation, wisdom and a horizon for others to reach out. To be a leader is the most privileged way to inspire and motivate people. I can think of no greater joy than to see someone change, grow, return to the Sacraments, or see people take free initiatives for the sake of the community. A leader is never complete and must be willing to learn. It is wonderful for me to be surrounded by people who in their sphere of life know so much more and become sources of teaching.

My conflicts with leaders have been some of the most disappointing moments of my life. They taught me to be resolute while also humble. They strengthened me to have an independent mind and respect the opinion of others. They made me understand that in every organisation there is a chain of command that has to be recognised, protected and followed. They must be given the benefit of the doubt that their intentions are sincere. Criticism must be direct and not behind their backs.

Leadership is dire straits today when we look around in our society and country. Nevertheless, we have the great leadership of Jesus. For a Christian, leadership is to be Jesus for others.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies July 22 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 88: June 22

On the social media, to which I have access, God is often the topic. And the range of opinions is sheer mindboggling, from doomsday scenarios, on the one hand, to “God is good” exclamations, on the other hand. Most of the time the name of God is mentioned as consolation and hope. There were a few times that I had to ask the sender not to forward his message of God of punishment, which portrayed God as vengeful and angry with sinful humankind. Judgement, yes. That is biblical but to evoke images of God Who is waiting to punish or Who has to be satisfied with pain and suffering? How does that sit with God of Old Testament with the wonderful images of the tender love of God? How does it hold up to Jesus Christ with his overwhelming message of compassion, forgiveness and reconciliation?

We always try to make sense of life, especially when it is so complicated, hard and full of suffering. Surely, so we think, there must be a reason for it. And if only we could understand, we would be so much the happier. We would know what to think and, equally important, what to do. Many explanations are simplifications, such as those, which bring in the devil and the end of time. As for the end of time, it is clearly stated by Jesus that we don’t know the day or time. Also, most people think that what we are experiencing now with the Coronavirus pandemic is a sign of the end of time. “It’s all prophesied in the Bible” is becoming a chorus line. The fact is that the history of humankind has seen much worse. Just read up the history of genocides and massacres! They claimed more lives and were far more brutal than any virus ever could be. But is God the hard rock, on which so many dreams are shattered, so much hope is destroyed, so much expectation is futile, so much disappointment is based? Is God, so we sometimes experience, so incapable of intervention to turn bad to good? Such questions are not just our own. We find them throughout the Bible, for which the Book of Job is just the outstanding example.

Some facts to remember about God. God is beyond any definition. It is impossible, humanly speaking, to confine God to words that describe Him. Yet, God is Whom we experience but in such a way that God Himself shows us how and who He is. This experience conveys us the insight of God as transcendent. In other words, God comes from the other side to us, in such a way that we can grasp Him on our side. In all our experiences of doubt, denial, questioning and searching for true reasons, we are referred to a reference point or a horizon. When we question, we question someone or refer our questions to someone. Otherwise, there would be nothing but emptiness or the abyss of nothingness. It is this reference point that makes life possible and is its foundation. This “point of reference” is absolutely good. Whoever refers to it, understands that to live is to do good, in other words it is to be ethical. The experience of transcendence (God) is in the multitude of our experiences – in times of light of insight, in our radical search for answers, in our struggles with our conscience, in fear, hope and joy, and in the experience of death.

According to our Jewish-Christian understanding God is the One Who reveals Himself as the One, to Whom our lives are directed. We must bear in mind, however, that neither the Old nor the New Testament have a one definition or image of God. Who God is, is revealed in the diversity of experiences with Him. In this regard, God is Father for protection, leadership, land ownership; God rescues His people from slavery through mighty intervention and forms His people; on Mount Sinai He enters into a covenant with His people. All the time they know that God is not within their scope to hold onto or bring down to their level. Their response, so they learn, is hope in and trust Him. Out of this experience of God revealing Himself, people gain the insight that they themselves, man and woman as such, are formed in His image. God is, in their experience, absolute and one, He is their only God. God is everything – He gives life, He takes life, He rescues, and He can rescue from death. He is the Creator and Redeemer God Who cares and also passes judgement. He is close to His people, and distant. He is supreme. It is this God Who ultimately and forever revealed Himself in the Word that has become flesh, Jesus of Nazareth. In the mission of Jesus God is close to His people, with clear preference for the underprivileged in the orphans, widows, strangers and poor. They belong to the kingdom of God. The Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is God’s new beginning with His Creation. God showed Himself in Jesus as Father and love. He has shared Himself in such a way that He can be seen as Trinity: Father before all ages, Son as Word in real life and Holy Spirit as shared Spirit of Father and Son.

The name of God remains holy, impossible to speak out and captured in a single definition. We go through different phases of our own experiences with God, either alone or as community. There are so many unanswered questions which raise themselves from the experiences of life. Still, I think, we are much better of to have God of the Bible as our point of reference. We return to Him as God of dynamic closeness, yet sometimes so far. We relate to Him as tender-loving God, yet so seemingly unrelenting and silent. We feel His greatness and majesty, yet we cannot come close enough to Him. He remains God, the Mystery. In all circumstances of life, this is our God Whom we must go to.

(Reflections based on “God” by Heribert Vorgrimler)

Fr Ivanhoe Allies July 23 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 87: June 21

The frustration that is building up by the day is palpable. Many people show this in different forms of anger. They are frustrated because their grievances fall on deaf ears. They are angry because they cannot see justice. When they turn to their personal lives, it is difficult to overcome these sentiments when they draw comparisons. The lockdown is more than just observing certain protocols to stop the spread of the Coronavirus. It is corroding away the very substance of our endurance, perseverance and tolerance. All of these feelings can be justified, though they don’t solve problems. Which makes matters only worse. And this is all over the world, not just here on our home shores. Coping mechanisms are being stretched to the limit as we dig deeper and deeper to find reserves to keep our moral and emotional heads above water.

We have never been collectively so close to our limits. On a personal level, it is common experiences to hit barriers, which appear to be insurmountable. But this time we have to face far more and worse: it is affecting all of us. We are being exposed. In what way? The ambivalence of certainty and uncertainty is part of human nature. So is the ambivalence of security and insecurity. Never can we ever be absolutely certain or secure. That is the privilege of the animal whose nature is predetermined repetition. It always fascinated me as a child to see year after year the same swallow return to the same lamp in the same passage in the same boilers to build its nest. As humans, we are not blessed with such certainty. We must work hard and exert ourselves. A lapse of effort means sliding backwards. Someone, a German philosopher Peter Wust, compared human nature to the swing of a pendulum – always backwards and forwards. The only moment of certainty and security is when the pendulum is not swinging loosely but with a fixed point. Then it will have a moment when it rests.

This uncertainty and insecurity refer to our physical health. It is very painful when we suddenly realise that we have ultimately no control over it. Yes, we can take precautionary measures, but that is just about all we can do. That can of uncertainty always looms over us. The same applies to our emotional stability. It can suddenly happen that trauma, either past or present, zooms in on us to destabilise what we have carefully protected. Many people find that even their moral strength can become like the pendulum. It is no different when we enter the realm of faith and trust. There also seems to be something elusive. We question God, we want to know why, we plead for security and certainty. And we cannot find it absolutely or permanently. That is part of our human nature.

Circumstances like the lockdown make us stare this uncertainty and insecurity in the face – all the time. Who knows when it is going to end? Who is going to contract the sickness? Who can survive? When can we reunite with loved ones? Will I find another job? How am I going to cope with the needs of the children? So many questions, without the certainty of answers. Is there a solution?

The solution is that of the pendulum. It won’t give answers, but the swing of the pendulum is not aimless if it has a fixed point. And that point is God; it is our faith. The experience of our uncertainty and insecurity won’t go away but we will know ourselves as fixed to God. That happens when we repeat the simple act of faith by saying and holding on to “I believe”. However, given all the experiences of our limitations, boundaries, frustrations and anger, it entails one important act: it is to take the full risk. The risk is to plunge oneself in faith and trust into the embrace of God. It is a risk because we have to let go of our constant quest for certainty and security. It is the leap of faith into the darkness of no guarantees. Only God will tell, and that we can’t control. I believe. That is the biggest risk of my life because I let go without surrendering my responsibility to endure and persevere. It is to embrace my ambivalent nature of certainty and uncertainty, of security and insecurity. I believe. That is the fulcrum of the pendulum where it rests.

I take the risk because Jesus revealed God to me as merciful, wise and loving. The irony is that during the time of the Coronavirus pandemic, the theme of God crosses my path all the time. And He is showing Himself as mighty and good.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies July 19 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 86: June 20

I still regard it among the most educating experiences of my life that I could live for extended periods in different cultures and countries. But none could have prepared me for Nigeria. From the moment I stepped off out of the airport, I was struck by the otherness. It was dark night and the airport was teeming with people. From the exit to the car my driver and I were pestered by men who wanted to exchange money. The only way to deal with it is to remain grim-faced, hard and stoic – no financial deals on the street, not matter how attractive they appear to be. The reason, as my companion explained, fake money. Lagos, where we arrived, is a city of over 12 million people. It is stifling hot and noisy even in the night.

My immediate insight was: this is Africa. And I did not have a clue of it. It was so different from South Africa, as I found out the following days once I settled in our seminary in Ibadan. It was a city of 3.4 million people without a single regular shop of note. A small supermarket was the only shop where you could buy frozen meat, wine or something for Westerners, which meant Europeans. Otherwise, everything was on the open market, from food, vegetables, meat, fish, computers, clothes, kitchenware, electrical appliances, etc. The city resembled one sprawling flea market. Prices were not fixed, which meant that you had to haggle all the time, which I found very annoying. Once I had to buy shoes. Fortunately, I took a local student to accompany me. After walking through a labyrinth of shacks, which were stores, we arrived at a very small shop, which was known to the student. The price was very high as they proceeded to negotiate the price. The reason? I was a foreigner, which meant money. Eventually, the price came down by more than 50%. Eventually, the student decided to give the final punch: how can you expect the Reverend Father to pay so much? The shopkeeper immediately relented. We paid 30% of the original price, all parties happy with the deal. Everyone seemed to be selling something. There was hardly a beggar in sight. Women sat with pencils, glue and pens trying to sell something. Others sold clothes. Everyone was busy doing some kind of business.

Nigerian society is very formal. The priest is Reverend Father. Every man is addressed as “Sir” and every woman as “Madam”. Children are their pride and the parents are even named after the firstborn child, such as “father of John”. Children and young people are very respectful. In our area, which was Yoruba land, it was common for a young person to bow reverendly and touch the ground when he greeted an elder. In the village, this could be a full prostration before the elder. It was a fascinating society with strong characters. Taxis are a nightmare and the main form of transport was a motorbike, called something like locusts. The roads were potholes with some flat surface in-between. The people were friendly and helpful. Nigerians bear the brunt of the bad name given by the bad elements. However, they are the first sufferers.

Corruption is the order of the day. I always believed that the best way to get to know a place is to walk the streets. It was no different in Ibadan. One of the things I noticed was that on the walls of many houses was painted in the largest of letters “This house is not for sale”. Sometimes people would come home from work to find that their houses had been sold. As they say, “Only in Nigeria”. Malaria and typhoid fever were rife. If you could get instant diagnosis at a private pharmacy and the right combination of drugs, you were fine. It was heart-breaking to see the children suffering and often we had to take them to the doctor. As they say in Nigeria, before you can finish saying the word “Nigeria”, a child contracted malaria. And it is true. The drugs are available but expensive. It meant that people often bought drugs from a street shop, which more than likely were fake.

I was shocked by the understanding of the varying degrees of value of the person. A young man who died at the age of 27 from taking fake drugs for the malaria infection was buried unceremoniously within hours of his death. The family elders meant and fixed the time of the funeral the very same afternoon. I drove around with them to find a coffin. The ceremony was to be simple, without the parents. The reason was quite astonishing: he was not regarded as a person yet because he had not contributed to his community. He had just finished his studies, had not had a job or built a house in the village. I had to convince the father to be at the funeral of his son. He attended, just wearing shorts and sweater, which would normally be unheard of for anyone attending Church. Under normal circumstances, the son would have been taken back to the village for burial on the family property. I was told that if a baby dies, it is taken into the forest and buried. And that was for the same reason. Otherwise, ceremonies like baptisms, name-giving of a child, weddings and funerals were never-ending with lots of rituals. Disturbing, however, was the prevalence of witchcraft, called “jujus”. Bishops and priests were very clear in their opposition to it.

I took an instant liking to the Nigerian youth. They struggled to survived and worked hard to achieve their aims. For many of them, job security was a pipe dream. I saw young people qualify with degrees, only to seek work at one of the many banks. Banks were equal to good employment, but a degree was the prerequisite, no matter which one. Young people, like most Nigerians, are very religious. On the point of religion, it is everywhere. From our seminary in a radius of about 2 km, there were over 300 “churches”. They are going day and night. Once I looked into one of these, only to find a man with an enormously powerful megaphone and his wife. Catholic parish life is very vibrant. Churches are full on any day. Some churches in the East of the country, where the Igbo people form 80% of the Christian population and seminaries have between 300 and 700 students for the priesthood, can hold up to 2000 people. Priests are put on a pedestal and treated like deities. On the day of his priestly ordination, the newly ordained priest receives a big expensive car from his parish. I remember once breaking the protocol by walking to and from the Church where I was helping out with Holy Mass. It was a nice way of getting to know people as I walked through the market. Parishioners came and begged me not to walk. When I enquired why, they told me that people from other churches might think that they, the Catholics, can’t look after their priests. Absolutely bizarre! Another incident made me aware of how much I had entered unchartered territory.

On Holy Thursday the Archbishop gathered with his priests to celebrate the Mass of the Oils, followed by lunch. He sat alone on the stage to have his meal with two nuns in attendance to serve him. No one questioned this practice. It simply was different, accept it. From the month of July right through to November the parishes had “harvesting”. Basically, it was fundraising season with people donating money, cereals, fans (for the Reverend Father) and even livestock, especially goats. The celebration of Holy Mass can go on for 4 hours as a well-oiled fundraising machine did its work. Dress code is very strict for Holy Mass. People wear their most beautiful clothes and Sunday is a feast of colours for the eyes. Most frequently the men were more colourful and glamorous than the women. Participation was phenomenal, mainly with the accompaniment of drums. I always claimed that a young priest should go for two years to Nigeria to soak up Catholic life and just be affirmed in his ministry. On any given weekday before or after Holy Mass, I could be in the Confessional for more than an hour.

It is true that religion is exploited for personal enrichment and people manipulated. I shall never forget observing young so-called pastors arrive in grey suits to the bank on Monday morning, flanked by bodyguards, to bring the money to the bank. They were rich. Churches mushroom here, there and everywhere. There is one church near Lagos that draws 150 000 on one Friday of the month. Police are paid to patrol.

In Nigeria they prefer to classify themselves according to tribe and territory – Igbo from the East, Hausas from the North, Yoruba from the West, and so many others. In a few conversations I had with Igbo, it was not uncommon to still find those who would prefer to separate from the rest of the country. They refer to the East as Biafra, and the brutal Biafran War can’t be so easily forgotten. Nigerians are said to be united only when the Super Eagles, their national soccer team, play. I was watching a match on TV when the viewers were even arguing about the national anthem. Apparently two exist.

Power supply is a mystery. No one knows when there will be power and how much. Therefore, we had to have a generator, which regularly went on at 7pm to give electricity to the house, fridges and for the students to study. Outside it was common to see a whole city engulfed in darkness. It is hard to imagine that Nigeria was in the sixties an efficiently run country with the Nigerian naira stronger than the US dollar. The discovery of oil and corruption took care of the demise!

Crime? From own experience, women and children were safe. In our area a whole gang would descend on the suburb Ijokodo to demand money from households. Sometimes they gave notice to warn what day they were coming. Our seminary was advised to be armed. In the event of such a marauding gang going from door to door, we gathered on the top floor of our building and one student fired shots in the air to warn that we were armed. There were men to guard the area – armed with bows and arrows! Robberies on the freeways were frequent, as were kidnappings. People were told to get off the bus, lie on the ground and hand over their possessions. The advice was very simple: never look any of the robbers face to face, and you were safe. I was blessed never to have experienced such a robbery.

What a place to be! I miss Nigeria. I miss all those loyal young people who still keep contact with me. It was my visceral introduction to Africa. And it made me see how remote we grow up in South Africa from the rest of Africa.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies July 18 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 85: June 19

One of the most enriching and beautiful experiences I have had is the encounter with personal, cultural and national diversity. It is so true that life can be likened to a beautiful garden with the most distinct and exquisite growth, all adding to the one idea of universal beauty. I am blessed to have been exposed to such diversity in different countries. The effect has always been the same: we have that in South Africa. Australia stands as a unique country with so many different people from all over the world seeking fortune and prosperity in a country which offered them such an opportunity. In one factory in Sydney, no fewer than 101 nationalities were represented. And they all got on well, respecting and working together.

Through my pastoral work in Australia I met Catholics who were mainly from Latin America and Asia. Most of the Latin Americans were from a socio-economically underprivileged background who came to Australia to improve their lives and create opportunities for their children. It was amazing to see what happened with the children who were assimilated into Australian society and culture. This was, essentially, a culture of equality and fairness. There is something true about their “mateship”. Don’t expect to be called by your academic title. Everyone is on first name terms. Sometimes you never get to know their surnames. Young people, by and large, lived in both the culture of their parents and their new country. One such family was from South Africa in Melbourne. The father realized that the only way for his children to get a fair chance in life was for him to take them to another country. He chose Australia. When I met them, his youngest son, who had just turned 17, had done his pilot licence. He went on to do all the major pilot licences. I remember the comment of his father to me: this was only possible because he was in Australia. The story is repeatable of so many other families who left their countries.

More striking, though, was the diversity of all these people, from the Philippines, Singapore, India, Bengladesh, Burma, Pakistan, Malaysia, the Pacific Islands, Sri Lanka, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Paraquay, Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Japan, Vietnam and South Korea. All these nationalities I met through my pastoral work, especially in Schoenstatt. In the mix were the rather laid-back Aussies who got on with their lives. Yes, there were some very rude jokes about foreigners, but Aussies knew that they were in fact making jokes about themselves – everyone was a foreigner. They pride themselves on being laid-back. Someone once remarked that that the men look as if they have been dressed by the Salvation Army or St Vincent de Paul de Society. And they don’t mind having that reputation. They don’t seem to care much about national pathos except on Anzac Day – the day Australian and New Zealand soldiers left their lives at the cliffs of Gallipolli in Turkey. This battle became defining for the Australian national psyche. It is an incredibly sacred moment when on April 26, at 5am, Australian families, young and old, gather to commemorate that fateful day during World War I. Otherwise, the glue in the Australian nation is their national cricket team. It is generally accepted that the position of the captain is second only to that of the prime minister.

Australian society is a melting pot, which enables people to get on with their business. You get on with yours, I get on with mine, and we will help each other where needed. They are traditionally fiercely independently minded. Today still you can’t take any food across the border from one state to the other. On the old border of Queensland and New South Wales the railway tracks from NSW stop because they were of different width to those on the Queensland side. Australians today are proud if they can trace their ancestors back to the convicts from 1786 when Australia became a prison colony. There was fierce rivalry between the English (Pommies) and the Irish Celtic migrants. The majority of the Irish was Catholic and concentrated mainly in Victoria, which went its own way. Catholics built their own schools in parishes with their own funds. Every year Melbourne had a procession on St Patrick’s Day on March 17. It didn’t take long for the political English masters to see that these processions were in fact anti-English. They forced the organisers to carry the Union Jack. Well, it didn’t take them long to see that the flag bearer was a drunk Englishman who was paid to do the job. Being in Melbourne, or in Victoria, on a weekend was like being in a different country altogether – because of the different sports. Imagine the biggest rugby event, the Bledisloe Cup between Australia and New Zealand, played on the Saturday and just finding a mere mention on any page of the Sunday newspaper in Victoria – totally insignificant. Victoria has its own sports, Australian Rules.

The thorn in the Australian flesh? The Aborigines. The most vile, venomous racist comments I heard was when Australians in rural places made reference to Aborigines. Yet, there is a kind of fascination with Aborigenes. One of the most iconic figures of recent Australian history is Cathy Freeman, an Aboriginal 400m runner. The whole of Australia came to a standstill in the Olympic Games in Sydney 2000 when Cathy Freeman ran and won the 400m race. Aboriginal sportswomen and men are among the greatest. In the seventies Evonne Goolagong was number 1 female tennis player in the world. Today it is Ashleigh Barty, also an Aborigine. Countless Aboriginal players are in first class players in Australian Rules teams, Rugby League and Rugby Union. The first Australian cricket team to tour England was one of Aborigines.

Still Australia held its fascination for me. I often look with amusement on my time there. Unforgettable was the moment of my first meeting with Latin American Catholics. Their leader rather non-chalantly told me, “Padre, no se habla ingles.” (“Father, we don’t speak English.”) That meant that I had to learn Spanish as quickly as possible, which I did with the old-fashioned cassettes, and with good success.

The maelstrom of people was something to behold. Somehow they managed to come together to create out of a cacophony of sounds a symphony of melodies.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies July 13 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 84: June 18

Poverty in our country stares at us in different forms. These days I often have to meditate on the faces of poverty in our country as the deprivation of people is being laid bare by the lockdown. I see them in the women and men looking for work as they stand on the streets of our suburb. It is visible in the crime rate of our country. Poverty is on public display in the informal settlements of our city. South Africa is regarded as one of the countries with the biggest gap between rich and poor. To illustrate the point, I remember a youth group I had in 1989. One of the boys asked the question: “With kind of car would you drive up Sentinel Hill in Hout Bay?” Sentinel Hill is, of course, very steep and hardly accessible to motor vehicles. We made all kinds of guesses, but every time his answer was that we were wrong. Eventually, having exhausted all our attempts at finding the solution, he came out with the answer: “A company car, of course.” That stuck with me. First of all, he was a merely ten or eleven years old. Secondly, he already had a notion of how company cars are being used and misused. Thirdly, he somehow knew that no matter how negligent one might be with a company car, there would be no consequences.” Did his dad have a company car? Undoubtedly, yes. Sadly, that also illustrates how far from reality the rich and privileged can be and the distance between rich and poor.

That gap is visible at every twist and turn, especially in the essential areas of housing, education, health and legal representation. In the end, the quality of the service in these areas all depends on how much money you have. The tragedy is that with the level of corruption no solution seems to be in sight. From the high positions, politicians like to talk about transformation. But they miss out the point that so much progress in this regard failed because of money being looted. Every time it is the poor who bear the brunt. Especially in the field of education, which is so necessary for the future of this country, there has been so little progress. The few lucky ones from the socio-economic poor areas make it to a school where a good academic training is guaranteed. This is also the best preparation for university. Just this week a young man from such an area was doing some work at our Church cleaning the area outside. It was obvious that he has never ever done any proper physical work in his life. He was slow and suffering to get through the day. On the other hand, he is not applying himself at school. Somehow, he expects things to fall into his lap and life to treat him well. At the end, when I paid him for his work, we had a chat. He now had first-hand experience of what life is awaiting him if he does not get an academic qualification. It came as a shock to his system. But if we had to live in the same conditions as he, would we have the motivation and energy to strive, endure and persevere?

Poverty relief is an urgent matter today, ranging from food supply to education and other forms of help. Sometimes one has to help someone to get to a doctor to find solutions to on-going health problems, which are never properly dealt with in our day hospitals. Our unemployment rate stands at 30% and rising. If I go by the men that I see on our streets looking for work, all of them are young. How long will they be able or even willing to do this? What prospects of a future do they have? How much frustration and despair are ready to explode in them like a volcano? The social phenomenon of social envy is well known. Why can’t I have what you have? Now how am I going to get it? This can go on from one generation to the next, breeding also all kinds of emotional and moral problems. Violence and criminality are viewed as direct domino effects of poverty. This social problem gets worse the moment we see how many men are unemployed. In our cultural world work gives men a sense of self-esteem and pride.

Poverty is a universal phenomenon. There are many areas where the level of poverty is much worse. If I had lots of money, how would I use it to alleviate poverty? Education! The Central Asian Institute has been building schools in the remotest areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The singular purpose is to uplift the lives of girls whose lives remained bogged down in a suffocating web of cultural norms and customs, leaving the girls uneducated. Their motto is: “Educate a girl. Change the world.” Their vision: To unlock the full education of girls and women through education. When girls and women thrive, their families, communities, and nations prosper.” Whether successful or not, their point is taken that education is the solution to poverty. As it is with any form of aid, it must be done with rather than for those receiving aid. I saw how this worked on a smaller scale when a Catholic priest, Fr Heinz-Werner Schneider (Schoenstatt Father) and his friend Dr Desmond O’Regan founded Lithemba Trust. Fr Schneider, after many years of running highly successful soup kitchens realised the importance of assisting students to get an education. He started doing this when he was parish priest in Site B/Kayelitsha. I remember vividly how he put a young matric student, who got dismal results, through Abbots College where he passed. Today he is a bank manager. I served on the Board of Lithemba (Hope), which from the start funded students who failed to get bursaries or loans for the first year at university or college. Lithemba usually ended up paying all the way for most of them, especially the nurses who could only get into a private institution. I don’t know how many benefited from it, but I do know that many nurses and students at university benefited from Lithemba and owe their academic qualifications to Lithemba Trust. Besides paying fees, it gave food allowances, bought laptops, and assisted with moral support and advice. Students would come and unburden their problems to the two founders. It was amazing to see how these young women and men blossomed because they were assured of hope, loving support and loyalty.

Education was the key. Education is the only reliable tool, which will break the shackles of poverty. An educated person can enter the job market on a higher level and can look after others. The country will benefit from persons who contribute with their skills and talents to the nation.

Poverty may never be romanticised. It is a scourge that must be overcome because it is man-made. Christians have the mandate from God to look after the vulnerable members of community to prove their loyalty to God. Jesus in Matthew 25 endorses this when he refers to help that must be given to all needy people as prerequisite to enter the kingdom of heaven. Poverty poses a serious question to Churches in South Africa. No Christian Church deserving of its name can afford to be aloof to poverty. Working to overcome poverty is central to its relevance and credibility. And that goes for every Christian in South Africa. The option for the poor is at the very core of our Christian faith, because it is the mission of Jesus.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies August 7 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 83: June 17

We now call it Youth Day. Formerly we called it Soweto Day. Ask some young people, as I did, what the day was about, they return puzzled stares. We struggle with divided stories of the past. Once it was called Blood River Day, then Dingaan’s Day, then driven by political agendas, it was finally euphemized into Covenant Day. And so, as time progresses, we struggle to cope with divisive history and its memories. Our South African way is to domesticate the day (Heritage Day becomes braai day) or to claim amnesia. Events become blurred. There is usually a lot of speeches whom no one really takes seriously. And one can be forgiven to react in this conspicuously sceptical way when one looks up to see who sits on the podium – not a single person with integrity. Gravy train riders, corrupt officials, incompetent women and men, foxes in charge of hen pens, – Youth Day could be so different, but for these self-serving, greedy hyenas. The worst casualty of all is what should be the greatest asset of any leader – confidence. We are told that we have two pandemics in our country – the Coronavirus and the Gender Based Violence. While that is so true, the one pandemic, which precedes and supersedes every one is the pandemic called corruption. Corruption has put the progress of our nation on hold and thrown it backwards. Though painful, we return to the same scenario again and again – dig deeper, try again to trust, lap up any sign of hope.

But it is really about the present hope and future prospects of our young people. My heart bleeds for them. I, together with my generation, find myself in the twilight of our lives. It should be our greatest joy to watch the younger generation lift their lives and the nation to the next level of prosperity, freedom and hope. Instead, they will be grappling with problems our generation of leaders leaves in their wake. There are, arguably, always go to be sharks (my apologies to these noble, honest animals, which grace our oceans) as they are everywhere in the world. What makes us different? Our history! It is a painful, yet hopeful story of the quest for freedom and dignity. Given the greatness of our people manifested in this quest, the signs were always good that we can do it. We can be a great nation of hopeful young people. The problem is not that they are disinterested. They are disillusioned without even reflecting on it. And who can blame them when they look around them and see nothing but crunched hope. It is even sadder to see young people falling into the trap of our leaders, which is the perpetuation of “I want more”, and not “I want to shape”. It should be in the nature of our country that we remain focused on the greater common good because we are so interwoven with each other’s lives and our past. So much depends on the idealism of our young people to shape this country while they are given the opportunities and hope to invest their enthusiasm.

Youth Day: some know, most don’t. Some attend memorial ceremonies, most don’t have a clue what is going on. It is the pattern of our society. Rudderless, the young people don’t harness their energy for a common future. Yet, there are so many encouraging stories, which shed light on our young people. They are innovative, creative, compassionate and energetic. All young people want to be part of a great project of their generation to leave a legacy of hope for the next generation. Schools, religious communities and NGO’s can do a lot to enable young people to identify and accomplish such projects. There should be a social contract between the different social strata of society (business, education, health sector, religious communities, arts and families) to declare the option for the youth. This social contract must enable different partnerships, which can justify the efforts of the young person for a future, which they can declare themselves responsible for here and now. In other words, and regardless of foreseeable life disappointments, they remain hopeful. Our young people find themselves in an ambiguous situation of skepticism and trust. They have no choice but to be cautiously skeptical because innocent trust is broken. Whoever wants that trust will have to earn it. And yet, they rely on partnerships of hope.

There is a dire need for South Africans to understand that the widening gap between rich and poor is hastening our rush over the cliff. We have a social responsibility towards one another. With all the possibilities of social media today, there is no replacement for the physical-emotional contact with the reality of society in South Africa. The difference this makes is beautifully demonstrated by acts of compassion and concern.
Youth Day! All I can do is to reach out the hand to the next young person. See it as a gesture of sincere love. See it as a gesture of wanting to be led by youl.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies July 12 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 82: June 16

I think the power of Jesus to heal is the wish of every pastoral worker. We encounter suffering, pain and loss and wish we had the ability to help people. Many times, the thought crossed my mind, “If only I could.” This is real temptation because no one can assume the role Jesus had or even aspire some kind of role with Messianic powers to heal. We are and remain limited and must be humble when life circumstances expose us as such. But the thought or wish is very human and born out of the sincere desire to avert suffering. Some women and men had this gift, such as Padre Pio. People went to him, and they received the gift of healing from ailments. One forgets that the very same Padre Pio never flaunted this gift. In fact, he was rather keen to hide it and had one of the most modern hospitals built in the town of his monastery. The very same Padre Pio spent hours in the confessional where he had the incredible gift of reading the depth of the souls of the penitents. This was true healing.

I remember when my course brothers and I spent three weeks in Lourdes in 1986. Lourdes is famous as the “Capital of the Sick”. I had a week as guide of day pilgrims, going with them to Holy Mass, giving them a guided tour of the area, praying the Stations of the Cross, going with them to the afternoon Benediction and to the baths. My week at the baths was one of the best times I have had in all my life. I joined a team of Italian young men to assist the men as they came to be immersed into the bath. It was most overwhelming to see with what respect and dignity these assistants treated everyone. And they all came – young men, senior men, young priests and old priests, in wheelchairs and on stretches, on crutches and walking aids. Sometimes we had to carefully unbandage someone on a stretcher and help him into the bath. Some were healthy, most had a serious complaint. It was amazing to see the faith of the people who entered the baths and how much they trusted the workers. (When my parents were with me in Lourdes in 1998, I was most humbled by my mother whose only wish was to go to the baths. My father was moved to tears when he stood praying at the grotto. My mother correctly interpreted that he was having a moment of conversion.) Healing was not physical, but it was real because they went away with acceptance, consolation and surrender to the will of God. At a meeting with the rector of Lourdes, he plainly explained to us that the real miracles of healing take place in the confessional and the Stations of the Cross. He emphasised that the miracles at the grotto were few and far between. Though renowned as a place of miracles, Lourdes has never superimposed the miracle healing above the normal medical treatment. In fact, when we were there Lourdes had the most advanced dialysis hospital in Europe.

The desire for healing runs deep and is most frequently mentioned. I feel helpless when I see the different forms of sickness and suffering. The inevitable wish is, if only I could do something about it. That helplessness can be channelled into prayer and sacrifices for the sick person. However, the awareness remains that only God can heal, and in the way He chooses to do so. Nevertheless, I find my wish humanly justified because every person would want to alleviate sickness and suffering, No one can guarantee healing. However, there is a healing dimension in the way, in which I am allowed to be with the sick person and accompany him or her. And most of the time it is just through silent accompaniment or listening presence. This is all the more evident if I am called out to administer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, which is frequently to persons who are close to death. It is a very tender and sensitive moment for all of us – the dying person, the family and me.

I am always overwhelmed by the discovery that in our daily interactions with each other there is a healing element, which we must foster. We can make each other feel better or miserable. Every time a person must feel good in our presence, welcome and go away feeling better. There must be a moment, ever so small, of knowing that someone goes away feeling more peaceful, calmer and restful. The opposite experience only underlines the point. The healing effect on each other is something we can and must work on. That happens usually where there is a good listening ear, which infuses trust and encourages open conversation. The sense of empathy, which flows over from person to person, works wonders. Very often the person who is revealing the problem does not even want advice. They just want someone, in whom they can confide. So much resentment and anger are unloaded that real cleansing and healing take place. After an open exchange, it is not uncommon for that person to even see the lighter side of the problem. The task is to accompany rather than to lead. People are wounded, and I must recognize and acceptance my own woundedness. It is good to face my own woundedness because it makes me more empathetic and understanding. And there is no experience, which either directly or indirectly I cannot relate to. Another healing aspect in our daily encounters is kindness and gentleness. Gentleness, in particular, is disarming, because it is non-aggressive and humble. It is welcoming and soothing. The same goes for kindness, which never manipulates the weakness of the other person. Pope Francis highlighted so much the importance of compassion and mercy. It is all too easy to condemn and judge. Mercy imitates God’s own approach to us, as Jesus explained in the parable of the prodigal son. Let us never forget the power of prayer. It is the expression of our trust in our healing God. Our prayer must always include the willingness to accept God’s will, whatever it may be.

The market of healing books is phenomenal. So much today is about wellness and health. And the reasons are quite obvious. However, do we ever consider the healing aspect of our faith? Jesus praised the Canaanite woman for her great faith, which moved him to heal her daughter. (Matthew 15: 28) Of the centurion, a man not of the same religion, Jesus said: “Truly, I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Matthew 8: 10). By contrast, in Nazareth, his hometown, Jesus could not work any miracles because of the lack of faith of the people. Our faith is our trust in God and His Son Jesus Christ to heal us against all odds. Faith in Jesus is the miracle before the healing miracle. There is so much healing in trust and being loved. I saw how a dying man was completely at peace with himself because he was loved. Love is the wonderful healing tool for any sickness or disability.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is also venerated as “Health of the Sick”. People go to her shrines for her intercession for help. The Preface for the Mass of Mary, Health of the Sick has the meaningful text: “In a wonderful way you gave the Blessed Virgin Mary a special share in the mystery of pain. She now shines radiantly as a sign of health, of healing, and of divine hope. To all who look up to her in prayer she is the model of perfect acceptance of your will and of wholehearted conformity with Christi, who, out of love for us, endured our weakness and bore our sufferings.” Because she is familiar with pain and suffering, she understands our suffering. She helps us, above all, to accept God’s will. Mary had to let go of Jesus as he was dying on the Cross. Their hearts were united in God’s will.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies August 5 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 81: June 15

The news keeps coming in of people who are losing their jobs and of businesses that are closing their doors. Many sectors of the economy are fighting to be allowed back in business because their existence and the jobs of the employees are on the line. A job is such a great blessing. It is about being able to take charge of your own life and to take care of others. The loss of a job has catastrophic consequences. Covid-19 is the cause of many people losing their jobs or being forced to take salary cuts. Needless to say, the economy is taking a heavy beating. We now have a critical situation whereby many people don’t know how they are going to pay their bond, rent or even buy food. It is all about having a job or not having a job. Under current circumstances, work is divided into essential services and non-essential service. Blessed are those whose job is in the category of essential service. They may continue to work.

Pope John Paull II wrote his Encyclical on work. Coming from Scripture, he asserts that work is more than just some kind of activity. It is part of human nature. To live is to work, whereby the person always takes preference over the work, and the work over capital gain. Ideally, our work is a way to be creative and express our talents and skills. Thereby, work brings self-fulfilment. The Bible (Genesis 1 and 2) shows God as Worker. He, thereby, reveals Himself to people as One Who is creative and enabling companionship with humans. God then interrupts His work by taking off time to rest. We, God’s people, express through work and rest the fact that we are made in God’s image. According to the teaching of the Church, work is a fundamental right. The improvement of individual life brings the improvement of society. Work is one way to serve the common good of society. In other words, our work enables society to do those things that are good for all of us, such as health and education. Without work, the very dignity of woman and man cannot be fully expressed. In other words, the expression of our dignity as made in the image of God has a practical consequence of having access to food, clothing, health, work and education. According to Vatican II, Church in the Modern World 65, “All citizens should remember that they have the right and the duty to contribute according to their ability to the genuine progress of their own community and this must be recognized by the civil authority.”

The loss of jobs underpins the opinion that South Africa’s old problem of economic inequality is laid bare. The joblessness affects poorer people more than the wealthy. This has led to the struggle for survival, which necessitated the State to provide food. The mental and emotional strain is severe because of the anguish, loss of identity and uncertainty. No one knows if and when they will get their job back. Attempts to come to the rescue of jobs are very encouraging. But they are nowhere sufficient to restore the jobs of thousands of people.

Every day when I drive down De Grendel Rd I see a sample of the joblessness in Cape Town. Hundreds of young men on the side of the road are waiting to be offered an opportunity of work. All I can think of is that this is a tinderbox. These are persons who must support a household. But without work, what will the consequences be if they don’t find the way into permanent employment? It must be very frustrating for them. And this gets worst when they see how State money is looted and stolen, which should go to creating jobs or bringing relief to people who have fallen on hard times. And all of this is happening during the lockdown when we should be looking at caring for people. I hate to play out the consequences the widespread loss of jobs will have on the safety of our society.

What are the ethical ramifications of joblessness for us? The answer to this question must be debated by a wider circle of people. I suggest that the first reaction must be that we are part of their lives and that they are part of our lives. Our society depends on social harmony as far as that is possible. It stems from an attitude of mutual responsibility. There must be a sense of solidarity to bring relief to people whose physical, mental and emotional health is seriously affected. Such solidarity must then go well beyond the relief activities of providing. It must follow the maxim that “it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish.” There will have to be a coalition between all sectors of society to create jobs. Helping a person find work, is to help a whole household.

Our prayer to God on behalf of the unemployed must become a priority. Before lockdown our unemployment rate was 30%. I hate to think what it is now. As we feel our sense of urgency, it is important that we spiritually unite ourselves in prayer to show our solidarity with those who are without work. It is also about fostering our awareness of their plight, which affects all of us.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies August 6 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 80: June 14

We had some really good, drenching rains. I am reminded of the “days of old” when you could count on a typical Cape Winter with rain for a whole week, soaking the earth. Sometimes the rain was just soft, but for a few days. What came afterwards in Spring was nature bursting into life. I pause to think about those times because now we are praying for our dams to fill. Nothing can be taken for granted any more. Scientists tell us, and we can see it for ourselves, that the pattern of nature has become so unpredictable because of climate change. It is all the more bewildering that a country like the USA pulled out of the Kyoto and Paris Agreement, which was about a concerted effort by countries to stem the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere of the Earth. The brunt of this emission is borne by the countries in the Southern Hemisphere where the ozone layer has been severely depleted. We, i.e. humans, are responsible and if the trend can be reversible to some degree, then it has to come from us.

The lockdown in various countries has had a breathtaking effect on nature. In China fish returned to rivers that have not seen river life for decades. In India towns as far away as 150km can see the snow-capped Himalayas again after 30 years. Even here in Cape Town there is noticeable change in the sunset as the air is so much cleaner. In other parts of the world wildlife is returning and claiming spaces in cities. A great, magnificent moment for nature. Will we learn the lesson, or will it be back to “normal” when the threat of the Coronavirus is something of the past? If we follow the behaviour of humans, then that is what will most likely happen. The drive for more profit through production will take the lead again and the race for economic dominance will take preference over the care for nature. For now, we are doing what Pope Francis appealed for in his Encyclical Laudato si’, and it is to treat nature as our Mother.

Behaviour that is detrimental to nature can be changed, if the learning processes start at a young age. I am always perplexed if a young, primary school child takes care of wastepaper, used batteries and plastic. Such behaviour has been taught at school. I was appalled one day when a teenager who had been feasting on KFC in my car wound down the window and asked me if it was ok to throw the packaging away on the street. The difference was education. He was merely doing what he saw others do. And years ago, I was guilty of the same habit. On the point of plastic, South Africa leads in a good sense. 43% of our plastic ends up in recycling, which is the highest in the world. And R 2 billion are paid out annually to those who bring the wastepaper, metal and plastic for recycling. The highest percentage of the recycling is done by those women and men who “skarrel”. They are the persons who go from bin to bin on refuse collection days to separate recyclable material and sell it to the scrap yards. In Cape Town, wherever rivers have been cleaned, birdlife returned to it, as it can be witnesses in the Liesbeek River, which can boast some beautiful flamingos. Black River, by contrast, is a sickening sight, filthy and dead. We have become too used to being a “throw-away society”.
Sacrifices are necessary if we want to look after our natural resources and our soil. The use of fertilizers had a boom after the World War II because of the surplus of nitrogen, which was produced for bombs. Nitrogen-rich ammonia became fertilizers with staggering results. So, more and more was used, until the soil died. This also led to various kinds of allergy-related diseases. Organic farming is only slowly gaining momentum and the use of alternative forms of energy other than coal is in its infancy. Taking care of nature is no longer the luxury of few; it is an imperative for all of us.

If it took only a few weeks to give nature a chance to rest and restore, just imagine if our attitude to preserve it could be permanent. It is about having a caring attitude rather than an exploitative one. Intellectually, that is the way we have come to see it, and many times we have been forced into adopting a new approach. Water, for example, is no longer something we can just take for granted. We must always have a water-saving mentality. The drought taught us a dear lesson. The same goes for electricity. Our supply is limited and very upon punctuated by load shedding. It goes without saying that lights may not unnecessarily burn because of the carbon footprint. Managing our natural resources is today an imperative. Taking care of nature is matter of attitude, which must and can be learned at a young age.

In biblical terms, it is about understanding ourselves again as stewards of Creation. We are not superior to Creation but included into it. This emerges from our insight that we ourselves owe our existence to God, and so does His Creation. Without this approach, there is the real danger that even human life can become dispensable because it is viewed as useful or useless. In other words, there is no sense of responsibility and solidarity between humans. With such an attitude, any human being loses their value and dignity. They become dispensable and replaceable like just another commodity. Accountability to God for Creation emphasizes that we ourselves are dependent upon Him. We find ourselves in the cycle of accountability to God, our fellow human beings and the following generations, and dependency with the rest of Creation. We must identify our role of having been endowed with the ability of intellect and freedom to take care rather than to destroy. Spiritually, we must see Creation and ourselves, within it, as God’s gift that must be treated with care to His glory.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies June 19 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 79: June 13

Was it going to be one of those days? Instead of the usual quick jump out of bed, I felt like curling up and staying there for the whole day. I could not tell what the reason was. I just know that feeling and the paralysis it causes to mind and body. Previous experiences have taught me that I must act fast or I could be sliding into a dark hole. Fortunately, I have still enough capacity to rationalise what I must do: call it what it is – depression, no matter how mild or severe. Then I go through the motions I have become accustomed to in such a situation: get out of bed and go immediately through the routine of the morning. As I go through the routine, I begin to question what might have triggered off the depression. I see the accumulative effect all the negative impressions I have been exposed to in just the past few days – abuse of women and children; murder of women and children; stories of corruption; 5 funerals and the lockdown. Since I was not paying attention to them on a daily basis, their emotional effect was accumulative and pressing for an outlet. The need for an outlet was announced by that dark feeling. Was there, by any chance, a warning? In my case, yes, it is usually when I don’t see reason and have long debates about nothing, as was the case the evening before with a person who simply wanted some information. I acted foolishly by demanding minute details which had no significance for the topic we were discussing. But I was not attentive. The next day, with distance to the conversation, I could see my behaviour in much clearer light.

Depression, which I never suffered from in its worst form, is a terrible tormenter. Steve Moneghetti, the Australian marathon runner, reportedly had severe bouts of depression. He said that when he came out of it, he gradually had to learn to walk for 5 metres at a time. Living with someone with depression is extremely testing. It is real agony to see the person just being totally immovable and without any energy to get up and do something.

I remember what gets me going before the depression gets the better of me. I recall the things that give me purpose in life. These are the things that connect to a passion deep inside me. One of these things is my participation in Emmanuel Day Care Centre for Children with Special Needs. As the images of the faces of the disabled children flash through my mind, I know why I am alive and here on earth. Every encounter with them reaffirmed me as a person with an aim in life. And I become aware again that my involvement is about giving them a future. More vividly, I feel the presence of the young boy who is so attached to me and I to him. Gradually, I feel some light shining into the darkness and an inner warmth that has deserted me. Slowly, I could see so many other positive things fall into place. All the other things, which congregated in my soul to become a source of darkness were still there. But I had regained my focus. I had to face them but had to keep my sight on my purpose. Slowly, I could see my life again in perspective. At the same time, I have to realise to take my own sensitivity to the negative forces into account and deal with them before they become dead weight inside me.

I am acutely aware of the fact that depressive experiences are very common. Many of us have coping mechanisms or different ways of distractions. However, in the end, we must take seriously what is weighing us down. So many people are daily very frustrated, angry and aggressive. At some point, they are not going to cope and break down.

Prayer is a great source of strength. It is the call for help, light and strength.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies, June 19 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 78: June 12

Just in these days I have sort of, sort of not, followed the dispute about the sale of cigarettes and the effects of the lifting of the ban of the sale of alcohol. I was not sure if I heard correctly when one woman who was passionately advocating for the sale of cigarettes said: “I have a legal addiction”. Very strange, I thought. I have never heard that expression before. But it set me on the track of thinking about addiction as such, and on how I came into contact with it in my life and ministry, or just how prevalent it is.

My first real encounter with alcoholism was when a young man came to stay with us. We were three priests sharing community life and were asked to accompany him. No one prepared us for what was to come. In no time we turned into “co-dependents”. In other words, our lives began to revolve around his addiction. Whatever we did, we considered him first. Very quickly, we became “enablers” as he used all his cunning and intelligence to make us do things he wanted. We were always worried about his safety. Though in psychiatric treatment, he managed to pursue his addiction. Once when I asked his psychiatrist if he realized that the person was lying to him, he answered that there was nothing he could do about it. It was up to him to tell the truth. This alcoholic knew what buttons to push to twist our arm to do what he wanted. I distinctly remember having to get out of bed in the middle of the night to fetch him from “relatives”. It was only too obvious that the house was a shebeen and something worse. Or the day he asked me to take him to his parents and gave me directions to the house. The directions took us to a liqour store. It was a tragic story of lies, deception and conning. And after every incident of alcohol abuse he broke down in tears with the deepest of remorse. It was only too obvious that he had crossed the threshold from initial addiction to sickness. He could no longer help himself. How much we would have liked to help this very talented and much-loved young man. Sadly, he died a tragic, lonely death one night on the street. This experience helped me understand future encounters with persons who were addicted to alcohol and drugs. I gained more understanding for the trap those are finding themselves in who have to deal with an addict in their home.

There was the other incident of meeting a friend from a youth gathering. I knew his mother quite well and he and I had not seen each other for a very long time. I had just been ordained. He saw me as I passed a café and asked me to join him for a cup of coffee. What then transpired shocked me as he told me the story of his alcohol addiction. He lost his job, his wife and children. Left alone, he decided to kill himself. He said that as he put the gun to his head, he realized that he could make a choice. He decided to live for his family. He managed to break the stranglehold of alcoholism by joining an Alcoholic Anonymous group. He thereafter acquired a job as counselor to alcoholics.

I remember the father of a drugs addicted son. He describes himself as a rehabilitated drugs addict who was worried about his son. In our conversation he revealed that there are certain times when the craving is very strong. The way he overcame it was, as he said, to “watch the movie to the end”. The end was when he was living on the streets and literally lying in the gutters. That made him always draw strength to overshadow the craving by focusing on his condition of sobriety, which gave him so much genuine happiness and fulfillment.

Addictions don’t distinguish between rich and poor, or any other social differences. I recall a conversation with a man who faithfully attended his AA group for many years. He was at first reluctant to go but in the end realized that he had to do something about his alcoholism for the sake of his wife. At his first meeting he was taken aback to see who were there: leaders of his Church, including his parish priest!

Once you are emotionally involved, it is difficult to do what is right although it is clear. Those who live with an addict become victims of their addiction absorbing an enormous amount of emotional, physical and intellectual abuse. They are destroyed emotionally and physically. Somehow the victims, usually parents, always live in hope and are grateful for any positive sign, only to be disappointed yet again. They have to prepare themselves for the worst, namely the knock on the door or the phone call to inform of the arrest or death of the son or daughter. The end is never predictable.

Professionals distinguish between two types of addiction: substance addiction (alcohol, drugs, smoking) and process addiction (gambling, sex, gaming, internet and food). It is interesting that work is not counted among them, which I believe can added. We have the term “workaholic”, and it says something about a person who is obsessed with work. All forms of addiction lead to compulsive behaviour. What is even more startling is the way not only the behaviour changes, but it seems you are dealing with a different person. The daughter or son the parents know is not the person under the influence of the addiction. It is as if they are dealing with a stranger. All attempts at recovering from the addiction hinges on the insight of the addict that they have a problem, that they cannot help themselves, and agree freely and willingly to submit themselves to the treatment. Anything else is a waste of time and money, and eventually leads to the predictable relapse.

Process addictions are just as bad with their ruinous behaviour. They follow the same behaviour pattern as the substance addicts.

There is always the belief that the addict does have enough insight willpower in reserve to make a choice for or against their condition. Ironically, most of the time such a choice is made when they have hit rock bottom. The stories of rehabilitation are some of the most moving ones I have ever heard and speaks volumes for the human spirit and the hope of relatives. And that especially when there is a spiritual dimension in the recovery. According to the AA, the belief in God or Higher Power is the beginning of the insight and conversion. From a Church point of view, both addicts and relatives need support. They must know that there is hope, and that hope is Jesus Christ. We must encourage them with our positive attitude, which remains true to the facts of their condition. The Church’s attitude must always be guided by compassion based on truth. It must always refer the addict to the power of Jesus and his Holy Spirit. Above all, we must support them and their families with our prayers. Especially the families must never feel that they must fight the battle on their own. When tragedy strikes the addict, it is important to be there for them, Inevitably, they feel guilty, which is wrong guilt. As Church we may not have the answers, but we can accompany an affected person (addict or relative) and make ourselves vulnerable to their pain and helplessness. We feel for and with them; we carry their pain or loss.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies, 17 June 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 77 June 11

Often the question is raised in circles of theologians and biblical scholars: what is the Church Jesus wanted? This is not just an exercise of flexing intellectual muscles. Rather, it is inspired by the very serious concern for the Church to live and bring Christ to others. And the only way, so they suggest, to address this matter, is to return to the initial intention of Jesus as we find it in the Gospel. And who would disagree with them, that to find the answer to that question would enable us to gauge our own position as Church in relation to the intention of Christ? Some might even argue, did he want the Church or, even more importantly, this Church, which we have today?

One thing we do know is that the central message of Jesus of Nazareth was the kingdom of the Father. This kingdom Jesus brought to the sick, the oppressed, the down-trodden, the children, the women, the widows, the poor, the sinners and the weak. The kingdom of the Father is, in a word, essentially the experience of mercy and love of God through Jesus, His Son. Actually, the kingdom of the Father is the powerful presence of God in and through Jesus Christ. The kingdom of God is God! This message of the kingdom of the Father continues in the Church. Christ Himself calls us to be the community of believers centred on Scripture, under the guidance and leadership of the Bishops and the Pope and served by the deacons and priests. Church is the communion of all believers, in whom the Holy Spirit works and moves to build up the Body of Christ, the Church. Church is the presence of Jesus Christ through his actions in the Sacraments. Whenever someone receives the sacrament, there is a deep and personal encounter with Jesus Christ, be that in baptism, confession, Holy Mass, Confirmation, Anointing of the Sick and marriage. Every time, it is Christ acting through the Church. Church is, however, also (if not primarily) on the human level the caring and concerned community. The human touch of a warm and a welcoming atmosphere frequently goes before the spiritual experience, and already awakens the desire to want to belong to it. The experience of being part of a family-like and family-minded community is very often the first and most important contact to link with the life of Christ. The caring and forgiving community keeps the door open for an unhindered and undistorted encounter with the Christ, the Risen Lord.

We do realise, however, that if Church is so closely connected to Christ, then his life will shine through in the life of the Church. Because the Church that embraces Christ can never be without this life and is the reflection of his life. We become what we receive. And so, the question, which comes to mind is: how do we fare as Church? The Church Jesus wanted is the community with the imprint of his own life. And if we can say that, then we have every reason to be hopeful. Naturally, we must not let go of the focus on him. Then the kingdom of the Father will be among us, when we emerge to state with pride in our parish that we want to make it an experience of God’s presence and power, of God’s compassion and mercy. And then our God of forgiveness and healing will weave His strong and soothing presence into our lives so that we, and others, can truly say, like the disciples, when we see our community: “It is the Lord”. Surely, that must be the Church Jesus wanted!

Some might still want to know what the relevant features of Christ in his Church must be today. I believe, that taking all things into account, the answer to that question depends on another question. And it is: what kind of Christian is required today to represent Christ? It has to do with the concept of holiness that every Christian is called to aspire in a time when to believe has become so rare. Only a true Christian, i.e. a holy Christian can be the inspiration for another person to ask the questions about Jesus Christ. The Church relies on such Christians for a firm foundation. I believe that the feature of Christ for our time, both Church and society, is caregiving. Caregiving is the interest in and concern for the other person. That is what made Jesus so special and that stinging sign of contradiction. Caregiving is, so I believe, the attitude that can change corruption, violence on women and children, abuse of power and greed for money with the attitude of selfish self-gain to an attitude of what is good, safe and uplifting for others. Out of such an attitude healing, reconciliation, truth, justice and peace will flourish. The Church that Jesus wants for our time will then be a Church of caregiving Christians who emulate his attention to all people and gathers them into a community. Caregiving includes everything about Jesus: the teacher, healer, forgiver and provider. But it also reflects Jesus who sacrifices and lays down his life for us. His death on the Cross was the ultimate sign that he cares. And since the Last Supper he remains with us in the celebration of Holy Eucharist and the Holy Spirit. To answer the question: how do we fare as Church? The answer is in the question: how do we care for others, the children, families, women, sick and elderly?

Fr Ivanhoe Allies, June 16 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 76 June 10

The lockdown offers much time to reflect on parish life and its challenges. There is so much to be grateful for and I sometimes wonder if we appreciate enough what the many volunteers are doing week after week. When everything is taken into account, the question remains: What parish do we want to be?

The parish is the community of the faithful called by Jesus Christ with its parish priest under the authority of the local bishop. It looks after the spiritual needs of its people, starting with baptism, followed by the other sacraments. The climax of parish life is the celebration of Holy Mass (Holy Eucharist) where the community gathers to be united, forgiven and redeemed by the sacrifice on the Cross and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. That life then finds its way into the teaching and charitable activities of the parish.

If we look at the community and the people who participate we discover that the majority of people is looking on while a few are doing all the work. It seems to be the case in every organisation but for a Church community it is not good enough. Participation in the Church is my form of commitment to Christ. No one can say: I belong to the Lord without doing something for his family. The Church is Christ’s presence, it is the Body of Christ among the people of our city and in our country. There are different kinds of participation. To start with, there are those who are happy to come to Mass, and then leave, only to return the following week. They hardly know what is going on in the parish, they hardly mix with other parishioners. It is a huge task to mobilise them to find their own space and opportunity to become active. Everyone is important, everyone is needed. Because the parish is like the human body: if certain parts don’t function, the whole body is suffering. I know that people may have all sorts of reasons for not being active, some of the reasons may even be valid. But now is the time to come out and show interest. It isn’t difficult to find something to do. Some people don’t know what to do, but I am sure the solution can be found. It is one of my biggest joys as parish priest when someone comes to me to offer their services for the parish.

So, what can be done? First of all, come forward and show an interest. Talk to someone about it. The idea is to find something that is already an interest or strength that you have. This may be in the area of teaching children, music, art, cleaning, flowers, visiting the sick, fundraising, care for the poor, youth, washing Church linen, cleaning the church, maintenance of the buildings and property, altar serving, reading, Eucharistic minister, joining one of the organisations, and many others. The message is: Christ needs us to build his kingdom here at Good Shepherd Catholic Church, and in our parish community. It is so true that he has no other arms but yours, no other hands but yours, no other legs and feet but yours, no other heart but yours. The person who gets involved benefits in every way – and the community, too.

It all hinges on that question: What parish do we want to be? This time of lockdown offers time to think about it.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies, June 15 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 75: June 10

Just in the past ten days there were four funerals at our parish. Everyone has been a different experience, with the difference being the faith level of the people. Not for the first time, I have seen that the participation ranges from nothing to very good. And it is the former that makes me pause every time during the funeral service to think about what I am doing. Liturgy is so much about participation because its whole structure is about dialogue. When the responses fail, the dialogue breaks down and becomes meaningless monologue. This becomes equally obvious when people don’t know what to do – sit, kneel, stand, make the sign of the Cross. The entire flow of the liturgy as a celebration akin to a drama of actors becomes meaningless. It is so different when people understand what is happening. Then liturgy can envelop them to become an experience of consolation and transport them through the mystery of the life of Jesus to new hope. Anyway, it did make me realise that with our specific liturgical language, signs, rituals and gestures it must be sheer impossible for those without any insight to actually participate. Liturgy without the understanding of the ritual becomes a meaningless performance. That makes me think about the symbolic language we have in liturgy.

Symbols and signs are everywhere around us. We see them in emblems, logos, badges, fashion designs, flags, etc. The language they speak can be even more powerful than words. They speak the language of identity and even values, especially in the world of advertising. See a particular brand, and you see the identity of the company, the people who subscribe to it, and the quality it claims to have. We have these symbols and signs to indicate what we think and feel. A handshake can say more than the words you might want to say. Or your presence can mean more to a person whom you are visiting e.g. in hospital than anything you might say. When a couple gets married, the bride and the bridegroom exchange rings as the symbol of their love, unity and bond. The signs and symbols can also be colours. We attach meaning and values to certain colours. Green is the colour of hope and red is the colour of love or sacrifice. For baptism the child wears a white garment as the symbol of purity, innocence and new life. Symbols and signs can also make us feel good and part of a group. Wearing a particular fashion or brand is the expression of such identity and group awareness. At functions we are required to adhere to certain requirements like dress code. No one would dress in an outfit, which is not considered appropriate for a wedding, funeral or any other significant function. To show respect for a person who enters the room, we stand to greet. What is done and intended is clear and need no further explanation.

This is no different in the Church. We just have to look around to see all the symbols from the moment we enter the Church. There is holy water, we see the altar, the tabernacle, the statue of Mary, the special books and the colours. We see the Crucifx, the symbol of our salvation, and the altar as the table of sacrifice, thanksgiving and praise. We have gestures particular to Holy Mass, like sitting, kneeling and standing. In no other place will we be asked to do this at one and the same function and place. Even certain times have their own meaning and symbols. For example, Lent is the season to commemorate the redeeming suffering and death of Christ. The colour is purple, the symbol of mourning and penance. On Ash Wednesday we receive the cross of ashes, the symbol of repentance. When Easter comes, everything changes. The colour changes to white to express new life, the Resurrection of Jesus and our joy. Symbols and signs are meaningful only if we understand them. Sometimes they have to be changed because their language is no longer relevant or understood. They need clarification all the time or they can lead to misunderstanding.

Besides language, the liturgy is full of symbols and signs, all of which are telling us something. Every symbol and sign of Holy Mass have a meaning. By looking at them, we are being taught to think and see something else. For example, when we stand, it is more than just being in an upright position. We see in the standing position the attitude of readiness and of our dignity before God. The reason for using symbols and signs in Church is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. His appearance in human form refers us to the presence and salvation plan of God. As he said, who sees him, sees the Father. “He is the image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1: 15). In him the glory of God has become visible (John 1: 14; 2 Cor 4: 6). Because Christ lives and works in and through the Church, it also becomes the visible sign of salvation among the nations. Through the Church, Christ the High Priest mediates in visible signs of the sacraments of God the invisible glory and grace of God. Also, the Church as community is a symbol. We are not merely a group of people coming together. We are the mystical Body of Christ.

The most powerful symbol we have is the human body. And no wonder, if we see how much fixation there is today on physical appearances. Care for the body and the way we show ourselves are most certainly very important. From a Christian point of view, it is sacred, God’s temple, and should be viewed and treated accordingly. During Holy Mass we pray with our body. We show reverence when we kneel. We sit to concentrate; we stand to show our dignity with and before God, and to express our readiness to act. We fold our hands to pray, beat the breast to acknowledge our sinfulness, bless ourselves and shake hands with the person next to us for the sign of peace. We sing to praise God more fervently. We come to worship with our body and, therefore, it is meaningful to dress “for the occasion”. Dress code is always a thorny issue as personal feelings and weather do affect the way we dress. For Church, it is about respect for the sacredness of the Holy Mass and the building, which is God’s house. The celebration of Holy Mass is a festive occasion, which requires that we dress accordingly. The thumb rule: dress up, rather than down. At any function where we appear, the way we dress, expresses what we think of our host or the people at the function. Our host is Jesus Christ; the people are those Christ called together to praise and worship. Leaving home appropriately dressed for Holy Mass is a symbolic public statement: I am a Christian who is going to worship my God with my people.

At the beginning of Holy Mass there is the solemn procession of the priest, the other celebrants and the altar servers into the Church. We immediately get the impression that something solemn and sacred is about to happen. The colour in the Church and of the priest’s vestments tell us what to expect: it is the ordinary time (green), purple (Lent), violet (Advent), red (Holy Spirit or a martyr’s day, or the Passion of our Lord), white (Easter and Christmas or Mary).

As we can see, symbols are a significant part of life. Who we are, what we are and what we believe in, and whom we belong to, we express with these symbols, gestures and rituals. It is important that we consider every time our relationship to the places and people we are communicating with. This is equally important for the Church.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies, June 13 2020

Day 74: June 8

The lockdown offers us ample opportunity to re-evaluate our relationship with Jesus Christ. We know that only a personal relationship will lead us to be committed Christians who are willing to represent Jesus Christ to others. In order to do that, we have to aspire the highest aim of our Christian life, which is holiness. We have such an example in our own saintly man, Benedict Daswa.

On February 2 1990 he went to bring vegetables from his garden to his parish priest, then gave a lift to a man with a bag of mealie meal. Afterwards he took his sister-in-law and her sick child to the doctor some 15 kilometres away. It was getting dark on his way back home. Suddenly he saw two tree trunks and a pile of stones on the road. As he got out to clear the road, he was struck with stones. He managed to escape to a nearby house where he could hide. When his attackers threatened to burn the house to the ground, he came out to plead for his life. As they, all young men, refused to let him go, he asked if he could kneel to pray. While he was doing so, a young man struck him with a big stick on the head, crushing his skull. They then poured hot water over his head.

Thus died Tshimangadzo Samuel Benedict Daswa, man, husband, family man, catechist and school principal. He left his wife with seven children. The eighth one was born four months after his death.

Why did he die? On January 25 1990, heavy lightning struck the area, burning some houses while leaving others untouched. Therefore, the people asked the question why some were singled out while others remained untouched. The headman wanted to sort the matter out and called a meeting of his counsellors. Benedict Daswa arrived late for the meeting. He tried to explain what causes lightning as a natural phenomenon. But by then they had come to the conclusion that a witch had been responsible for the disaster and had to be “sniffed out” by a sangoma. Benedict tried to reverse the decision but was rejected. The sangoma had to be paid and the headman ordered R5 to be paid by everyone. Just R5, but Benedict refused as a matter of principle! The first reason was that he did not want anyone to be marked by a sangoma for certain death by being declared a witch and, therefore, responsible for the lightning. Secondly, he always maintained that any form of belief in witchcraft was contrary to his Christian faith. It seemed so simple: pay the small amount of R5, and you don’t have to worry at all. However, Benedict stood his ground. In any case, it did not seem that his enemies were concerned about his Christian conviction and moral standing, because they were driven by jealousy. They had made up their minds to kill him and solicited the services of some young men. These young men set the trap to ambush Benedict on that fateful night.

Even today one might ask the question: did he make the right decision? Did he consider the consequences for his family? This is human thinking, and it has its validity. It is only when we get to understand the reasoning of Benedict that we can respect his decision. For him it was a matter of conscience, formed by his Christian faith and morals. Benedict was already 17 years old when he was received into the Church. It was a conscious, mature decision. He was a mature, well-informed and committed man both in Church and society. In all matters, he was known as a man of dedication and sound principles. He set high standards for himself and expected the same of others. His teachers knew him as a strict but fair principal. It is reported that he physically removed one of his teachers from a taxi to go back into his classroom. He thought that he could sneak away from school. Later Benedict took him with his own car to wherever he wanted to be.

After his death shock waves went through the village and the surrounding area. Still, because of his stance against witchcraft, hostility prevailed against his family who never received the support from the community. On the other hand, as interest in Benedict’s life grew and people close to him were interviewed, the image of a loyal husband and caring father, of a dedicated teacher and principal, of a committed Christian and catechist emerged: a man of God! He died for his loyalty to Jesus Christ whom he followed in daily life. As a follower of Christ, he remained a sign of contradiction, even to the point of shedding his blood rather than compromising his faith for the sake of pleasing others. He never wanted or sought martyrdom. Martyrdom as giving daily witness to Christ was already part of his life. He knew his people and society. He knew that opposing them could include serious consequences. That day of his death, evil forces conspired to kill this man of God and made him a martyr who shed his blood for Christ.

What does Benedict Daswa mean to us as South Africans in general and Christian Catholics specifically? He is a thorn in the flesh to those who lord it over others for self-enrichment, abuse of power and corruption. Benedict was a leader of morals and principles. He was a man of service and care. He was a man with a formed conscience based on ethical principles and faith. As such, he is a role model to all South Africans. Every South African, whether believer of some sort or not, can see in him an inspiration to be a good citizen. On the Catholic front, today we are concerned about the future of the Church and our Christian faith in our country. We know well of the dwindling numbers of vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Benedict points to each one of us, priest, or not. Every Christian is called to be a witness of Jesus Christ. The more personal and direct, the more convinced and loyal that relationship with Christ is, the better for the future of the Church. And there he is, formerly unknown to us, now a saint of the Catholic Church of South Africa.

And it doesn’t have to end there. Benedict Daswa turns our attention to the countless women and men who live their faith and apply it to very trying circumstances, going unnoticed to others. They are the moms and dads of an addicted child, the spouse caring for a terminally ill spouse or spouse with Alzheimers disease, the family who have to start anew in another city or country facing huge odds or financial strain, the young person who goes against peers to remain steadfast in values and morals, the elderly person who graciously ages with a body that is giving up, the parents and grandparents who go to great lengths for the faith of their children. And so on. All of them are brave witnesses in the original sense of martyrdom: they give witness to Jesus Christ.

We pray that the lockdown strengthened us in our faith to improve our relationship with Jesus Christ to a more personal experience, from where all discipleship is formed.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies, June 12 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 73: June 7

The news that is trending at the moment is cause for worry. It concerns to a large extent the increase of physical abuse in families due to the the abuse of alcohol. And every time it is because the home has become an unsafe space for children and women. What that basically means is that men are the primary cause. This is very sad given the role men should have in family and society to be protectors of life. That, however, makes me wonder (not for the first time) how the identity and role of man can be given a foundation from a Christian perspective.

A commercial on television puts it beautifully: the father – the son’s hero and the first man his daughter loves. That highlights the central role and meaning of the father in the life of his child. The commercial then goes on to show the father in various situations with his children – catching fish, sleeping in a tent, hiking on the mountain, etc. What it says, in fact, is that being a father, far from just being someone in the house with the authority of the head of the house, is being experienced in a practical, emotional and spiritual way by the way the father is present in the life of his children. This commercial also puts well what a boy and girl are looking for in their father: the boy looks for the first hero of his life; the girl looks for the first man she admires most.

Recently someone sent me a message, which explains equally well what is expected of a father today:

“A dad isn’t defined as the man who makes the child, but rather the man who extends his hands and time to help with the child’s raising, and his heart to love the child through anything. Blood doesn’t always make you a dad. Being a dad comes from the heart.”

This statement declares the expectation that a father is far more than the biological father, in other words, he is not just the one who is called father because of a relationship, out of which a child is born. He is someone constantly tied into the life of the child, and the raising of the child.

Interestingly enough, a lot of this so-called modern understanding is already in the Old Testament understanding, perhaps even more emphatic because of the patriarchal nature of fatherhood. The father is the master and lord of the house, he has to see to the education of the sons and protect the freedom of the girls. The whole family is present in the father who assures their unity and protection. The family was called “father’s house” (Genesis 34: 19). The word “father” was extended to the prophets, wise men, priests and counselors because they had the authority as educators who prepared the people to receive God’s salvation and to recognise his fatherhood (Dictionary of Biblical Theology, p. 144-145).

Another aspect regarding fatherhood in the Old Testament is the shift towards spiritual fatherhood. God is more clearly seen as the Father of his people during the time of the exile. Those people who were purified by trials and accepted the faith and justice of Abraham now became his people whose Father He is.

In the New Testament the new children of Abraham are born by baptism ( 2 Peter 3: 4).

By the time of Jesus, the understanding of God as Father of His people was clear. What Jesus taught his disciples, was already proclaimed: “Our Father, who art in heaven” (Mt 6: 9). However, he took the understanding of God as Father even further: God is the Father of all people and all people are sisters and brothers. And the mercy of the Father was not limited to the chosen ones; rather it included even the non-believers, with whom God forms the new Israel. Jesus himself calls God “my Father” and “abba” (papa/dad) (Mark 14: 36). In Jesus Christ all of us are the adopted sons and daughters of the one Father (Galatians 4: 5ff), with Christ being the eldest son, who shares with this sisters and brothers his heritage (Romans 8: 17.29) Also, if we love the Father, we should also love the sisters and brothers, whom He has given birth to (1 John 5: 1).

Jesus was very pleased when his disciples said to him, “Lord, show us the Father.” (John 14: 8) And he answered them: “To have seen me is to have seen the Father.” With that answer the highest calling and task of the father is given: to make visible God as Father. Every man is father to others when he reveals the love, mercy, wisdom and strength of God the Father through his attitude and actions to others. For the man it begins with living as a child of the heavenly Father, praying to him, trusting in him and living to please him.

We so much need the father’s presence for our own healing and the healing of society. We ask the men: show the father in you to us. Their example is Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father. God Himself imparts the grace of His Fatherhood to each and every man.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies, June 12 2020

Day 72: June 6

How I envied friends in Germany when they told me that their First Holy Communion class was coming together to celebrate an anniversary! There were two things that impressed. Firstly, they considered the First Holy Communion day as worthy of a day of commemoration. And, secondly, they were in contact with each other to celebrate the event. It was an easy day for them to remember because First Holy Communion is always on Whitsunday, the Sunday after Easter. We have Christ the King as the traditional day but we don’t celebrate the anniversary again. And, that is what makes me thinking. One of my photos I am proudest of is the photo of my First Holy Communion with Fr Ralph de Hahn. And that is all I have of that celebration. But I cherish that photo because ever since I can’t remember that I have ever missed Holy Mass other than for reasons of sickness. Even when on holiday, long before I came a priest, the first thing I would do was to find a Catholic Church. Such was the importance I attached to Holy Mass on Sunday.

The first followers of Jesus still faithfully went for Sabbath prayers in the synagogue. Then, on the first day of week, they met in their homes for the breaking of the bread, as they called it (1 Cor 11). And that is interesting in the light of the Church’s development. The Apostles became the foundation of the Church. But so was the celebration of Holy Mass or Eucharist. We rightly say that from our bishops backwards in time, there is an unbroken succession called the succession of the Apostles. That line takes us to the will of Jesus to create the foundation of his Church. In the same vein, it must be possible to say that with the installation of the priesthood by Jesus in the Upper Room there was the installation of Eucharist even before Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles. From the Last Supper to this day, there is a succession of the Last Supper, which is the celebration of Holy Mass. And this succession is an unbroken line into the Upper Room. What a fascinating thought! The one who is saying those words, which the priest speaks, “This is my Body. This is my Blood” is none other than Jesus Christ the High Priest. Through his Holy Spirit we receive consecrated bread and wine, the Body and Blood of Christ. The Early Christians cherished the Eucharist so much that even in the most hostile conditions, they still did their level best to celebrate Holy Eucharist. The catacombs bear rich testimony to such resolve and determination. I have once had the privilege to stand in such a catacomb, which is, basically, an underground Church, which Christians dug out with their hands, each carrying a certain amount of sand and stone away in their pockets to dump elsewhere.

Some of the most inspirational stories of our Church are about the Eucharist. They are stories of people in times of persecution who go to extremes to celebrate Eucharist every Sunday or whenever possible. I can never forget the story of the Bishop Francis Nguyen from Saigon in North Vietnam. He was put into a concentration camp to work on rice paddies. However, every evening when the lights went out, the Catholics in his dormitory gathered around his bed to celebrate Eucharist. Some parishioners managed to smuggle the utensils, books and hosts and wine into the concentration camp. Tired as they were, they never missed the opportunity. What followed was even more remarkable. The men took turns during the night to have Adoration of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Such love for the Eucharist! The Eucharistic Lord is nourishment, strength and hope.

There is no moment that is more personal and special than to go up for Holy Communion and receive our Lord. It is a moment of awesome reverence that will never be fully grasped because it is such a breath-taking mystery. When the priest says, “The Body of Christ”, and I say, “Amen”, I know that everything I believe is in that simple response. I can understand the longing of people for the Eucharist when they have been deprived of it for such a long time as we are experiencing it now. But perhaps it has helped us to regain our appreciation of the celebration of Holy Mass every Sunday. The Eucharist is the celebration of the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, for us. We relive the Upper Room, Calvary and the tomb of Jesus. It is the sacrament of the love of God in His Son Jesus Christ until the end of time.

The celebration of Holy Eucharist never ends at Holy Mass. It must become the Eucharist of life. What we have received, we become, Jesus Christ. We must then go out and do Eucharist – proclaim, love and sacrifice. We must become Eucharist for others – people who are good, healthy nourishment. Not bitter, hard or sour. The Eucharist was often called God’s pharmacy because it is full of healing moments that are therapeutic such as thanksgiving, repentance, peace, praise and forgiveness. We, too, must be therapeutic to others – our presence must be eucharistic in the sense that it must be healing. Someone must go away from me feeling good, understood and welcome.

It will always remain totally unfathomable to me that I am capable of saying the words of consecration. Priesthood and Eucharist form an inseparable link.

I pray that soon we shall be able to celebrate Eucharist because it is then that we are Church, gathered by our Good Shepherd, to be in his fold.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies, June 11 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 71: June 5

The theme of change has been occupying me throughout the time of lockdown. This is primarily because I see this time as an opportunity to be used rather than just to sit it out and return to “normal”. And I see this as a significant opportunity for the development of Church life in general and parish life. The question is what we see as change and how we can harness it for future development. As I am pondering on this topic, my sight fell on a book, which shook the world when it was first published, Alvin Toffler, Future Shock: (1976). Though old by today’s standards, Toffler’s insights have lost nothing of their relevance. I find much of what he said quite useful for our reflections. Change is not done easily and most people, no matter how educated they are, don’t like change. It appears to be upsetting their routine and rhythm. They harp on culture, group identity, customs and tradition. So much depends on past experiences and their influences on our capacity
for change. Someone once said that during his schooling age he attended 12 schools in twelve different cities! That person was against any form of future change. Enough was enough. However, the bad news for him is that change is inevitable. This is imposed upon us by what Toffler calls “The accelerative thrust”. The acceleration of change comes through incisive processes, such as the invention of the wheel, certain weaponry, technology, economic upheaval, wars, transport developments and political events. These changes are usually irreversible. You have to adapt to them, or risk being left behind. That scenario is being played out all the time. The technological developments are so staggeringly fast, that it is hard to keep abreast with them if you are a senior person. On the other hand, children and young persons take these changes in their stride.

Is there such an accelerative thrust in the Church? It would take time and dialogue with many effected persons to discern what changes have been thrust upon us and how they have affected us. Outwardly, it is easy to see what changes there were. We could no longer go to Church; we could no longer receive Holy Communion; we could not receive the Sacraments of Confession, baptism, Confirmation and Holy Matrimony. The Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick should rather not be administered or under extreme caution. No meetings or any form of social gathering ware allowed. And so, we began to improvise. We started to live stream, we put messages on Whatsapp groups, we resorted to Facebook and YouTube. Meetings were held via zooming. In other words, modern
technology came to our rescue and softened the blow of the protocols for the Covid19. But that is all outward change. What change of attitude and behaviour did they do? For many there was a sense of closing the ranks. Groups rallied around each other to give support, such as our readers, the youth, the Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, Prayer Group, and others. There is a greater sense of identity due to the reaction to the isolation to their homes and separation from each other. Family life appeared to have benefited from the time spent together. For others, it was too much be bear where there was not enough space. Equally challenging were the disruptive changes such as reduction of salary, loss of employment and the closure of businesses. And if that was not enough, some received very bad news about their health and others lost dear ones.

The question is: has there been change of such a nature that it can be regarded as “accelerative thrust”? In order to gauge this change, we must see where we were before these changes were brought to bear. With the danger of over-simplifying, our Church was very much centred on the Sacraments and the minister of the Sacraments. That is what people miss most: being at Church with their priest, for the Sacraments. This structure of Church is very old and tried, and indispensable. It proved itself effective and useful and it will not go away. Church is sacramental and hierarchical with bishop and priests to lead. However, it has never been enough. The missing link in Church life has been for a long time the lay person and the parent. The emergence of the lay person as a co-leader in Church life is more evident where Church has no choice but to include the lay person. For example, on far away mission stations, which receive a visit from the priest once a month or even less frequently. The question would then still remain if the concept of Church has also changed. The concept of Church that we require is of a Church to be more collaborative, more participative and more interactive. This must apply to the way we are and do Church. The theological understanding is that by virtue of our common baptism all of us take part in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. That means that Church must be more consultative to listen to its members. Over and above, it is not enough to see the apostolate of lay people in temporal matters only. There are enough lay people who have the education and ability to take part in ecclesial matters. Church today is so intertwined with society and involved with it, that it has become futile to maintain the separation of the two spheres.

Indeed, it is necessary to distinguish between the two but there is an interdependence. Church may never become part of society and be secularised. Church must carefully observe the boundaries. Likewise, society must know its boundaries when it comes to the autonomy of Church. Regardless, lay people are endowed with gifts and talents of the Holy Spirit waiting to enrich the Church. Did the changes forced upon us by Covid19 do enough to ring the bell for the era of a new way of being and doing Church? I believe that the changes don’t have to be like lightning and thunder. The changes can also be subtle and showing something has happened that has a voice that may not be overheard. Such a change is the involvement of parents with their children, apparently away from the gaze of the current Church’s life and yet central to its teaching and understanding of family as domestic Church. On the societal front, the plight of the poor became only too apparent as so many people were battling for survival and became reliant upon handouts. A sad feature of our society is the ugly resurgence of racial issues. Change for us is not based on the publicity an event received. Rather, as believers we ask what God wants of us. And that can also be written in small print, which we must carefully read and interpret in faith.

What do I consider as irreversible changes based on our experiences during Covid19? I think the “accelerative thrust” is in the areas of family and Church, lay participation, social prejudices and poverty. This thrust leaves us with the need for a fourfold change. The changes must be of such a nature that they are irreversible. They will demand constant vigilance and effort, clear thinking and decisive application. We must be patient as with all change, we must allow for processes of adaptation during a time of transition. And these changes demand that we make important choices or options:

1. Option for family life
2. Option for the charismatic talents of lay people
3. Option for otherness to overcome prejudices
4. Option for the poor

The first two options are Church-oriented. The other two are societal but integral to the mission of the Church as leaven to society. Church must attempt to live what it preaches.

Change that is effective in the parish will require concerted efforts from different sides. I hope that it will not be “business as usual” but the change based on the discernment of God’s will for us.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies, June 10 2020

Day 70: June 4

There is so much concern about change during this time of Covid 19. All the regulations and protocols are meant to effect change of personal and social behaviour to combat the spreading of the Coronavirus. The response, by and large, has been good. But this has been the case with the help of very strict adherence enforced by the police who had traffic checkpoints and controlled people in public spaces. Amidst all of this, there has been an outcry for the unbanning of cigarettes and alcohol. Court case after court case challenges the legitimacy of the government’s powers to pass certain restrictions. Going around the city, the response to the Covid19 regulations is rather erratic. In some places, the atmosphere is one of eery silence as people stay at home. In others, it is like Christmas with people milling around freely. Again, in some places, people feel that their rights are being infringed; in other places, people are adhering to the letter of the law. The message, though, is very simple and straightforward: the influence of the virus can be contained if we wash or sanitize our hands, wear a mask and maintain social distancing. People may add other measures as they deem fit, but these are still the basics. Yet, to get people across the board to adhere to them has been a real challenge. What is it that we are so reluctant to accept and internalize change that is beneficial? Once the sale of alcohol was lifted, it almost seemed that people went back to old habits, if not worse. The trauma unit of Groote Schuur Hospital reported that during the prohibition of the sale of alcohol, they had 10 cases per day. As soon as the sale was allowed, that number went up to 50 daily, and the main cause was alcohol abuse. It is as if the whole alcohol-free period hardly had a positive effect on the attitude towards the consumption of alcohol. So many complaints were in the sense that the state had become a “nanny state”, and that they wanted more say in their affairs. Interestingly enough, Sweden went that way, allowing people to mix freely, go to work and restaurants on the condition of sanitizing, keeping social distance and wearing masks. The outcome was disastrous. They relied heavily on the sense of responsibility of the citizens. However, no matter how responsible people were, the virus had its own way of spreading, especially where people gathered. There simply had to be a supervisory structure that had to put more stringent measures in place. In order for these to be effective, we had to make the changes.

The issue that appeared to worry most was the lack of willingness to comply with the need for change. Last week Bishop Sylvester, to quote an example, was urgently appealing to Catholics to embrace the required change. He even went as far as to biblically motivate change as part of our faith practice. Our Churches will remain closes until there is the conviction that people will fully comply with the regulations. I experience it week after week at every funeral that people simply are not willing to cooperate as a matter of rational agreement to the regulations. And, yet, the response is rather limited. Why? Is it possible that people are so set in their ways that they cannot or refuse to change? Are old habits so difficult to break in order to make way for new ones? With all the rational thinking being used to make the demand for change understandable and, therefore, possible, why do people still go the other way? It always intrigued me that people who smoke know all the bad consequences of nicotine for their health, but simply cannot get themselves to quit smoking. The only factor which seems to make an impression is when they are told by the doctor that they will die. And that usually happens after some form of heart condition. In other words, fear changes their habit, not rational thinking.

We all believe that we must exercise responsibility for ourselves and for others. Responsibility presupposes freedom and morality. It is the potential to rationalise a situation and draw conclusions for one’s moral behaviour. Moral behaviour, however, requires the ability to act on facts. In other words, morality is to do the truth. Freedom implies the choice between right and wrong, and good and bad, based on truth. How different the world would be, if that would be the case for most of us. But we don’t have another workable option. As long as people act on the spur of the moment or irrationally following their passions, then we will not overcome the threat of the virus. Or, as it happens all too often now, the State uses law enforcement to force us into doing what is right. Even that is contestable, as quite often we face the fact of hidden agendas or political motives.

Change is something deeply spiritual. It has to do with recognising Christ as the truth of God, which challenges change of behaviour towards God and others. In fact, the beginning of spiritual change, which encompasses total change, is repentance. Repentance is remorse for things gone wrong and the willingness to be accountable for the wrong and its consequences. Change is necessary for growth and development. In the Bible that change is called conversion, which is the inner transformation of the person. That change or conversion happens with the experience of being touched by the presence of Christ through the Holy Spirit. It is easy for all of us to fall into the trap of social habits, which follows the maxim, “Everyone does it, therefore I do it”. This, in effect, is nothing but following the masses, it is mass-mindedness. The answer to this is to open the mind to be critical and independently thinking. So much wrong is done in the name of society, race, family, nation or group. Jesus would never have become our Saviour had he followed the social behaviour of the people of his time. And it is those individuals who see and make a difference who really are world changers.

When we emerge out of the grip of the Coronavirus, will we have seized the opportunities for change? Or will it be back to “normal”, back to what it was before? I hope not. Change doesn’t have to happen when we must change because we are facing crisis and disaster. We can do change as a rational process. Think. Think! Some parishioners gladly testify to the positive effects this time has had on their relationships and family life. Let us look carefully at the changes we must face and try to do them. It is really a matter of taking control of our own development. Let us look at the changes we must undergo in our relationship with God, ourselves and others. Be specific about these changes and build them into your behaviour. Make them good habits. Good habits come from repetition; repetition makes good habits became second nature.

Real change happens where the Spirit of Jesus Christ brings the deep conversion in the soul. Our aim is to be a blessing to others. It is to contribute to their well-being and redemption. That is the climax of social responsibility.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies June 9 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 69: June 3

Some years ago, I read a book with the title that read something like “In spite of everything, why I am still in the Church”. It was a series of testimonies of leading theologians who explained their reasons for remaining in the Church in spite of their disappointments and disillusions. Some of them were known for their open and severe critical positions towards the Church. All of them went through much agony due to harsh treatment they received from Church authorities. At least three were even forbidden to write or teach in the name of the Church. It was difficult times in the sixties and seventies after Vatican II. The Church had undergone radical changes that were just too quick for the people in the pews. Quite a number of priests left the priesthood. It was the time when different theologies around the world emerged with a radical political agenda of liberation from the tyranny of oppression of people in Latin America and Africa. Women began to claim their rightful position in the Church, which gave rise to Feminist Theology. For others in Europe, the disillusion with the Second World War was catching up with them. They began to question the way they were taught and were doing theology. The result was that they began to discard a theology, which was considered remote from reality. The foundations of the Church, which was so hopeful and opened the windows to the world, were shaking. There were strong divisions and clashes with the hierarchy. Both sides had good intentions but simply did not seem to come to terms with each other. I got to know these tensions when they were at their climax in the early eighties. Nevertheless, as many left the Church disillusioned, there were these embattled priest theologians who boldly stated why they stayed.

But, closer to the bone, it often made me wonder why people leave the Church. I am sure that there are disappointments. Someone may have had a bad experience with one priest or in one parish, and then rejected everything. There is the very familiar experience of coming and going around the Sacraments. Children make their First Holy Communion and many then disappear because their parents stop coming to Church. Even more spectacularly, young people receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. Although they are told that they are completely free to say yes or no to Confirmation, they all make the most personal solemn promise to God to be committed Christians. When asked what Confirmation means to them, they give the right answers. And that puzzles me. I don’t know what to call it. I do understand from the point of view of their psychological development that religion may not always play the central role in their lives, but I can’t understand why they don’t respect their own promise. I do make the funny comment that the bishop anoints them with chrism and not with vanishing cream, but it is a sad comment when I look at them. I recently asked one of them why he is not attending Church. His answer was that he just needs a break. That break started 3 years ago! Very often I have to remind parents not to blame themselves for decisions their children made who received a solid Catholic foundation. Much the same thing happens around weddings. We try to make couples awaiting marriage understand that Christian marriage is a commitment to Christ and that they are the preferential sign of God’s love in the world. However, many of them simply stay away. Hopefully, they come back for the baptism of their first child. Sometimes I meet people who very proudly rattle off what I call the “Catholic career”: First Holy Communion, altar server, Confirmation, wedding and then left to stay away or join another faith community. I once went through the baptism register of my former parish. More than 2 000 babies were baptized, spanning a time of 40 years. That averages 50 plus per year! Where are they? Surely, not all them moved away to another place! The biggest pain in my priestly life is to see after Confirmation yet another generation of young people leave the Church. On the other hand, I stand in respect before the youth who regardless continue in the Church and ignite each other with the fire in their hearts.

We can list many reasons why people stay away from Church. Ultimately, it is a personal decision based on experience, faith knowledge, family and community. One thing is clear today: you are either a committed Christian or you will not be one. The odds are massively stacked against religion and there is little or no support from society. The days of sending a child to a Catholic school where nuns and religious brothers taught are long over. Any Catholic Christian who tries to be an average Christian who now and then goes to Church finds out that they are drifting away and not really practicing their faith. I am either convinced of Jesus Christ as Saviour in my personal life; or there is no personal relationship and, therefore, no real fire for Jesus Christ. Life with him can never be about going through the motions of the “Catholic career”. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ enables the experience of deep personal love and mutual interest. It awakens the desire to follow and work for him. Some do come back after a very existential experience of sickness, death, personal disaster or true conversion.

What can I tell someone who has drifted away? Is there anything of such worth that can make them come back? Yes, there is so much I can say. Church is about values like family, friends and relationships. It is about love and sacrifice. It is about care and solidarity. It is about mutual interest and responsibility. It is about purpose and hope. It is about light overcoming darkness. It is about healing and reconciliation. It is about justice and peace. It is about truth and love. It is about freedom and happiness. It is about community and friendship. It is about believing in and working for a better world. Faith sharpens the awareness for others, the challenges of society and the care of the environment. And it is about so much more. It is ultimately about purpose in life and true inner happiness, which nothing in this world can give, but which lingers as a deep craving in our hearts. I recall a meeting in the first years of my priesthood with young people who were questioning their faith and affiliation to Church. At some point in the conversation, I pointed something out to them, which was quite startling. Their parents were active Catholic Christians, all with an enthusiasm for their faith. They had good marriages, were good exemplary parents from the point of view of their values, interested in social issues, generous with their time to help others, teaching the children of other parents to cherish their faith and engaged in social projects to uplift other people. They radiated youthfulness, freshness and enthusiasm – much more than those young people radiated! And it was because of their faith and faith community that the parents remained dynamic persons.

My personal conviction is that no one joins and remains in a group just for one reason. There is a set of reasons, which stems from a network of personal attachments, such as friends, positive experiences of belonging, being part of a group, joining a ministry and being able to contribute in a personal way. Faith is never just about me. It comes wrapped in experiences with others, community and tasks, and is sustained and grows with these. In this way, it becomes meaningful, personal and relevant. Today our parish communities and sodalities must radiate the spirit of Jesus to attract others. When the first disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, where do you stay?” He said them, “Come and see. So, they went to see where he was lodged and stayed with him that day.” (John 1: 39-41) I must know what I am inviting someone to. Our only solution is to be witnesses, quietly going about our lives, living in the hope of enkindling the spark of faith in another person. Each Christian must live that she or he is “Jesus Christ in the world”, the living sign of Christ’s love and mercy among people. People must see and feel the heart of the Father in us. God is about relationships and true love. They must feel the love and interest of the community. The Holy Spirit must do the rest.

It gives me comfort that Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, seeks his sheep. I also know that those who are away from the Church remain sisters and brothers and I pray for them. It is not about filling the pews in the Church. It is about the passion for the fulfilment and happiness of people, which I believe can only be found in God. It is so heartening to see someone come back after many years. Trust in the Spirit of Christ!
Fr Ivanhoe Allies, June 6 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 68: June 2

Bible reading has its own dynamic path, which is not always plainly upwards. It depends on the receptivity of the soul for it. Here the parable of the seed and the soil comes to mind (Mark 4: 1-20). Like the different types of soil, we might be going through different types of receptivity. The key is perseverance. The more receptive I become the more I will feel the desire for God’s word. It makes me interested to know more about Jesus. It opens my mind to others around me and the Church community. It helps me to relate to people and society. Bible reading changes behaviour and habits. It leads to conversion and makes willing followers of Jesus. When The word of God begins to fall in fertile soil it becomes a source of joy, consolation and inspiration. However, it is also uncompromising and challenging, demanding total dedication. It does not tolerate half-heartedness: “I know your deeds; I know you are neither hot nor cold. How I wish you were one or the other – hot or cold! But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3: 15-16) The word of God is thorough and relentless once it begins to work in us: “Indeed, God’s word is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword. It penetrates and divides soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the reflections and thoughts of the heart. (Hebrews 4: 12) Sometimes we need someone to explain to us the word of God, as it was the case with the Ethiopian whom Phlip asked: “Do you understand what you are reading?” He answered: “How can I unless someone explains it to me.” (Acts 8: 30-31) Philip then interpreted the text he was reading, and that it was about “the good news of Jesus” (Acts 8: 35: We will always make the discovery that it is the best food for the soul. It makes us “taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him” (Psalm 34: 8). That word is Jesus Christ, the Word of God (John 1: 1-3), the light of the soul.

There are different sources at our disposal for Bible reading. The best one is, of course, the Bible itself. Own your own Bible! Give it a place of honour in your room or home. Some families have the custom of a Family Bible, which contains the names of the family tree. The Bible can be a favourite gift for First Holy Communion, weddings and Confirmation. Today we can find some really good Children’s Bibles with stories. They should be read to children. The younger they become familiar with the stories, the better. It depends largely on the fact that they hear these stories and how these are told. One must never underestimate the openness of children for the Bible.
There are different ways of reading the Bible. I still prefer the method called the Lectio Divina. I usually take a simplified version. Basically, it has the following steps:

1. Prayer before I read. I ask Jesus to come to me and give me the Holy Spirit for understanding the text.

2. Silence for a few minutes to allow the mind to empty itself from distractions.

3. I read the text.

4. Silence to allow the text to sink in.

5. I see if I have any questions about the text.

6. I read the text again

7. This time I want to see where my heart “burns” when I read the text.

8. It might just be one word, one image, one verse, an expression.

9. I allow that word to sink into my emotion.

10. I pray spontaneously with this word.

11. I ask what that word wants me to do for Jesus.

12. I take this word into my day.

The longer version of the Lectio Divina is:

1. Lectio (Reading) Acquaintenceship
Read the text
Listen to God’s word

2. Meditatio (Meditate) Friendliness
Read again
What is Jesus telling me?
Reflect on the text
Lord, what do you want me to learn from this text?

3. Oratio (Prayer) Friendship
Read the text again
Let your heart speak to God
Pray spontaneously

4. Contemplatio (Contemplation) Union of Life
Read the text again
Silence to let the Holy Spirit speak to you

These methods can be used either alone or in a group. I also recommend that each one looks for their favourite texts in the Bible. Reflect on them. Pray with them. Live with them. Important is that the text does not stay between the covers of the Bible but that it takes shape in our lives. It goes through a second writing by the way we live with them.

Before the priest proclaims the Gospel, he prays: “May the Lord be in my heart and on my lips that I may worthily proclaim the Gospel.” Ultimately, that is what the word of God wants us to do: live and proclaim it.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies, June 5 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 67: June 1

Reading the Bible? It is one of the most rewarding things to do for our spiritual life and development. There was a time before the Second Vatican Council when the Church discouraged Catholics from reading the Bible. The reason? It is too complicated, and Catholics could only get confused. The result is well known. Protestants accused us of not knowing the Bible. We had become Christians of the Sacraments, especially Confession and Holy Mass. That has changed as many Catholics have a Daily Missal or belong to a Bible sharing group. Nevertheless, mud sticks.

I must confess my dire lack of Bible knowledge as I was growing up. I always had the desire to read the Bible from cover to cover, and once even tried it. I can’t remember how far I got. But I can never claim that I regularly read it. I remember a funny incident at Sunday school. As Catholics we never had Sunday school or catechism classes. After some years we eventually approached our parish priest and asked if we may join the Sunday school of the Anglican Church. They had this wonderful outing at the end of the year. As Catholics, we could only envy them. The parish priest agreed, and we joined the Sunday school of the Anglican Church. We never made it to the outing because we joined too late. However, they did take our weekly 5 cents. Anyway, Sunday school was basically Bible stories. Once day the Sunday school teacher asked me a Bible question. I didn’t know the answer and sharp thinking help me out of my predicament. “I am Catholic. We have a different Bible”, I said. The Sunday school teacher apologized that he had forgotten that I was Catholic and that our Bible was different!

The Bible is, arguably, a complicated book to read, spanning thousands of years, stemming from very diverse cultures, with images far from our world of experience and in need of careful interpretation. Texts from centuries are adapted and put together. In Genesis 1 and 2 we have two Creation narratives, each from a different source and epoch. Four different sources and authors wrote Genesis, each from a different time. Sometimes very learned biblical scholars disagree on the analysis and interpretation of a text. Sometimes there even seem to be contradictions in the Bible. We must also consider the people for whom a particular book or letter was written. Very often the circumstances change depending on whether they were of Hebrew or Greek origin. For example, Mark 2: 1-12 tells us that the four friends of the paralytic man dug a hole in the roof to lower the stretcher down to Jesus. It was a Hebrew house with a clay roof. Luke 5: 18-26 reports the same incident, but here they uncover the roof, implying tiles, which is the kind of house in the Greek speaking world. In Matthew 5: 1-12 we have the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes whereas in Luke 6: 17-26 it is the Sermon on the Field. Matthew Chapter 1-2 and Luke Chapter 1-2 bring the childhood narratives of Jesus, but each in a different way. Mark and John don’t even hint at the childhood of Jesus. The reason is not biographical for Matthew and Luke but theological reflection on the life of Jesus. Or, for that matter, only Matthew, Mark and Luke have an account of the Last Supper as a meal. John, on the other hand, says nothing about the meal. Instead Chapter 6 is a long discourse about the Body and Body of Christ. In the Upper Room, John tells, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The theological intention is different every time. It is, therefore, futile to try to construct the biography of Jesus from the Gospels.

On the other hand, the Bible comes like a familiar visitor. To some it is a book of consolation; to others it has become a book of protest; to others a book of hope. And so, the list can go on. What they all express is that no matter how old the Bible is or how remote the social context is to us, there is a sense of familiarity. It speaks directly, and we even recognize its closeness to us. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, I do believe that the Bible as God’s Word for us resonates in the soul, almost as if the two are meant for each other. They are meant to enter into a personal bond whereby in the soul the Word of God continues to be written and interpreted. The beautiful Negro Spirituals owe their origin to Bible texts, which interpreted the agony and hope of the African American plantation workers. Such a text is that of Exodus, from where the spiritual “Go down Moses” came. In Brazil the farmers who were forever oppressed and exploited found strength in the Bible to stand up to the feudal landlords. Again, it was a text like the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt that enabled them to face their own enslavement and empowered them to stand up against it. The same thing happened in South Africa with the discovery of Biblical texts as interpreters of oppression. These ancient texts became contemporary and relevant. They were influential in the strain of theology called Black Theology with Manas Buthelezi as its main protagonist. (In USA, James Cone). Two of my heroes of South African history, Beyers Naude’ and Nico Smith, changed their views on the biblical justification of Apartheid when they revisited the biblical texts, which were supposedly in favour of racial segregation. (Beyers Naude was influenced to do so after the Sharpeville massacre March 1959 and Smith when he joined protestors against the bulldozing of shacks in Crossroads/Cape Town)

On a personal level, much the same can be said: certain texts are simply mine. I remember always being close to the texts of Abraham who was asked by God to leave his father’s land and go to a foreign land. That was my situation when I left South Africa for studies in Germany. Or, the text of the young Samuel saying to God, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” I am always touched by John 17, the high priestly prayer of Jesus where he prays to his Father that all may be one. John 19: 26 where Jesus still had the strength to say to Mary, “Behold your Son.” And to John, “Behold your Mother” is an absolute favourite.

It is unbelievable to see how reading the Bible together changed the lives of many people. When we do Bible sharing in the GSP Men’s Group, it is great to see how many layers of understanding and application surface. The same text then turns out to be multi-layered speaking differently to each one. What must be avoided at all costs is the quoting of Bible verses out of context. If done correctly, every verse must be read in its immediate context and then within the context of the entire book, Gospel or Letter. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated. The best way to read the Bible is to simply start reading it. We will make the experience of the disciples on the way to Emmaus in the company of Jesus. He explained the scriptures to them. Their experience was that their hearts were burning as the explained the scriptures. The Holy Spirit will make our hearts burn when we read the Bible.

Can we still read the Bible, given all the pitfalls? Some kind of Bible studies is always recommended. But I do believe that there is a “love affair” between our soul and the inspired Word of God. The two are waiting to meet and enjoy a life-long relationship. And like in any relationship, there will be misunderstanding and misinterpretation. The fact remains that the two are meant for each other. The best way to find this out is to simply start reading, either alone or with others. Reading with others reduces the margin of error and a purely subjective interpretation. It widens the interpretation from the “my” interpretation only to include the wider more objective “our” interpretation.

Nevertheless, simply start reading. However, can we read the Bible in structured way that will help us in our spiritual development and Christian life? That is definitely possible.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies, June 5 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 66: May 31

Life could be simple, but we know how complicated we can make it. I do believe that the most incisive and important things are done with few words. These words are “thank you”, “well done”, “I am sorry”, “I love you”. And when we use them, they have profound effect – they do something. Doing things with words is a common experience. Just recently I could see the difference between my short words and a contract. The contract has the same effect, in the sense that its words are legally binding. Very often when someone sees me about an agreement that has gone belly up, the only thing that counts is what is in the contract. Once signed, there is very little to argue against it. The contract does what is written – it binds the parties to it.

But unlike the contract, the simple words are words of the mind and heart. With all their simplicity, they demand a lot of careful thought and courage to express. Gratitude, praise, seeking forgiveness and reconciliation and love don’t come easily over the lips if they are meant in all seriousness. Yet, they are the words that do something for us. This is no special occurrence. I am overwhelmed by the simplicity of the words of an oath or solemn declaration and, yet, have such compelling effect on the conscience of the party taking it. Never lie under oath! It is perjury.

Doing things with words, which effect change of the highest order can be observed in the Sacraments. When the priest says, “I absolve you from your sins”, they are absolved. Those words have done it. When he says the words of Jesus at the Last Supper “This is my body” and “This is my blood”, the host and wine are consecrated. Those words have done it: they are the Body and Blood of Christ. When the priest says, “I baptize you”, the person is baptized. The same goes for the Sacrament of Confirmation: “Be sealed with the Holy Spirit”; or the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick; or at the ordination of the priest. Equally striking are the words of the couple at their wedding when their answer is “I do”. Those words have done it! And they do it in such a way that their effect is valid forever.

It needs insight and practice to do the important things with words. Gratitude by saying “thank you” is so essential in our lives, yet so easily neglected or forgotten. We have to acknowledge dependence, which again requires humility. The more often we say, “thank you”, the more we grow in our acceptance that we live in solidarity with people who care for us. Every person values a warm “thank you” that is sincere and gives recognition for the role that person plays in our lives. It guards against taking someone for granted and shows respect. However, for some people it is difficult to say thank you. It is as if they have to surrender their pride and independence, which is exactly what must be done.

“Well done”. These words have something to do with praise. There are so many forms of praise. As friend said to me not so long ago: “We must praise a lot more.” And I could not agree more. I don’t mean hollow praise, but the words that really show admiration and appreciation. Praise also communicates that I have been blessed with your presence and work. But do these words come easily? When I do use them, they have electrifying effect: I feel so much better for the recognition and respect I give someone. It requires true inner greatness to praise. And that inner greatness is humility. Humility is the wisdom to see and express the greatness of the other person.

“I am sorry.” These words will show how emotionally mature we are. They imply repentance for wrong I have done. I acknowledge my responsibility for the wrong and consequences of my actions. Many times, people are afraid or embarrassed to say sorry because they could be seen as weak or losing to someone who might gloat. Yet, difficult as it may be, those words do so much to restore relationships before they spiral out of control. Anger and bitterness can cause so much toxic destruction in the soul.

“I love you.” Surely, that must be the greatest thing any one can say to another person. But once said, these words effect total change. They become commitment and responsibility. They imply personal interest and dedication. And, therefore, it can take a long time to actually say them even when the certainty is already evident. Their real power begins to work when they are said. Once said, the rubicon in that relationship is crossed. Things become different and the course of direction is changed. The relationship becomes exclusive and focused.

How do these words feature in the life of Jesus? To his Father he said, “I praise you, Father.” (Matthew 11: 25) To Peter, he extended the hand of forgiveness and installed him as leader of his followers. (John 21: 15-19) He praised the disciples when they returned from their first mission: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (Luke 10: 18) He talked to them about his love when he claimed that no one has a greater love than the one who lays down his life for his friends. (John 15: 13) He was upset when of the ten lepers he cured only one, a Samaritan, returned to say thank you. (Luke 17: 11-19) He wept over Jerusalem because his beloved city could not accept his affection and offer of salvation. (Matthew 23: 37-39) He was rejected because his adversaries were driven by jealousy and could not accept his greatness. (John 5: 41-43) He was taken aback by their unwillingness to forgive (John 8: 1-11) or ask for forgiveness.

We must never stop learning to do things with words that effect change and make a difference, even though they are so simple. Say again thank you, well done, sorry and love you. These words are therapeutic and they do so much to make life better.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies, June 4 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 64: May 29

Well known to us are the Archangels Gabriel, Michael and Raphael. An angel is God’s messenger. Even John the Baptist is referred to as “angelos” (angel). Though angels are theologically marginal nowadays, there has always been huge interest in them. They are there for protection, appear in dreams and convey God’s messages. Angels are created by God to serve and worship him. Though in our imagination they are light figures who are human images, the cherubim and seraphim (Ezekiel 1: 8-11) are animal figures who stand at God’s throne and praise Him night and day (Revelation 4: 1-11). Jesus took angels seriously as he warned anyone who led a child astray that they have to reckon with their angel. “See that you never despise one of these little ones, I assure you, their angels in heaven constantly behold my heavenly Father’s face.” (Matthew 18: 10) At the end of his temptations by the devil, “angels came and waited on him” (Matth 4: 11). St Augustine defended the existence of angels and taught that they were named after the tasks they received. Our fascination with these celestial cousins will just not go away. Over the years there has been a spike of films featuring angels. And for all their theological vagueness, angels are very prominent in different forms of literature.

Our understanding of angels has been fairly domesticated. “Angel” is used to show affection or for those persons who are particularly helpful to others. I would like to suggest the meaning of angel as someone entrusted to serve and who is with an immediate contact with God. That is one of the theological meanings for their existence. That would open the possibility to see the persons around me who have shown themselves in this wonderful way: serving facing God. And they serve in such a way that I have no other thought but to bring them in connection with their divine origin. I am referring to people who over the years have featured in this way in my life. But perhaps we should let Jesus offer us the criteria to find these angels. Jesus strongly advises that almsgiving, prayer and fasting be done in such a way that only the Father in heaven can see it. In other words, there is the direct reference and contact to the Father who will reward you. (Matthew 6: 1-9) That way you will store up riches in heaven (Matthew 6: 20). Selfless service is what Jesus is aiming at when he talks about love of enemy. In other words, when you love your enemy, don’t expect anything in return. That is going to be the test if your loving and giving were sincere. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, how can you claim any credit? Sinners do as much.” (Luke 6: 27-35) Anyone who loves their enemy and do good will have the reward of being called sons and daughters of God, Who “Himself is good to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Luke 6: 35).

If I glean the criteria for the search for the angels in my life, then they were the ones who gave unnoticed, served without credit, loved unconditionally and helped without seeking personal gain. And every time they did it in such a way that I had the feeling that God had come to visit me. And, thirdly, they are not from my side, my family, my environment, etc. I would have to look for them on the “other side”, from where they came into my life. Because if they were in any form part of my life, then would have their reward already. And I give to someone of my own family, friends, etc., it would be the same. If I want to know the angels, they must firstly be seen as persons who are not returning with profit to their lives. Sometimes we can be so focused on things that are going wrong and people who discredit us with their prejudices that we forget the countless angels who by far outnumber these spoil sports. Such an angel is a person who sees a need, comes and do something about it, then just disappears. Far from being romantic figures, angels show immediacy to God by the way they serve us. They help us understand that God is present and not going to desert us. Everything in them is to glorify God. And this happens through the medium of selfless service. These are the persons whose names are not necessarily known to me but to God alone. By the effect they had on my life, I know that they are real. There are also those whom I do know but they disappear as they arrive. They don’t seek self-benefit. These are particularly benefactors whose support made it possible for me to help others. They are the numerous volunteers who demonstrate through their generosity that God does care through them. These persons guarantee that the divine stream of love never stopped flowing. An angel is the messenger and actor of God’s providence in our lives. They are beaming, radiating light figures who shine on us without losing anything of their radiance because they are connected to the source who said “I light of the world”..

Fr Ivanhoe Allies June 2 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 63: May 28

It is never a topic lightly addressed. At least not in theology. All through my years of theology I never had a professor who explicitly dealt with the topic of the devil. Not even the topic of evil. That was neither offered in Biblical Studies nor in Dogmatic Theology. And, strangely enough, no one ever thought of it, let alone question the absence of such a serious topic. And yet, there are very credible books of accounts of diabolical phenomena and experiences that cannot be overlooked. Exorcisms are as real as blessings. Exorcisms, though, are always treated with utmost caution. It is a good practice to say a prayer of exorcism, which calls on the power of God and His Archangel Michael to crush the power of Satan. At baptism, one form of the renewal of baptismal vows very bluntly puts the question: “Do you renounce Satan? And all his works? And all his empty show?” The answer to those questions, “I do”, is the dividing line which leads to the next set of questions, which is the renewal of the Creed (Do you believe? I do). It is the choice between “either” and “or”. There is no middle ground.

The discussion around the devil is as serious one, as I so often hear from people the word “devil”, and every time I get the impression it is to make sense of difficult situations. But every time I think: “Is that right?” Is it not too easy to give credit to the devil for misfortune or humanly speaking insurmountable problems? In doing so, are not excluding God or making Him look powerless next to the devil? After all, now right next to the Almighty God, there is something beyond His powerful reach? Or maybe it is just a way of saying that God cannot be held accountable for misfortune. If that is the case, then we open the door to a thinking called “dualism”, which implies the coexistence of good and evil as equals. That, however, is wrong biblical theological thinking. How then should we see this odd and uncomfortable entity called devil or Satan that appears so real in the temptations of Jesus? From that moment he disappeared into the background and we hear of him that he entered Judas at the end to seduce him to betray Jesus. There is a sense, though, that all throughout the life of Jesus his presence can be felt. If Satan is the prince of evil, lies and hatred, then it is not hard to think that he was in fact the real enemy of Jesus. Because of the nature of the conflict, it is worth quoting from the text. (Matthew 12: 22- 37) This happened after Jesus had cured a possessed man and the people praised Jesus. That was when the Pharisees came in and said: “This man can expel demons only with the help of Beelzebul, the prince of demons”. Jesus answered: “If Satan is expelling Satan, he must be torn by dissension. How, then can his dominion last? (…) But if it is by the Spirit of God that I expel demons, then the reign of God has overtaken you.” This was the one moment when Jesus took extreme exception to an accusation that he outrightly declared their accusation as blasphemy against the Spirit. And “whoever says anything against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” (V 32) Throughout his life, Jesus has this battle with darkness until he openly declares, “I am the light of the world.” (John 8: 12)

Nowhere is this battle as strongly worked through as in the epic of N.P. van Wyk Louw, Raka. Raka appears as a sinister animal but smart enough to seduce women with his gifts, children with his games and men with his strength. Only one, the Koki, the prince of purity and nobility, unmasks Raka as evil ready to undo their culture and reduce it to nature. Koki tries to convince his tribe of the pending threat of Raka, but to no avail. Finally, he has to fight Raka to save the tribe, but loses his life. And it happens as he predicted. Raka is the force of evil and destruction.

  1. S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters (1942), and Screwtape proposes a Toast (1959), deals with the topic of Satan in satirical way. Screwtape, a senior demon, gives instructions to his nephew, Wormwood, a junior Tempter who was supposed to secure the damnation of a man simply known as the “Patient”. Wormwood must seduce him with the prospects of self-gain and power. He was too eager and quick. Screwtape advises him to use the subtle path. The safest road to hell is the gentle slope, which is gradual. It is the path of subtlety. In Letter VIII Screwtape says: “We want cattle who can finally become food. He (God) wants servants who finally become sons.”

Is that the real conflict of life? Becoming a daughter or son of God or degenerating into a beast that becomes “food” for the Devil? The fact is that Satan remained a force in the Gospels as tempter of people, destroyer, the cause of sickness and persecutor of the faithful. The end of Satan is when he is thrown into the sea of sulphur (Revelation 20: 10). The difference between good and evil persons at the end will be to the evil ones “eternal punishment” and to the just “eternal life”. (Matthew 25: 46)

Is it possible to discern the presence of Satan as we so confidently say that it is possible, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to discern the will of God by interpreting the signs of the time? To my knowledge there is no explicit teaching in that direction. In fact, any attempt at doing this, invariable led to the dirty waters of satanism. The Church has the practice whereby certain women and men are declared saints, in other words with God in heaven. But it never had neither the teaching nor the practice that certain women and men are in hell. The Church always refrained from it because it has no insight into the mercy of God. By the same account, hell with its agony is biblical and Church teaching as Jesus so clearly postulates in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16: 19-31). Though it is interesting to note that in the grand scheme of Christ’s on-going work of salvation, there are three actors on the stage: Jesus Christ with Michael and his angels, Satan, and in the centre of this battle is man with his free will. The battle is for man’s redemption. And that is the underlying and overarching story of humankind until the second coming of Christ. That battle has already been won by Jesus for all of us. We have to make it our own by joining forces with him. It all comes down to how we use our free will to dedicate ourselves to either the one or the other. It is Christ’s task as the Paschal Lamb to lead all people home in a triumphant pilgrimage to God the Father through the Holy Spirit at the end of time.

Fr Kentenich, father and founder of Schoenstatt, who certainly “knew his stuff” when it came to discerning God’s will because he was so close to God that he once he could say as he pounded the arms of the chair he was seated on, “God is closer to me than this chair.” It was Fr Kentenich who in a talk in 1935 to the priests said: “I underestimated the influence of the devil and I underestimated the influence of the Holy Spirit.” When he was in the concentration camp in Dachau from 1942 until 1945, he said that he had experienced the devil. In his opinion man alone, left to his nature, could never have been as cruel against other humans without the influence of the devil.

The work of the devil is the perversion of the image of woman and man as image of God in the minds of people to become objects of wilful destruction. And this can be found at every level of human life. The question is: “what has happened to man that he has turned in such a way on his fellow human beings?” Original sin in Genesis 3 is given as the rebellion of woman and man against the authority of God. It is the perversion of the use of God’s gift against God. The result is the virus of destruction of the order of Creation. Man and woman must now struggle to maintain and sustain life.

Every nation has its own expression of original sin, which becomes its main task to overcome to be a humane and moral society. Ideologies played a huge role, be that Stalinism, fascism, national socialism, capitalism, communism or racism. The prejudices against woman, Jew and the person of colour unleashed brutal passions on defenceless people in structured, programmed forms. These atrocities became structural social sin. It is a virus that continues to do its work of destruction to this day. Eric Fromm, social psychologist, wrote what is perhaps the leading book on such destructiveness in his book “The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness” (1973). He follows the question: “Why is man the only murderer among the mammals?” The ideology of racism is nothing but the potential murder of a fellow human being (or the approval thereof) already before the actual execution takes place. The diabolical thing is that people whom we see as morally good can actually harbour such thoughts. How can we remain blind? It is interesting. According to Fromm, brutality begins with the inability to love and the inability to be rational. In other words, prejudices that see other people as less, worthless objects and themselves as superior beings, and who persist in that mode, are actually in the darkness of hatred and the cul de sac of wrong thinking. Fromm concludes that in persons with such prejudices the passion arises, which either absolutely controls or destroys life.

My personal opinion: That is where I locate the devil, beginning inside one’s own heart and mind, with the passion to destroy.

We do well to return to those simple practices of dispelling the influence of the devil: Holy Water, a Crucifix in the house, reading Scripture, receiving the Sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion, and constant prayer. Prayer makes us immune against the influence of the devil, especially prayer to Mary who, unlike Eve, crushes its head (Revelation 12). It is said that the devil fell from heaven because he was jealous of the beauty and wisdom of Mary. Besides, caution and hard work against evil must be taken at all times, as St Paul explains in Ephesians 4: 27: “Do not  give the devil a chance to work on you.”

The work of Satan is to make blind, deaf, mute, sinful, blind, lustful for power, violent, envious. The work of the Messiah, the Christ is to restore sight, deafness, muteness, forgive sins and enable to love. It is to announce the supremacy of love over hatred. The best proof he offers is his death on the Cross – love remaining constant in the face of evil and darkness. The counterpart to Satan is the power of the Holy Spirit. In baptism we received the Holy Spirit. Consequently, St Paul can say for our moral conduct: “Do nothing to sadden the Holy Spirit with whom you were sealed against the day of redemption.” (Eph 4: 30)  The prayer to the Holy Spirit until the end of time remains so important: Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth. We need the Spirit of Christ to make the choice of our freedom of will: either a beast (cattle) as food for the devil; or a servant of God who becomes a daughter and son of God.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies June 1 2020

Day 62 May 27

The human body is beyond doubt the focus of most commercials. Its power to be a symbol is undisputed. The traditional understanding is that the human body is the microcosm of the great macrocosm of the universe. This microcosm includes the minerals, vegetative life, animal life, intellectual life and the angel. (Robert Edward Brennan: The Image of His Makers. A Study of the Nature of Man). In the Middle Ages Hildegard von Bingen (born 1008) had such a holistic view of human nature as she taught the unity of Creation  between humans, plants, animals and angels, even assigning mineral stones to certain organs of the body for their healing properties. This means that my body reflects the entire universe in a small way. Nevertheless, I continue my reflections on the human body in the Bible, with some interesting discoveries.

One of the most beautiful expressions of the body is the face. Ps 27: 7-9 implores us to seek the face of the Lord. The presence of God is very often referred to as His face shining on us. There is the great blessing from Numbers 6: 25-26: “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!” The encounter of Moses with God in the burning bush was such that he could not bear the sight of the holiness of God. Consequently, he covered his face because “he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3: 6). The face of a person leads us to the deeper understanding that every person is God’s image. And when we receive at the end the fulness of light, we shall see God face to face, because “we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3: 1-3).

The head is the symbol of authority and superiority in biblical time and culture. There are two incidents that show us the significance of the head in the case of Jesus. First, in Bethany, Matthew 26: 6-7, a woman anoints the head of Jesus with perfume. At his Passion, Matthew 27: 29, the soldiers put a crown of thorns on the head of Jesus.

The feet symbolise the messenger who brings good news. However, our feet must be steady (Ps 18: 33), which happens when the Lord “is a lamp for my feet” (Ps 119: 105). Whoever follows the will of God will have firm feet: “The law of God is in his heart, and his steps do not falter.” (Psalm 37: 31) St Paul, quoting Isaiah 52: 7, says: “How beautiful are the feet of those who announce good news.” (Romans 10: 15) Feet are also the symbol of humility, as was the case of the woman in Bethany who anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair (John 11: 32). The most powerful symbol of the feet is Jesus washing the feet of his disciples (John 13: 1-17). With such humility he demonstrated to them what true service means. It becomes his legacy. “What I have done, so you must do.” (John 13: 15)

It is interesting to follow Scripture, even if just superficially, with regards to our senses. It was the mission of the Messiah to give sight to the blind (Mk 10: 46-52) and make the deaf hear (Mk 7: 34-35). He even touched the tongue of the mute man to loosen it. Surely, it also restored his sense of taste. (Mk 7: 33) Jesus was not afraid to touch people, even the leper (Mk 1: 40) or be touched, as it was the case with the woman who suffered for many years from bleeding (Mk 5: 25-34). He embraced the children and laid his hands on them to bless them. (Mk 10: 13-16) And the sense of smell? When God made man out of clay, He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. (Genesis 2: 7)

The organ that gets some really rough treatment is the tongue. If we can control the tongue, the Letter of James 3: 2 says, we can control the whole body. “It is a small member, yet it makes great pretensions. See how tiny the spark is that sets a huge forest ablaze! The tongue is such a flame. It exists among our members as a whole universe of malice. The tongue defiles the entire body. Its flames encircle our course from birth, and its fire is kindled by hell.” (James 3: 5-6) Ouch!

The Word of God implies the voice that proclaims it. It is God’s voice of justice (Prov 31: 8-9), which continues to echo in the voice of the Prophets. On the threshold of Jesus making his appearance, that voice was John the Baptist: “A herald’s voice in the desert: ‘ Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” When John baptised Jesus, “a voice from the heavens said, ‘This is my beloved Son. My favour rests on him.” (Mark 1: 11) It was the voice of the Father giving testimony to the love He has for His Son. This voice with sound and message accompanied Jesus throughout his life and was repeated at his transfiguration: “A cloud came, overshadowing them, and out of the cloud a voice: ‘This is my Son, the beloved. Listen to him.’” (Mark 9: 7) This voice of the Father was the strength of Jesus to take the direction to Jerusalem. Jesus is the Word, which God has spoken into the world as a word of love and redemption (John 3: 16).

The power of the voice of Jesus is only too evident when people were overwhelmed by his wisdom. He spoke with authority and not like their scribes (Matthew 7: 28-29. The people were “spellbound by his teaching”. It was with his voice that he could simply say to his disciples, “Come, follow me.” (Mark 1: 17) They immediately left their nets and followed him. He calmed the fearful disciples in the storm when he reassured them: “It is I. Do not be afraid.” (Mark 6: 50) He silenced the strong wind in the storm when he said, “Quiet! Be still!” (Mark 4: 39) The disciples were overawed and kept saying, “Who can this be that the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4: 41). Most significant are the words of Jesus on the Cross. Before he died, “Jesus gave a loud cry and said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23: 46) The last words of Jesus on the Cross were “Now it is accomplished”. (John 19: 30) One can hardly imagine what his voice must have sounded like after Jesus had been put through so much torture and pain, which left him exhausted. As the Risen Lord he spoke to his disciples and helped them understand what had happened. Mary Magdalen, overcome by sadness, did not recognise Jesus at the empty tomb, thinking he was the gardener. Only when he said her name “Mary”, did she recognise him – by the way he said her name. (John 20: 16) The disciples on the way back home in Emmaus said: “Were not our hearts burning inside us as he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24: 32) The last time the disciples heard his voice was when he commissioned them to go out and make disciples of all nations, baptising them. (Matthew 28: 18)

My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and so is the body of every other person. It is the indwelling of the Holy Trinity. This is the most amazing statement about the human body.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 28 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 61 May 26

I have always been fascinated with the human body and its functions. It is just incredible to see how it functions and for such a long time. Not even a visit to UCT Medical School could put me off when they showed us the corpses, on which the students did dissection. One was introduced to us as Jan, an arbitrary name they gave him. Poor Jan, I have never forgotten his name and often wondered about him. Was he one of the homeless whose corpse landed up there? Or did he donate his body to the Medical School? I am just glad that in my memory he is not just an anonymous man with a number. My attempts to find a chart or poster of the human body for framing have been unsuccessful. Even my pulmonologist could not advise me where to get one. He got his charts from pharmaceutical companies. My visits to various shops proved to be fruitless. I guess I might have to try Juta’s.

I am fascinated to read what is in the Bible about the human body and its organs. Look up lungs, and you are referred to breath of God and the Holy Spirit. Look up liver, and you will find it with kidneys as the choicest organs offered on the altar. Look up pancreas and you won’t find the word. Instead, I am taken to all the verses pertaining to the disgrace of the abuse of alcohol. Look up face, and it gets very spiritual. The same applies to blood, heart, hands and feet.

The liver is the source of passion or emotion in Greek mythology. It is also associated with anger and wrath. Interestingly enough, look up what you must do to detox the liver, then anger is mentioned as one of the most dangerous things for your liver. Or stress, for that matter. So, it seems the Greeks got it right. In Exodus 29: 13 “All the fat that covers the inner organs, as well as the lobe of the liver and its two kidneys, together with the fat that is on them, you shall take and burn on the altar” and Leviticus 3: 3-5, however, it is about ritual sacrifices. Before one gets the wrong impression, it is the inner organs of a bull! But it shows that the liver was held in such high esteem as an inner organ. (I am told that the liver can do up to 500 functions. Quite staggering!)

We know what role blood played in the Exodus event, referred to in Hebrews 9: 20 as the “blood of the covenant”. In the New Testament the blood of Jesus is shed for us for the forgiveness of sins. He is the High Priest who does not enter the tabernacle with the blood of goats and calves, but “with his own blood, and achieved eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9: 12). We have fellowship with one another and “walk in the light” because “the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1: 7). At the Last S

upper with his disciples, Jesus took the cup filled with wine and said: “All of you must drink from it”, he said, “for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant to be poured out on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26: 28) He interpreted the sacrifice of his body and blood as the paschal lamb that was sacrificed at the Exodus event. In John 6: 53-54, Jesus makes the staggering remark: “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal, and I will raise him up on the last day.” The reference is to the Eucharistic body and blood as we find it in the theology of John’s Gospel.

All references about the lungs refer to the breath of the Spirit. When God made man, He did something most beautiful. He breathed His own life into him: “The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and so man became a living being.” (Genesis 2: 7) In 2 Tim 3: 16 we read that all scripture is inspired by God, having the meaning of being breathed out by God. Before Jesus commissioned his disciples and sent them, he breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20: 22) And with that they received the power to forgive sins.

As expected, there is wealth of references to the heart as it is the seat of life, love and wisdom. Ps 51: 10 weighs in with the plea: “A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.” From there comes our responsibility to take care of it: “Keep your heart with all vigilance for from it flows the springs of light.” In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that only the pure in heart will see God. (Matth 5: 8). The Lord does not look on outward appearances. His gaze searches the heart (Prov 2: 12; 1 Sam 16: 17). He Himself will take our hearts of stone and exchange them for hearts of flesh (Ezechiel 11: 19). If we want to know where our heart is, then just look for what we treasure most (Luke 12: 33-34). That is where we shall find our heart. The heart is the source of both good and evil. However, the true sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken and contrite heart, which He will never reject (Ps 51: 17). The heart is the true reflection of who we are. As Prov 27: 19 says: “As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects man.” Finally, there is that most consoling word of Jesus inviting us all to him when we are stressed and burdened because he is gently and lowly in heart (Matth 11: 24). He is the one who emphasised to love God with all our heart (Matth 22: 37).

A song that I received many times during this lockdown is “One pair of hands” sung by Elvis Presley. It sums up the life of Jesus by describing what his hands did. The song says that those hands are so strong and when everything goes wrong, “Put your faith into one pair of hands.”

 Very often we talk about our hand and eye coordination. Children are encouraged to play games to enhance this coordination. In Scripture it is about the heart and hands coordination. The hand is the symbol for creativity, strength, help, consolation, care, soothing, healing and blessing. Hands reflect the intimacy in the heart. Hands that handle with care follow a compassionate heart. Isaiah 49: 16: “See, upon the palms of my hands I have engraved your name.” As He, the potter, has formed us out of clay (Isaiah 64: 7), He holds us by the hand to give us strength: “For I am the Lord, your God, who grasp your right hand; It is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’ “(Isaiah 41: 13). It is those soft, delicate, motherly hands that have fashioned me and have knitted me in my mother’s womb (Ps 139: 13) Jesus touched the lepers and laid his hands on the children whom mothers had brought to him (Mark 10: 16). With his hands he healed he healed the deaf man. In fact, he made spittle and put his fingers into his ears and touched his tongue. (Mark 7: 31-37) When he stretches his hands on the Cross between heaven and earth, he will draw all people to himself (John 12: 32). To the doubting Thomas he said to place his hands in his hands (John 22: 27). At the Last Supper he took bread into “his sacred hands, broke it and gave it to his disciples” (Matthew 26: 26).The last thing Jesus did for his disciples was to take them out near Bethany, “and with hands upraised, blessed them. As he blessed them, he left them and was taken up to heaven” (Luke 24: 50).

Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 27 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 60 May 25

I find that the greatest things said about the human being are in the Bible. One of them, enduring all times, is that man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1 and 2). It is so great that one can hardly imagine it. Once I have read it, it captured my imagination and has never left me since. It is impossible to ever plumb its depth. If only we could make it the source of our attitude and social actions. We have to bear in mind that this statement was not written in a quiet time of peace. Rather, one of them, called the priestly account, was written in Babylonian exile in 7th Century BC. This means it was at a time when the Israelite people were in languishing in slavery, the urgent questions arose pertaining to the real reasons for their plight. Facing such conditions, the light shone on the origin of humans. There is one thing that was never lost. It was the dignity of woman and man, secured in the statement that they are made in God’s image. It is the most incredible statement if we consider a long history of violence, war, corruption, enslavement and disloyalty to God, that it could be maintained: you, woman and man, are God’s image. Whoever sees you, sees the Creator. Psalm 8 breaks out in admiration and awe of the dignity of woman and man when it says: “You have made him little less than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honour.” Jesus Christ restores us in our dignity as the magnificent work of God’s hands, as Ephesians 2: 10 relates: “We are truly his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to lead the life of good deeds, which God prepared for us in advance.” It is overwhelming to think that the very life of God is pulsating through our bodies. 1 Corinthians 6: 19-20: “You must know that you are the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is within – the Spirit you have received from God. You are not your own. You have been purchased, and at a price. So glorify God in your body.” That is the point, isnt’ it? To glorify God in my body.

The most powerful symbol is the human body. It begins with me and with the respect I have for my body and with the measure I have learned to love it. I, together with every other person, is an imprint of divine wisdom and love. The way I view, respect and treat my body is the condition to glorify God and bow before His glory in the body of the other person.  With our materialistic world view we are so distant from such biblical thinking. It is normal just to assimilate the presence of someone’s body as an object, not as a symbol which refers us away from itself to the Creator, from where we  return chastened in our opinion of the body we saw the first time.

What the biblical statements amount to is that the human body is sacred. By the way, I am so used to the opinion that “I have a body” that I hardly consider the biblical view that “I am body.” Everything in me is body. There is no separation from body and soul. The two coexist within each other. There is no part of my body that is not soul. There is no expression of the soul other than in and through my body. The sacredness of my body means that regardless of my history, this fact will always remain. It does also mean that the history of my life reflects in my body. And I must be able to bring the two together: the eternal merit of my body with the finite merit. My body points to the here and now, my height, size, strengths, weaknesses, my family and place of birth, etc; while, at the same time, it instructs me that here and now it is sacred and participating in eternity. My thinking, living and loving, which communicate with God, are woven into the concrete circumstances of life.

The most striking feature of the body for our relationship with God is the face. In the face, I see me visible and, at the same time, not visible with the naked eye. My faith tells me that there is something invisible looking back at me. It is God’s image. That calls for self-respect and responsibility. In other words, I assume responsibility for the sacred of who I am that is reflected in my body. That is the same when I look at another person. He or she is never giving their identity away unless I go away from outward perception in search of the sacred, infinite quality of the outwardly visible other. The remarkable thing is that the more I am engrossed by the mystery of the other person as an image of eternity, the less I can get hold of it. It draws me into the infinite wisdom, power and love of God, which radiates in His image with whom I am face to face.

In our country the disrespect for the body of another person is frightening. Violations against the body of another person are among the worst forms of abuse. How do we turn this around? It is not just endemic to our country but here it is particularly bad. Unless we learn to see people for what they are from a religious perspective, it will be difficult to create a culture of respect and reverence. The fact of the biblical vision of the will always be a protest against its abuse.

I cannot communicate with others without my body. Over the years the Church had to overcome a negative view of the body as sinful. The motto that prevailed was “Save your soul”. The body was condemned to corruption because of the negative opinion of sexuality and even sickness. The true self, in this negative view, is the soul. Yet, the soul is active and dependent on every activity of the body, be that the liver, heart or kidneys, or otherwise.

Yet, there is nothing more beautiful in God’s creation than the human being, and this reflects in his body.

The entire biblical understanding of the body as image of God is a radical protest against abuse. Because it refers us to the Son of God who took on human flesh; because the Holy Spirt dwells in it and because it bears the promise of the resurrection from the dead and the fulfilment of creation at the end of time. Because God communicates and dialogues with me to make Himself known, He created my body in such a way that it can perceive and understand Him. In fact, God comes to dwell in my body as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Day 59 May 24

I have never done it before, and it has turned out to be very fruitful to look at my biography from the point of view of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I find that every gift has become very significant in my life and highlights important aspects and experiences. All these gifts are interwoven and lead from one to the other. It is good to distinguish between them but, in essence, it is always the one gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the unfortunate fact, that of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, the one least mentioned and celebrated is the Holy Spirit. And yet, without the gift of piety, we can never have that strong desire for God, which is so necessary for a personal relationship with God. I do believe that this gift has been powerfully in play during the lockdown. How else can one explain the vital interest in prayer, the earnestness of praying the Rosary, the yearning for community at Church and the desire for Holy Mass? And, surely, that is the wisdom that we now have: the importance of spiritual life, which gives us hope and sustains us in difficult circumstances. The gift of understanding has allowed us to re-arrange our values during the lockdown. May we preserve and develop them.

All that applies to me in a very personal way. The gift of fortitude is required for special moments and decisions. This is very much the case when these decisions pertain to change of direction in my life. Many times, it appeared like a leap in the dark. This was certainly the case when the reality of celibacy finally dawned on me later in my training years. I definitely needed the gift of fortitude when I made the decision in 1991 to seek permission to go to Chile to work there for some years in order to be exposed to a different approach and more community life. However, on my way there via Germany, my Superior General approached me to change my plans and go to our major seminary in Muenster to work with the seminarians. That decision changed my life forever and was made that very same day, on December 8. I went to Muenster for 7 years. From then onwards, other decisions followed, which took me to Australia (with a stint from there in India; previously also in Manchester). Just when I thought that I was about to return to South Africa, I was asked to go to our seminary in Ibadan/Nigeria where I was for close to three years. Every time the challenges and obstacles were different but equally demanding on my faith to make the leap in the belief that I was doing God’s will. Looking back, I can see how I was not alone in the decision but had the support of the Holy Spirit. But no decision was as crucial and a turning-point in my life as the decision to leave the Secular Institute of the Schoenstatt Fathers in 2010 I had been associated with since 1976. I owe everything I am as a priest to my formation in that community. My whole outlook on pastoral-priestly and spiritual life and work is formed by them. I have built up life-long friendships over 34 years. My decision to leave meant that I had to give up all of it, while at heart I will always be a Schoenstatt Father. But no more on-going formation programmes, international conferences, course exchanges, sabbatical leave in another continent, holidays and retreats with friends, and spiritual exchanges and study sessions with priests of the same spirituality. Yes, I am sometimes home-sick for my spiritual home that I had. I do believe today that I made the right decision. The obstacles seemed to be insurmountable at the time because the change could not have been more daunting. My training is to live and work in community with priests. Nevertheless, the outcome gives weight to that decision. The outcome is overwhelmingly positive in the parishes I have had the privilege to serve.

The grace of fortitude is always necessary in the face of temptations. I chose a life of poverty, and I have to be on guard that the spirit of poverty is preserved as a way of following Jesus Christ. The same goes for obedience. It is about resetting my will and wish according to the will and decisions of superiors so that God’s will be done. It also meant to stand up for my convictions and present them without fear for the consequences. But it also meant to forego of my own will and nail it on the Cross of Jesus. The surrender of the will to God is only meaningful if it is done freely and leads to more freedom. But it does take time to say: “Not my will, but Your will be done.” I must add that there is nothing more calming to my soul than the knowledge that where I am and what I am doing is God’s will. And I wouldn’t be anywhere else or do anything different. There is the temptation to long back for the “flesh pots of Egypt” but I have crossed the proverbial Red Sea to new land.

Without the gift of strength, it wasn’t possible for me to overcome times of prolonged sadness in the soul when I had to face disappointments or the consequences of having been crudely maligned and my good name dragged through the mud. The great achievement of the gift of fortitude was to remain steadfast while overcoming the helplessness to do anything about it. I owe so much to the gift of fortitude.

The gift of counsel! It is so easy to fall victim to pride, an ego trip, self-gain or face-saving. There is always margin for error. Even with very noble intentions, how do I know that it is God’s will and not my own? It is so important to be on my guard. Or I would be self-serving rather than God-serving. The gift of counsel is extremely important for good leadership. It entails consultation and respect for democratic desires to be part of processes. It is about the insight into the importance of collaborative or participative leadership. Because it is about discerning God’s will. The quest for God’s will demands humility of knowing my rightful place and role in finding that will, and of others around me who have or should have a vested interest in finding it. The gift of counsel is about knowing when to back off, when to wait or even to abandon my own ideas and decisions in favour of another insight coming from others. As such, the gift of counsel is, as Fr Kentenich says, the child learning to recognise the voice of the Father.

The gift of knowledge gives insight into the scale of values. My experience with critical illness played the important role of re-formulating the way I value life and things. The cliché becomes true: I don’t really care much about material things. Having faced death a few times changed me. If there is just one reason for me to live long, it is to see my boy grow up. The light of the Holy Spirit allowed me to see persons around me with greater appreciation. It allowed me to know what I must fight and how much; it has allowed me to see what I must accept and let go; if whatever the matter at stake may be, is it my immediate concern or someone else’s, or should I take it personally or refer it to another person; when must I let go and when must I go on. The gift of knowledge puts into perspective my role and place in God’s world and Church. These are real issues, and I appreciate the gift of knowledge. I have grown into my understanding that my role is to connect God’s merciful love to persons and social issues. It is about enabling God’s mercy to socialise in the circumstances of the lives of other persons through my life and actions as His priest.

The gift of fear of the Lord. Yes, I am grateful for the gift of fear of the Lord. If there is one thing I have never done or brought before the cliff to do, then it is that I have never doubted God. And I am only too keenly aware that I may not lose that personal contact; in fact, I am truly afraid of what I might turn out to be without faith. The gift of fear of the Lord has nothing to do with fearing God. It has to do with fear of life without God. And that I cannot even begin to imagine. It would mean damnation to me. God is the point, on which the point of the swinging pendulum of my life hinges between uncertainty and insecurity. It is also fear of jeopardising salvation of others through indiscreet actions on my part. Salvation is the major priority I have as at utmost expression of love for them. Where this gift is in full force, there is no possibility of negative fear of God as wilful, unpredictable and vindictive. Rather, it is the rushing of the child to the Father who does not want to lose the favour of the Father.

Little did I know that it is possible to re-visit my biography and re-write it as an account of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And there is so much more to tell.

Come, Holy Spirt, and do not delay.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 25 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 58 May 23

The gifts of the Holy Spirit have so much to do with wisdom, understanding, knowledge, fortitude, piety, fear of the Lord and good counsel. When looking at them closely, what do they have in common? They all are important for good communication in relationships with God, ourselves and others. Yes, they do take us out of our purely natural realm of thinking and acting to the next level where we are in communication with God. But each gift of the Holy Spirit is essential for our interaction with each other. It is, undoubtedly, a fact that we cannot enter into any form of personal relationship with God unless the Holy Spirit has gifted us with itself to be able to discern God’s presence. The same is necessary if we want to discern God’s will for us. Over a long period of training of the senses, the mind and the heart to grown into our relationship with God, we can only do so with the Holy Spirit. All our human efforts are, at the best of times, merely attempting at removing obstacles so that the Holy Spirit can more easily enter.

Let us take the gift of wisdom. Wisdom is generally thought of as knowledge based on experience. What is the kind of wisdom we have so far garnished from the time of lockdown? From all corners there is consensus: the time for prayer; the time with children; the time with family; gratitude for what we have; the appreciation of people around us; desire for the sacraments, especially Holy Communion; sense of belonging; sacrifice; concern for the poor; mutual support; hope e in uncertainty; stability in insecurity; dependence; reaching out; time for the deeper questions in my life; sense of humour. Etc. Now let me look more closely at these experiences. And that is precisely the point: they are experiences! Each one of them can tell a story of playing together, supervising homework, baking and cooking, sitting around the table to pray, becoming familiar with the Rosary, repairing something around the house, doing the spiritual Communion, attitudes and actions due to the restriction of movement, different moments of conversation with each other. What is so significant about them? I have acquired a rich reservoir of wisdom – knowledge based on experience. Now the experiences that became important for me are different from those for another person. Mine fell into place in my life at the right time. And that, too, is the work of the Holy Spirit. Now we have to take caution. These experiences may not to go to the dump heap of unimportant memories. In other words, I may not just move on to the routine of life as though nothing has happened. Then I would remain in one place. Wisdom now means that I have made important discoveries about myself, others and above all my relationship with God.

What is my personal wisdom? The answer is, understandably, found in my experiences. My wisdom is solitude, which I can tell the long story of since I live alone. Solitude is yet again a very fruitful part of my life. So is prayer, which I have so often battled with to keep in shape. Now it is clear that I can’t go without a structured prayer life. It sounds almost absurd to say as a priest, yet it is such a temptation to be swept away by action. Prayer is the priority; communion with God is the best condition for creative thinking and work. Prayer puts my life into perspective. Prayer puts me in my place – it is Christ working, living and loving in his Church. I have to comply with him, not try to replace him. In fact, to pray is a form of leadership – freeing from ego-tripping, trying to do it without the grace of God, freeing from over-estimating my ability, trusting God, working through disappointments; focusing on the real reasons for doing the work, freeing from inner obstacles for the grace of God to work, considering the dependence on others, including others rather than trying to do something alone, seeking help and collaboration. Everything is recalibrated in and through prayer. Another experience is the freedom I had and rediscovered as such an important tool of my life. I am no longer driven from without; I have the time to think, internalise what I am thinking, let it sink into my heart until I feel it, and measure the time for a place of action. I have the freedom to do it. It made me see how easy it is to become unfree and function like a relentless machine in overdrive. And that, basically, is less and less freedom. In fact, it like being remote controlled, even if with noble intentions. Another wisdom I gained is the discovery (yet again) of my boundaries. These are boundaries of the body, which wants more rest; the boundaries of knowing limits; the boundaries before the red light of over-tiredness is flashing; the boundaries of protecting prayer life. And I can tell of my experiences during the lockdown, which referred me to my boundaries. There is the wisdom of taking care of family.  They are the first whom I neglect when life is becoming hectic. They do need my attention. There is the wisdom of relating to my deceased parents and nurture the love we have for each other. There is the wisdom of my relationship Mary, the Mother of Jesus and my Mother. She is my wisdom, which I cannot deny. I must foster our relationship because she is part of the fabric of my soul, interwoven into my life. My wisdom is to know again the central role of Fr Joseph Kentenich, the father and founder of the Schoenstatt Movement, in my development. I must go back to the practice of reading from his writings every day. My relationship with God as Father is beyond a shadow of doubt one of the most crucial experiences of this lockdown.

We acquire our own set of wisdoms through experiences. Question the experiences, and we have the wisdom. It is important that we internalize them and then attempt to turn them into second nature when they become good habits. Wisdom must be savoured first, tasted and embraced. These wisdoms may not become spectators; they are the chief players in our lives. Then I realise that wisdom and humility go together. Humility is to obey wisdom.

Take the gift of understanding. We need this gift to see God in our lives. And more than that, it is this gift, which gives me affection for God. If there is no affectionate relationship, God will become vague and remain an idea, no matter how interesting or fascinating, still just an idea. But God is person, God is Father, God is love, God is warmth, God is joy, God is hope. The Holy Spirit was generous with experiences in this regard as I scanned my life to find God in my life and be overawed by His presence. It leaves me speechless. The only way to express the relationship is to stammer short invocations in a childlike manner: thank you; you are great; you are strong; you are wonderful; you are so good, etc.

Take the gift of piety. This gift turns the heart from being focused on itself towards God. It gives the heart the desire for God, and more of God. But the gift of piety desires the interests of God. Consequently, this gift has to do with God’s care for others, His Church and salvation. Piety puts my life into perspective in terms of the set of priorities. God first, and life will be more God-like. I have the stories as experiences to back up this gift in my life.

To be continued as I go to the Upper Room at Pentecost.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 24 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 57: May 22

I took a walk outside to pray the Rosary and get some exercise. I wandered over to the Garden of Remembrance. Someone had been to put fresh flowers.  There were many other signs of people who remain in contact with their deceased loved ones. It is a natural instinct and a very healthy one. People who remember are grateful and have a sense of belonging. The signs show vary and show affection for the deceased relative and friend. It made me wonder about my deceased family members. Slowly, my siblings are taking an interest in finding their graves. After some very crafty detective work, they managed to find again the grave of our grandfather. It seems that from now onwards we will be making pilgrimages to the grave of the only grandparent we have known.

It is something very human to think of the dead. Every culture has its own ways of burying the dead. In our Christian tradition we have developed a rich culture of caring for the dead. This happens by commemorating their lives on the anniversary of their death. People visit the graves and bring flowers. There are images and pictures on the graves. Tombstones reflect the connection between the living and the dead. There is a closeness, which we cherish and nurture. That is so human. I remember how shocked I was once when I sympathised with a nun who had lost her brother. She replied, “Father, are we not just being selfish when we are sad about someone who died?” I was so shocked because she wasn’t accepting my condolences. What she said, she said without much emotion.  I just said, “Sister, it is ok to be sad, because you lost someone whom you loved.” And that love for the deceased must not go away, even if the sadness does. Love is eternal (St Paul, 1 Cor 13:13) says “There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.”) Love is the only thing that will take us to heaven and that we will take to heaven. True love reflects the light of God’s love. Our love is a ray of Divine Love.

However, it made me wonder about all the others. Unfortunately, I don’t get very far because those who could inform are no longer with us. And when they were alive, they didn’t really come forward to share their stories. In all fairness to them, though, all my other grandparents died young, leaving young children behind. My youngest uncle, the brother of my dad, was, so I believe, just about 3-6 months old when he lost his mother. My mothers’ parents also died about young, about 3 months apart. But who were they, I sometimes wondered? Not that I adhere a great deal of importance to that question. It is more a matter of curiosity than anything else. I never envied anyone who could draw up an uninterrupted lineage. My ancestry is rather based on people who influenced me in my development through their care and example. Still, I sometimes wonder. And as I get older, I have a strong desire for them to be in heaven. Just as Jesus said, he is going to prepare a place for his disciples, I hope that they have found their place in the eternal light of God.

My grandfather never said much. It is possible to glean just hints of his past. He worked on the mines in Johannesburg, then went to work in Port Nolloth (for Irvin and Johnson?), he was the chauffeur or carriage driver of General Hertzog, and later in Cape Town truck driver at Irvin and Johnson. He married Lily Brown, whose family were devout Catholics, and still are to this day. But where did he come from? Sometimes I am heartily greeting with Mr Allie. I remember one day visiting a cousin of my mom in Crawford who showed me a photo of my grandfather, Peter Allies. He was wearing a red fez! It was him, alright. When did Samsodien (I recall such a name being mentioned) metamorphose into Peter Allies. Perhaps the Church registers can shed light on this. Was he a Moslem, and for that matter a practising one? They lived in Athlone and were closely attached to the parish St Mary’s of the Angels and the primary school, St Raphael’s. From my mom’s side, there isn’t much on offer either. Her maiden name, Weir points to Ireland or Scotland. They had property in Belgravia with horses, which always indicated a certain standard of wealth. It seems that it would be easier to follow the Brown line as some of the cousins of my father are still alive. Their mom, Auntie Ria, was the sister of Lily Allies (nee Brown).

My interest is certainly not to draw a family tree. Rather, I feel a kind of affection for them and wish them to be in heaven. I want to pray for them. I don’t care much for gene pools because I don’t believe for one moment that they can form my character. That is a matter of personal choices and exposure to opportunities, places and persons. Yes, I am sure, and it is well manifested that asthma runs in the family via the Brown line. The wellsprings of my life are other persons, most of whom have also died. I spare special affection for and gratitude to them. However, all these unknown deceased loved ones I have, have crept back into my heart and I want to give them a place of love. If anything, then I shall include them in a genealogy of love rather than blood.

Heaven! That is where I wish all my relatives to be. They were not fictitious persons. So, it would be nice to know their names and, possibly, their date of death. The greatest form of love is interest in their salvation. I can pray for them to be united in eternity. What would heaven be for me without these loved ones?

Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 23 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 56: May 21

Frequently I must ask a person for their “documents”. These are their baptism and Confirmation certificates. If the baptism register is up to date, it should have all the information. One of my favourite pastoral nitty-gritty of recent times has been to ask people to get their baptism certificates. The reason is that most of the times we don’t know when we have been baptised. Least of all, we never celebrate the date of our baptism. And that is rather sad. Baptism is the first sacrament I received. It is the Holy Spirit that created in me the new birth into Jesus Christ. And I, too, must confess that I had a very murky idea of when I have been baptised. Judging from my date of birth, I could more or less guess because in those years the priest came once a month to celebrate Holy Mass in Stompneus Bay. I needed my baptism certificate before I was confirmed and ordained. Still, it took a while for me to actually have my baptism certificate. Now I remember it and celebrate the day. For the very reason that baptism dates are forgotten and overshadowed by birthdays, I remind godparents to remember the date of baptism of their godchild.

Well, imagine if that happens to baptism, what happens to the Sacrament of First Holy Communion and Confirmation? I don’t know when I received these sacraments. I must do some investigation. Unfortunately, my Confirmation parish did not do their homework and, therefore, did not notify my baptism parish of my Confirmation. I know the year of Confirmation because I was then regarded as a bit “older” (I was in grade 11) and remember the occasion. But I would love to know on what day I received our Lord in Holy Communion for the first time. Alas, no records are kept, and it is something I started here at Good Shepherd Catholic Church. Baptism, Holy Eucharist and Confirmation constitute the major sacraments, from which all other sacraments flow.

My interest is to follow the trail of the Holy Spirit in my life via the sacraments. I am the proud owner of my baptism certificate. It has interesting biographical details. I was born on 4th of September 1955 of William John and Eileen Irene Allies (nee Weir). My godfather was John Barnes and my godmother’s name is given as Mrs Sampson. All the years I was told and believed that my godmother was a nun. Those were the times when anyone who just happened to be available at the time was asked to be a godparent. The handwriting on the certificate is so bad that I cannot make out the name of the priest who baptised me. I would have to ask other priests who might recognise the name. The parish at the time was St Francis de Sales, Malmesbury. Now the register is in St Jude’s, Vredenburg. The number in the register is 261. For me the interesting detail is the place of baptism: Columbine Factory, St Helena Bay. We lived in Columbine, where there was a canning and fish meal company. This can only mean that we must have had Holy Mass in those days in one of the locations of the factory. My father would have shed light on which one of the rooms. Later we had Holy Mass in the local bioscope (beeskoop) in Stompneus Bay, the neighbouring village. For Holy Mass, which was always at 10 am once a month, we first had to clean the bioscope before Mass. The priest collected the few Catholics on his way from Malmesbury. It was always a very special moment. On Saturday evening we would bath early and go early to bed. It was exciting. We got up early and put on our best clothes for Holy Mass to walk to Stompneus Bay. We were never more than 20-25 people, possibly about 4 regular families only.

First Holy Communion is not even a memory. I am blessed to have a photo, though. It shows three boys with Fr Ralph de Hahn. From that day I received Jesus whenever I attended Holy Mass. I do remember that my mother, an Anglican at the time, did the preparation.

Confirmation was a different issue. The family wasn’t close to the Church when we moved to Cape Town for our school education. Each one saw to himself as far as going to Church was concerned. I still went to Holy Mass every Sunday, but alone. Sometime later I realised the desire to get to know more about my faith and asked permission to attend Catechism classes. I was very ignorant. I was placed in a class of children who were about 10 years old. I was 15 or 16 years old. My catechist was Mr Wannenburg, a wonderful Catholic. He suggested the following year that I attend the Confirmation class for adults. Every week for a year I walked the few kilometres to attend classes with Fr Donaghy at Our Lady Help of Christians in Lansdowne. I don’t remember much about the day itself. In fact, I don’t even remember the name of my sponsor. But because I was older (in those years Confirmation was at the age of 12), I will always remember my Confirmation.

My ordination as priest was, as expected, completely different. Through the laying on of hands by Archbishop Stephen Naidoo I became a priest and Schoenstatt Father. It rounded off the work of the Holy Spirit during close to eleven years of studies and formation. Since then I could give my hands to the Holy Spirit for the consecration of bread and wine to the Body and Blood of Christ, for baptisms, Confirmations, Anointing of the Sick, Confessions, blessings at weddings, blessings of objects, cars, persons and homes. I became an instrument of the Holy Spirit. I can never grasp it that there is such a close sacramental relationship between the Holy Spirit and me. The words and gestures I do at the sacraments allow the Holy Spirit to do its work! And, as St Paul writes, the Holy Spirit is the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3: 17) Jesus works through me to consecrate and bless.

Today my ambition is to have my baptism, Confirmation and ordination certificates with a First Holy Communion photo next to each other on the wall.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 23 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 55: May 20

A word that has gone out of use is “ascetism”. In fact, I can’t remember when last I used it or heard someone else use it. Maybe a general definition will make it sound less strange and even acceptable. Ascetism is every form of freely chosen abstinence to serve a higher aim. For example, a swimmer deliberately goes to bed earlier and, thereby, gives up considerable part of his or her social life, to be in the pool at the crack of dawn. The athlete decides to take less sugar in order to lose weight. In other words, there is a form of abstinence, which serves a higher purpose. If the ascetical practice becomes an end in itself, then it loses its purpose. In the past ascetism was often equated with self-mortification or mortification of the body. This happened out of fear for the consequences of bodily sin, namely lust and the consequences thereof. The body had to be disciplined to cope with temptation of the flesh, be that sexual or divulging in other sensual pleasures such as food and drink. The suppression of sexual desires were invariably the main target. There was also the perception that sacrifice of the flesh was a high aim ahead of any form of sensual or carnal pleasure. The measures taken could be quite extreme for modern day understanding. Self-flagellation was not uncommon. This meant that the person had a particular whip to flog himself. Or there was a belt with sharp points worn under the shirt, which was pulled tight for the points to pierce the skin. Or a penitential short with equally sharp hair, even to the extent of drawing blood. Such practices are well and truly shelved in the past. There may be a few groups with these practices but they are definitely no longer a serious topic among spiritual directors or in spiritualities. Sleep deprivation was another form ascetical practice. This meant getting up in the middle of the night to pray. So it was also with regards to food. Ascetical practice meant frequent and long fasting to control the slightest suspicion of gluttony.

Altogether, this form of ascetism led to a very negative and sometimes distorted form of spiritual life. Moreover, it created a distorted view of the body and even more of God. The relationship with God became centred on avoiding sin who punishes any form of sin. On the positive side, many women and men who became saints had such practices.

Why do I mention this? Merely because that no matter what, ascetism can still have a necessary role to play. It goes without saying that even in the secular world this is necessary. Years ago a study was made on monastic life and why monks were so happy and lived so long. At a conference for CEO’s this topic was brought up. The whole exercise of observations made in the monasteries were presented to the CEOs as a model for successful living and business management. The ingredients of the monks live were time for stillness, fasting and communal exchange. These all had to do with real sacrifices. However, they completely missed the point, which was the monks’ motivation: they are doing it for the kingdom of God. They did not do it to skill themselves as leaders. They were aspiring an ever closer relationship with Jesus Christ.

It is beyond doubt that the human body, inseparably joined to the soul, must be disciplined. How else can we control our vision or hearing? There must be practices to train them to be less curious and more trimmed to serve a higher purpose. Yes, the eyes can wander lustfully, the ears can be interested in confidential conversation, the palate too keen on bad food, etc. And none of it is good. Such wrongly employed use of the sense can be harmful to oneself and others. It is also not good for the soul for a personal who is indulging in phantasy images. Though there is that inseparable unity between body and soul, we are aware that one can go the way without the other. We don’t have perfect harmony in our nature. There is an innate tension, which can even lead to conflict. St Paul can say of himself that it seems that he has two different wills in his body. The one does what he doesn’t want, the other doesn’t what he wants. Exercise and prudent fasting do help to train the body to be more at the service of higher aims. Caution must always be taken, though, especially in spiritual life. It can easily happen that the exercise becomes an end in itself. In other words, focus is not on the higher aim but on the exercise. Take for example, our promise of one million Hail Marys to Our Lady. Someone might just feel challenged to pray as many as possible as a matter of quantity, forgetting that the aim is to ask her intervention in the Coronavirus pandemic and as an expression of filial affection. Not the number counts above all; it is the affection for Mary, even if expressed in just one Hail Mary. Catholics abstained from meat on Fridays. Did they remember why they did it?

Every form of ascetism has to do with our preparation for heaven. In heaven we shall have full harmony of body and soul. Right now, it is to make us useful to work for the kingdom of God on earth.

What forms can ascetism otherwise take today? There so many challenges and risks life puts on our path. The  care for sick relatives, esp. the elderly, the stress at work and home, the suffering with an addicted family member, the difficulty with raising a child today, the high cost of living, the insecurity of a job, the tensions in families, sickness, caring for a person with Alzheimers disease, etc. Try to raise a child in the Christian faith, and you have your hands full and your heart bleeding. All of this demands so much sacrifice that we don’t have to go any further to look for forms of mortification. They are right there, in front of us, demanding sacrifice of body and spirit.

Where would ascetism be appropriate today? We must only look at our reactions to know what is good or bad, right or wrong. Anger is one on them. So is laziness; or greed; or abuse of power; or corruption; or lies; or exploitation; or lack of trust in God; or consumerism and materialism; or lack of courage to stand up for one’s faith; or loyalty to one person in marriage, and so much more. Ascetism then means to do every effort, no matter how hard, to overcome such negative influences. Ascetism is also to do something, which can uplift my already good habits.

What area would I single out as most important: Sunday worship and practice. Make the Sunday the focus. Success is never guaranteed but the intentional effort is rewarded by God. During Lent we are advised to focus on three areas: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Besides this, many times someone must at least think about becoming useful for the social or church community. That requires the ascetical attitude of service and sacrifice for a good purpose.

Ascetism and my friend, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does the real ascetical work for healing, change and apostolic zeal. And I needed a lot of Holy Spirit help with being over-critical, sceptical, cynical, proud, dismissive and many other things. That, however, also demanded hard and sacrificial work from my side.

The old forms of ascetism are out. New forms must be found. Even so, ascetism is here to stay. Sometimes brother donkey, the body needs the training of sacrifice against laziness or sloth or gluttony. Sometimes the soul needs the sacrifice to curtail emotions such as anger, frustration and disappointment. The purpose is to be a useful instrument in the hand of Christ for the kingdom of the heavenly Father. I have often mentioned it: the Christian of today is going to be a saint or not a Christian at all.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 22 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 54: May 19

As I go through the very practical chores of the day like doing the washing and some ironing, cleaning the kitchen, watering the plants and doing some basic cleaning, I become aware of the positive influence they have. So many times, my life is a sequence of a string of such small happenings, one after the other until something major happens like a funeral or Holy Mass. But otherwise, it is pretty much down to the cow path of steady walking. However, these things are not just there to be done. Give them purpose and they become the ideal training ground for character formation. Imagine, if don’t like the ironing but do it first. That can be very positive. Or as I water the plants I see where I can be creative and plant something. In other words, these small things that I hardly mention, they are the little stars that can make the big star. Routine can serve a higher purpose. To put that into perspective:

I remember today an interesting comment someone made years ago when we were having a conversation about certain political leaders. One leader was outstanding, but he was given to sudden emotional outbursts, which could be scathing, insulting and very hurtful. And this happened quite often and much to the detriment of his otherwise excellent leadership qualities. The result was that people seemed to have a love-hate relationship with him. In other words, they acknowledged his skills; they disliked his habits. The comment the other person made was, “He never exercises any self-education”. Self-education is not academic qualification but the effort one does on oneself to improve good character qualities and change the not so good ones. This becomes a life-long task for those who really are serious about it. The interesting fact is that the more it is practised, the more one becomes aware of other things positive or negative. This is, in fact, my own personal experience. I came into contact with this practice through the Schoenstatt Movement. There the conviction is that each person has an indestructible good chore. If one holds on to that belief and starts in a positive way, then gradually the person will change.

But it has to be done as a conscious effort. This effort will always need the help of the Holy Spirit. Our human efforts are important. However, we can never do any form of personal development, improvement or change with lasting effect without the help of the Holy Spirit. In Schoenstatt I learned that all God’s graces are educational. God does nothing but sending us graces to be transformed into an image of Jesus, His Son. In Schoenstatt the consecration to Mary is fully in the service of her function as Mother and Educator – to form any person who comes to Her into the image of Jesus, her Son.

At the beginning, we make the experience that will run throughout our spiritual development and growth. It has to do with my role in the process of self-education. And I am referring to the organic stages of spiritual-educational development.

Stage 1: I do almost all the work; I choose what I must do and where I must start; I evaluate and make new plans; I decide how and when to do what I want for my self-education. For example, on the negative side, I have a problem with punctuality, which causes a lot of friction. Instead of making excuses or attacking others for being intolerant, I decide to work on it. And, therefore, my self-education is to improve my punctuality. I break down to what I have to do and begin to implement the points I have marked out. At the end of the day, I evaluate how I have fared. In other words, I am in control, and it makes me feel immensely good. Even better, I find out that through a very small change, which changes bad habit into good habit, my whole character is taking on a very different shape. And I am feeling better and better about myself as I become the change I want to be. There isn’t just an improvement in a small and particular point. No, there is a decisive shift in my whole character.

Stage 2: As I progress in my self-education, I also realise the boundaries of my efforts. I slide backwards and forwards. I find my energy waning or my frustration creeping at not being able to maintain the energy levels or secure the progress I made. I even find that mistakes I thought I had overcome return. The good achievements come undone and the wheels just seem to be coming off. Old sins are confessed again and again. My strengths, which I have taken to another level suddenly turn sour and become negative. That is the moment when I must understand that my self=education reached another stage. It is the insight that I cannot do it alone. I need the grace of God. This is stage 2 called “I with God”. This is where the consecration to Mary is so helpful because I am at least still within a positive, personal relationship of love, even if also this relationship exposes my weakness. She will not abandon her child. God sends grace in a very particular way for a very particular interest. No self-education can ever go further without this experience.

Stage 3: This stage pertains to those areas, which really are beyond me. They have to do with the depth of the soul concerning serious emotional trauma or hurtful experiences. I realise that they are there; I may even have become aware of them through some form of psychological, psychotherapeutic or psychiatric counselling. Yet, nothing much changed other than the learning of coping skills. It means, nevertheless, that the issue remains there, deep down and demands of me utmost awareness to be on guard. That does not help because it soaks up so much energy and has its own way of surfacing at most unexpected times. For example, this can happen if I have never worked through the loss of my father. What is this stage? It is called God with me. God acts towards me with the healing and uplifting presence of the Holy Spirit. This is when I realised just how practical, personal and affectionate God was and is with me. It is in the process of my self-education that I have acquired a personal relationship with God. But how can it be otherwise if God is Father? The Holy Spirit plumbs the depths of the soul for healing and growth. It also lends energy to self-education to be driven into new heights.

The stages, to sum up, are: Stage 1: I alone; Stage 2: I with God; Stage 3: God with me.

To start,  I can make a list of all my strengths. I write down how and what I am. For example, I am friendly, compassionate, a good friend, a good listener, patient, kind, helpful, etc.

Next, I take one of these positive points and I consciously make it even stronger. If I am friendly, I make it a point of fostering friendliness. However, I have to get really very practical. I cannot simply say I want to be friendly. My action to strengthen that positive point must be so practical that I say: I will greet every person. That is something directly related to what I want to achieve. It also enhances my experience that I am in control. Next, I draw up a list of the work areas of my personality, such as aloofness, laziness, etc. I must put a plan in place to deal with these points one by one. What I do in practice must be very concrete and controllable. And all the time I am acutely aware of the help I need from my Mother and Lord to make my self-education truly successful and fruitful. This is more than some kind of psychological exercise. It is the desire to lead a holy life and to be useful to the Lord and his Mother. The consecration to Mary was my surrender to her motherly educating activity. And I found out that she took me more seriously than I took myself. She helps the personality to transform into a free, firm character.

One very effective point for self-education is very interesting. It has to do with the inner conflict between like and dislike. Usually, if I dislike something, I choose to stay away from it or leave it for later. It is a spontaneous reaction, but it is not good because it does not strengthen character. The tension between like and dislike can be very helpful. How? Simply by choosing to do what is unpleasant over what is pleasant. If I don’t like to clean, then choose to do that first. If I don’t like to plan, then do that first. If I don’t like a certain type of person, then greet him or her first. And so on. That strengthens my character. Then the likes or preferences may follow. At first, it will require that I take the bit between the teeth or overcome negative feelings or negative thoughts. I pray for the strength to act against the inclination to avoid rather than face the issue. The point is this: make that decision and do whatever is needed as quickly as possible. In my experience a lot of self-education must be done in areas of self-esteem and self-assertiveness. Using the tension like-dislike can be very effective to enhance self-esteem and affirm self-assertiveness.

Spirituality as self-education moves from a mere devotional Christianity (without abandoning it) to a more dynamic, personal relationship. The aim of becoming an instrument for Jesus and Mary will naturally come into focus. Because, just as all graces educate, so all graces turn us into instruments at the service of Jesus and Mary. Their interest is the salvation of people. And that is the wonder of self-education: the growth of the disciple. Self-education is just the beginning of the journey to holiness. What it also says is that holiness is an achievable aim, albeit in an on-going process. Ultimately, my self-education will not be self at all, but the work of the Holy Spirit. God sent me the circumstances to take me further, which were sometimes easy. The hardest ones achieved the best results.

But at least, I am a plan to myself. Maybe I can then avoid the pitfalls of the political leader without self-education.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 21 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 53: May 18

Spiritual life is interesting when it is close to the bone. Its function must be to connect all areas of life. The crisis in a Church that is dynamic and personal, is the separation of Sunday and weekday, of work and faith, of family life and Church life. That separation reduces the Church to an agency, which delivers service to people on Sundays while the very same people must still find a way of implementing Sunday in daily life. A clearly defined spiritual orientation goes a long way to make this process of connecting faith and practice easier. Where can the life of a Christian become practical and manageable in such a way? The answer is, indeed, a spirituality for the workday. When Mother Theresa speaks about Christian service, she calls it “service with the sleeves rolled up”. It is practical, it is for God. Or she calls it to “do something beautiful for God”. Spirituality is never a high-flyer. It initiates a life process with gradual or accelerated progress. St Therese of the Child Jesus called it the “cow path”. In other words, as the cow path is narrow and winding upwards, so also our spiritual life and progress. There are moments, though, when it is accelerated. These are the moments of the experience of conflict and crisis, which demand surrender to the will of God and the Cross of Jesus Christ. In these moments, we are thrown in at the deep end of trust in God. In order to remain trusting in God, we must then make a leap in faith into the arms of God, believing that, nevertheless, He remains the loving and all-knowing Father.

St Benedict identified the two areas of life with God: pray and work. In a sermon (January 6 1963) of Fr Kentenich I found an interesting addition, namely to pray, work, he adds suffer. And that is so true. Suffering and sacrifice are so much part of our lives. And suffering is the one aspect of life where I find myself most challenged to give an answer, without any success. The connection between suffering and faith is for many of us a question of our relationship with God, which is severely tested. Can I still say that God is good? Why does He not answer my prayers? When will He come to help me or my family? Once we question in this way, there is no end to it. It does not change the bottom line of the story: suffering is a daily experience and must be included in our spiritual striving. It is not just something happening to me. It is something, which introduces me to the pain and suffering of Jesus. In my pain, Jesus goes through his suffering and agony again.

The three functions of life with God, prayer, work and suffering, offer interesting possibilities for us to have a handle on our spiritual life. Prayer is essentially lifting our hearts to God in conversation with Him. I always found it very helpful to actually formulate my own prayers from time to time. They become documents of my faith and where I find myself in my prayer life. I have quite a collection of these personal prayers. When I read or pray them today, I can see that they document my spiritual life at a particular time. Through them I can relate to that moment in my life. But prayer can be even simpler: Just make short prayers as they come to you. “Jesus, I praise you; Father, bless my family; Holy Spirit, let me understand; Mary protect me; Jesus, come with me.” I never speak complicated language to God. He understands my Afrkaans, even my Cape Flats Afrikaans. I can’t pray from the heart in a foreign language. It must be language from the heart, it must be mother tongue. It does help to have a prayer routine. The soul needs it and adjusts to it. It prevents inner restlessness, instability and random behaviour. Prayer life needs regularity. And so, I need a set time for certain prayers like Morning and Evening Prayer, etc. Prayer time, in this regard, is to have an appointment with God. Set prayers do help to start with. Here the Our Father, Glory be and the Hail Mary are useful, traditional prayers. How to pray? By simply starting to pray. No one has to be a so-called expert. Prayer is conversation with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Mary, the Angels and Saints. Many of our prayers are petitions for others. And that is good. When we pray, we can offer up our efforts as petition to God on behalf of those who need prayers and help.

Work. Work is any activity, any thing I do. This helped me a lot to see purpose in what I am doing. Purpose and quality of my work is when I am convinced that it is God’s wish for me. How do I know it is God’s wish? What is my duty in everyday life? It is God’s wish. The traffic rules and laws of society are God’s wish as long as they don’t clash with Christian morals. Taking care of one another is God’s wish. The Ten Commandments are God’s will and wish. Work as worship of God begins, therefore, as loyal fulfilment of duty. The attitude makes all the difference: motivated by love. In this way, work becomes creative because it continues the work of the Creator. It is God’s wish that I am a collaborator with Him, an instrument. Through my collaboration with God, I glory Him and serve my sisters and brothers. It is also important that I look for other opportunities to volunteer to work for God in His Church. Work as a volunteer is an act of charity and generosity for God. As for the environment, God places us as His stewards to look after the environment and manage its resources well for future generations. Work can also be drudgery, draining and painful. That is, unfortunately, what we then learn to bear and endure for the Christ. We must work as though Jesus Christ is working in and through each one of us.

Suffering. It is difficult when I experience it from close up. Only the Holy Spirit can give the insight that suffering connected to the Cross of Jesus is meaningful. But we must nurture our faith and prepare it for such difficult times. Some forms of pain are necessary for our growth. They are those that we take upon ourselves to strengthen our spirit and overcome the tardiness of our nature. We call it ascetical life. We must fast, we must restrict ourselves, we must discipline ourselves, we must give things up, we must strain ourselves – all for the sake of growth and achievement.

The fruit and crown of spiritual life is inner happiness. Spirituality as a way of life constantly refers me to the real values of life and especially to the kingdom of God. When I go wrong, I must revisit my spiritual course. How far did I stray from it? It desensitises me from negativity, and sensitises for positivity, which is what pleases God. Inner happiness is to be in possession of the greatest gift of all times: the dwelling of the Holy Trinity in our soul. This started in my baptism. With the help of my spirituality I activate that grace in me through the Holy Spirit.

And really, it begins very small: loyal fulfilment of duty; do what is ordinary in an extraordinary way. Do it with love, in the functions of prayer, work and suffering. Every age requires its own saint as an answer to the signs of the time. Then the new saint, which our time demands will be born. It is the Christian who combines everyday life to faith, hope and love: the workday saint. The capacity to love is what gives inner happiness and fulfilment. And the infinite growth of such love is assured when it is connected to and motivated by Divine Love. It is, ultimately, the love of Christ Crucified.

That is the aim of our spirituality.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 20 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 52: May 17

I contemplating today on the guidance of the Holy Spirit and one thing occurred to me: it is the richness of our Catholic Christian faith and tradition. But how can one handle it? In other words, is there a way of simplifying without losing or diluting the richness? Is there a way to focus in such a way that if we adhere to it we shall actually be connecting in different ways to our entire faith? For example, St Francis of Assissi focused on the poverty of Christ. He became connected to the whole mystery of salvation. The same goes for St Vincent de Paul who advised the Sisters to attend to the sick at their bed. In doing so, they encounter Christ. The Dominicans called themselves the Order of Preachers. They concentrated on the evangelisation of people at a time when there were heretical movements who confused the people with their teachings. By focusing on the teaching Christ, the Dominicans were, in fact, connected to the entire life and mission of Jesus Christ. Many religious orders had such an approach, which highlighted their identity and mission. Although deliberately one-sided, the entire life of Christ always emerged. Of course, the community aspect was very important for mutual and constant motivation to live a life-style in keeping with their spirituality.

I define spirituality as a particular way of living the Gospel at a particular time in answer to the needs of that time. All forms of spirituality started that way and had to adjust to changes and new challenges as time went by. Every Christian wants to make sense of their spiritual life. They want to know that their particular way of practising the faith will lead them to holiness. And that is, ultimately, the purpose of spirituality. Guided by the Holy Spirit, we are transformed into the image of Christ to glorify the Father. Holiness is conformity to the life of Jesus. This is significant as we make attempt after attempt to find a formula for a Christian life-style. It must aspire to the greatest of faith, which is holiness. Holiness is not the privilege of the few. Pope St John Paul II made it abundantly clear when he said that the Christian of tomorrow will either be a saint or not a Christian at all. Others, like Karl Rahner, even went as far as to say that the Christian of tomorrow is either a mystic or not a Christian at all. What is meant by this? It simply means that we have to come from a personal experience, which rattled us out of routine and complacency. It is the deep encounter with Christ, the Risen Lord, through the Holy Spirit. And it is that particular personal experience that has to be nurtured and guided.

The history of the Church shows great examples of such spiritual ways, which gave rise to new and different religious communities and monastic life. There is the Rule of St Augustine. And there is the Rule of St Benedict. Benedict founded monasteries at a time when Europe was in turmoil. People were displaced and sought some kind of stability. His monasteries became such centres of worship, community life and learning. Benedict emphasised two points: Ora et Labora (Pray and Work), in that order. What made this Rule so unique and ever relevant was the balance between the two. Prayer was mainly in community; work was mainly physical farm labour. His Rule inspired religious communities to this day. If you live by it, wherever you are, you can’t go wrong.

I do have the question, though, if I can find a spirituality for me, and I believe for others, which can come to terms with the challenges today. What am I looking for? 1. It enables me to have a relationship with the living God in everyday life; 2. I am led to live my faith in practical life; 3. I am living as an individual but I am also moved to share with others; 4. I am building up strong and positive relationships around me; 5. I find purpose in my life and in what I am doing; I have the experience that I am growing into a relationship with Christ, which includes His Suffering, Death and Resurrection.

For me it started that day, way back in 1975, when I read the words of Fr Kentenich, “Under the protection of Mary we want to educate ourselves to be firm, free, priestly characters.” These words acted like a kind of motto for me and unleashed a spiritual energy, which became a hunger for spiritual life based on and leading to personal development. I needed that core element to centre my spiritual striving on. I had no clue whatsoever about spiritual life or spirituality as such. But it touched a sensitive nerve inside me. I liked the idea that I, or any person for that matter, is the first point of contact for the change in society.

The method became very intriguing: get to know yourself; get to know your strengths and limitations. And begin to work with them. If punctuality is your strength, make it an art in the service of your self-development and for the benefit of others. The focus was on me, on what I am doing. Only later would I understand that grace was necessary to drive forward and complete my feeble efforts to improve myself – going forward, sliding backwards, even standing still.

Where is the difference? The difference is the attitude. The attitude is the decision to seek self-development and self-fulfilment through the grace of God. The intercession of Mary, Mother and Educator, is the personal relationship, within which the whole process organically unfolds. It grows from me to interest in others.

How is this done? The motivation is love. Everything out of love for Mary. (It can be another person, e.g. Christ). And what does this mean? In the words of Fr Joseph Kentenich, founder of the Schoenstatt Movement, “Do the ordinary things in an extraordinary way.” As simple as that! Extraordinary, though, needs clarification. It does not refer to a particular expertise or even quality. Everything is done in an extraordinary way if it is done out of love. No matter how insignificant it appears to be, as long as it expresses love. I could even be motivated by love for a friend, my children or anyone, as long as love moves me to do it. This approach refers me back to that what I have to do anyway. In other words, it begins with duty and common sense. If it is my duty to clean the yard, then I can do it in an extraordinary way, which is out of love for Mary and Jesus. Common sense prevails when I have to see God’s will for me, which is to do these ordinary chores. What I have to do, that is also God’s will. And I eagerly and readily do them out of love.

This means that I am led into the very essence of Christian living, which is the training to love. That kind of love, if growing organically, will eventually become love of Christ Crucified, which is the purpose of all spirituality – unity with Christ on the Cross where salvation takes place. Because love will also be sacrifice.

What do we call this spirituality? Workday Sanctity. And is precisely what most attracted me to this spirituality: it is so practical; it is about Christian faith practice in everyday life, no matter where I find myself. Just begin by doing the ordinary things in an extraordinary way out love for Mary and Jesus. The soul will be ignited because it was to express itself in development, healing and action through love. The soul is made to love; and that is the essence of this spirituality. And I know and experience every day how important it is to connect faith to live, Church to the home, Christ to the work place, relationships to God.

What we need more than every is the workday saint.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 20 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 51: May 16

All these days there is a word that comes up again and again – via. For just about anything pertaining to the lockdown, you have to go via someone, usually the police or some other structure created by the current system. Not that it matters, because we want to do the right thing. The government published 38 pages of the regulations for the lockdown. I printed them out to try and read through them. Of course, my main interest was to sift through them to know what is possible for parish life. The only thing I could find, not by surprise though, were the regulations for funerals. And for these, too, we must go via the police station to comply with stringent regulations.

Via is an intriguing word. It is originally from Latin, where it simply means “way”. In our context, though, it means “through” most of the times.

Via – that is a key word in the Scripture if it is understood as the way, which God takes to reveal Himself to us. God chose the patriarchs, judges, kings and prophets to make Himself and His will known to His people. Long before the business world, the term “corporate personality” was used to describe these women and men. A corporate personality was a person who made an experience, which was relevant to the entire people. Also, the message they brought was not for themselves but for all the others. God went via them. On the threshold of the full revelation of God to the world, St Paul tells us, “But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (and daughters).” (Galatians 4: 4-5) God sent Jesus, His Son via Mary, the woman. These dynamics continued via Jesus, then the Apostles. Especially Paul was such a way, an instrument, to spread the Gospel of the Crucified and Risen Lord to faraway places.

Via – the way. This climaxes in the immense proclamation of Jesus: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14: 6). What a tremendous announcement! Further in the Gospel he gives the practical application to these words: “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in his Son. If you ask anything in my name, I will do it.” (John 14: 13) The main reason is that he and the Father are one. (John 14: 10) And the Father will send the Holy Spirit to give us the full understanding of the life of Jesus (John 14: 26), who “will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit is the way to gain full understanding of the life and mission of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

The believers in Jesus Christ were referred to as women and men “belonging to the Way” (Acts 9: 2) whom Saul persecuted. And again, in Acts 22: 4, Paul says it in his own words: “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women (…).”

Via – every one of us has such a role to play. Everyone is a conduit for another person to receive life, love, peace, truth and justice. Each one is the way of God to the heart of another person. That is the usual way of God. That way can be just about anything or any person that makes God and His Son known. However, whatever we do, it is the work of the Holy Spirit that opens the way through us. Each one is the way to God’s merciful heart.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 19 2020

Day 50: May 15

One of the great gifts of the Holy Spirit is perspective. Things or persons or events emerge to be seen in a different light. In fact, they are seen in their real significance and impact on my life. Such is the case with the following reflection, which has been going through my mind for some time. There are many persons who have left their mark on my life. I find that my teachers feature very prominently, from my primary school teacher, Mrs Goldsmith, in grade 1. She was a teacher with heart, and a wonderful mother figure. There was my teacher from grade 2, 3 and 4, Mr Thorne who was a very gifted teacher. He taught all three grades in one classroom and was an excellent storyteller. He started every day with a Bible story. My high school teachers were women and men of outstanding ability and work ethic. In time, we developed a close relationship, especially during the time of the chess masters between Bobby Fisher and Boris Spassky. We often met at the homes of teachers of after school to play chess. These teachers took pride in their trade and showed much personal interest in us. Memories of them went everywhere with me. Among them, I had a close relationship with the Mathematics teacher, Mr Daan Julius. Unfortunately, he died too young. To this day, I feel deep affection for him. From my childhood, Fr Ralph de Hahn made a lasting impression on me and my family. Warm and enthusiastic, he endeared himself to me. He was the priest at my First Holy Communion.

My question, though, is: who is the one person I can select as that person who made the deepest impression on me? The answer came to me in a process of retrospection. Looking back, I can see his influence. In fact, the older I got, the more I realised how much I would like to see him. Frequently, when dealing with an issue, I would wish him to be available for comment or advice. I always enjoyed exchanges on pastoral issues and Church events. He has great wisdom and balance of opinion. That person is Fr Heinz-Werner Schneider, Schoenstatt Father, currently living in Schoenstatt/Germany. Some might think that he is an unlikely choice because he was so unassuming and shunning the limelight. And yet, in these reflections, I find myself with a sentiment I have had for years: I wish we could live together again for those fruitful, wise conversations. But it was more than that, really. It was his inspirational presence. He is very prayerful and his discipline in this regard, as with every other thing, was effortless. He seemed to be gliding through the humdrum of the day, always on time and finishing what he started. He combined so many talents in one person: musician, singer, liturgist, handy-man, music critic, administrator, bookkeeper (he would go back to look for the 20c he was out and would not rest until he found it), educator and above all a holy priest. He is loyal to the point of self-sacrifice for the good of others. With his keen sense of justice, he vehemently opposed all forms of discrimination. He was in Woodstock when the first segregation laws stopped an ethnically mixed film club. To the chagrin of the parish priest, he refused to run a racially segregated youth and film club. He decided to close it down. In solidarity with his mission to the country, he gave up his German citizenship. It was the time when dissident missionaries were deported. He would have been imprisoned as a South African.

As a member of the Schoenstatt Movement he was spiritual director to various communities. It was, however, his unflinching loyalty to the founder, Fr Joseph Kentenich, in the difficult years of the seminary that showed the mettle he and his colleagues were made of. Fr Kentenich was exiled to Milwaukee for dissent with his superiors. The young seminarians who joined the Pallottine Fathers to serve the Schoenstatt Movement (which was under the pastoral care of that community) were expelled and told that no bishop would ever ordain them. They remained true to their convictions and were ordained, Fr Schneider himself by Cardinal Owen McCann. He is an upright man. I don’t know another person who could plan his work and time so well to complete it. He never shied away from modern technology to acquire new skills.

However, his preferential option for the poor showed the quality of person he is. He was totally committed and loyal. I remember the days in 1983 when there was so much conflict in Old Crossroads. No one was allowed to go in, and the military cordoned off the area. On that Sunday, Fr Schneider and I went. It was Sunday, and that was where he wanted to be. No one could stop him. Because of his humility, he could reach out to each and everyone equally. Together with Fr Ripberger, his course brother, he ran soup kitchens, helped families, and put young people through school, college and university. He went to the Eastern Cape where he continued to invest in such projects as feeding up to 600 school children every day and running the garden projects until he returned to Cape Town for retirement. Ever loyal, he would visit his sick course brother, Fr Ripberger, every week. He drove 1000 km on Sunday to Cape Town, and did the same distance back on the Friday to be back for pastoral duties at the Church in Cathgart.

It was when he asked me to be a member of the board of Lithemba Trust that I could see again the depth of his commitment to the underprivileged. The Trust looked financially after any student who needed assistance for studies and did not get it from the State or otherwise. It had become his conviction that lasting difference is made through education. And, together with his friend, Dr Des O’Regan, the Trust did an amazing job.

Though well read with profound academic interest, his strength is the “orthopraxis” before the “orthodoxy”, not that the two ever clashed in him. It was a matter of perspective and approach.

Then why does he make such an impression on me? That is explained above. But primarily because he was an example within reach, someone who was approachable and hands-on. As an example, he was a reality check and phantasy buster because he was so real and practical. After all the daydreaming and phantasy, I always come back to say: “No, the real example, that is he.” And his example never grew stale. There is always something refreshing about him. By being inspired by him as example and even following him, I always arrive back at myself with more clarity. Never ever is there a moment of estrangement.  And that ignites new light in me. Like his course ideal, Victoria Patris (Victory of the Father) he is the father victorious in the lives of countless persons. That includes me. He is an unassuming, easy-going workday saint.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 19 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 49: May 14

The more I reflect on Mary in my life, the more fascinating I find her. I don’t know of any other person, except Jesus, who is so present in the lives of nations. In fact, her popularity is such, that we find that so many institutions are named after her: universities, schools, hospitals, even cities. The flag of the European Union is a Marian flag. She is in so many critical moments when the destiny of nations were on the edge of the cliff. Had the Ottoman Empire succeeded in their quest to overthrow Europe, Europe would be Islamic today. Mary was there for the times of the plagues. Kings crowned her. Even the Prophet Mohammed defended the Virgin birth of Mary in Chapter 19 of the Koran. She was as the Guadalupana, Our Lady of Guadalupe, at the beginning of the new Mexican nation as the appeared to the young Indio Juan with the appearances of a person of mixed blood. She is the Black Madonna of Einsiedeln in Switzerland and Czestochowa in Poland. She is the macarena, Our Lady in Seville where on the side of the face she has tears in her eyes, on the other side, she smiles. She knows the joys and sorrows of people. She has scars in her face in Our Lady of Czestochowa where 14th century Hussite soldiers invaded the shrine and slashed her face. Lech Walesa, co-founder of the Soldarity Movement, which eventually toppled the communist-military regime of General Jaruzelski in Poland, faithfully wore the image of Our Lady on his jacket lapel. In Buenos Aires (Argentina) the mothers of the sons and daughters who were abducted by the military demanded to know what happened to them. The founding mother Azucena Villaflor was abducted, tortured and brutally murdered. Her body was thrown into the sea. (Two French nuns, Alice Domon and Leonie Duquet suffered the same fate of torture and murder.)  Two other founder mothers, Esther Careaga and Maria Eugenia Bianco also “disappeared”. Every Thursday from 1977 until 2007 they went to the Plaza de 31 de mayo (31 May Square) to protest in front of the presidential palace and prayed the Magnificat. Their symbol was a white headscarf, symbolising the nappies of their children with their dates of birth. The military junta understood that this prayer of Mary, when she visited Elizabeth, was against them, for God will overthrow the mighty and restore the lowly. They forbade this prayer.

The diversity and multiplicity of devotions and Holy Mass formulas are all manifestations of just how interwoven she is in the people and the Church. The Mass formulas mention her relationship to us: Mother and Mediatrix of Grace, Fountain of Salvation, Mother and Teacher in the Spirit, Mother of Good Counsel, Cause of our Joy, Pillar of Faith, Mother of Fairest Love, Mother of Divine Love, Queen and Mother of Mercy, Mother of Divine Providence, Mother of Consolation, Help of Christians, Our Lady of Ransom, Health of the Sick, Queen of Peace, Gate of Heaven.

In relation to the Church, she is Image and Mother of the Church, Queen of All Creation. In relation to Jesus, she is Mother of the Lord, the New Eve, Handmaid of the Lord, Temple of the Lord, Seat of Wisdom, Disciple of the Lord, Mother of Reconciliation, Mother of the Saviour, Our Lady of Nazareth, Fountain of Light, Our Lady of the Cenacle, Queen of the Apostles. Add to these the major feast days, and we have a kaleidoscope of the life of a person who is so alive in the lives of the Church, nations, organisations, religious orders and groups. Centres of pilgrimages are still well visited due to strong customs and historical traditions attached to them. The heart of many nations beat in the past in such places of pilgrimages.

It is impossible to get her out of the history of Catholic Europe and Latin America. She belongs to the cultural fabric of nations.

Even when I am in awe of such Marian presence, the significance of Mary occurred to as far more important in the women whom I met with their questions and lives of exposure to abuse. I remember the young Nigerian student who could not get the results for her thesis, which she needed to qualify as teacher. The lecture agreed on condition of a sexual relationship. She refused and sought help from me. She had approached other lectures with her plight who advised her to give in to his pressure. I intervened and eventually managed to help her get the results when the dean of the department became a woman. Appropriately, she was called Digna (dignified). I think of the young woman, also Nigerian, who had had a backyard abortion, which went horribly wrong. She was bleeding to death. I managed to get her into life-saving treatment. She was in a difficult situation and in sheer desperation, at the age of 19, went for the abortion. She was grateful for a new lease of life. I think of the young woman in my own village who was almost raped but, through determination and fight managed fight off the young boys who thought it was a joke. For many years the images haunted me as I saw from afar what was happening. I think of the young mother, early fourties, sick with cancer, married to an abusive husband, who courageously is raising four children. She lives in abominable conditions in a small dwelling on the Cape Flats. Unforgettable stories are the biographical book by Elsa Joubert, Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena (1978) and the novel by Dalene Mathee, Fiela se kind (1985).

These are but a few examples of so many other women who taught me of the struggle of woman in our society and make me realise that Mary is a real woman who had to fight her way in her own way when she gave birth to Jesus. She, too, is Woman. She understands.

Then there is the story of the nine year-old boy, Joseph Kentenich, whose mother, working as a domestic, took him to the care of an orphanage. She took him to the chapel and there consecrated him to Mary. She gave Her the most treasure she had, which was her First Holy Communion medal. It made such a deep impression on him that he never forgot that moment. He dedicated his entire life, priesthood and work to Mary when he founded the Schoenstatt Movement. Tirelessly working, he said he could not rest until he could see someone is safely attached to Mary.

And I found two most powerful testimonies to Mary in Afrikaans poetry.

Sheila Cussons (who converted in later years to the Catholic Church):

Klein Ballade

Ek soek die huis van die timmerman

ek soek die tafel, die eenvoudig gedekte,

en die bereplek van die botterspaan

van Maria die Onbevlekte.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 18 2020

Ek soek die dinge van hulle elke dag,

ek soek die praat en die maklike lag

in daardie gebenedyde huis.

Neem hierdie pad, klop aan die deur,

na buite toe dwaal n varsbroodgeur

en se nou hulle is tuis?

My moed begeef my en ek vlug

maar iets se in my gaan trug, gaan trug,

Sy staan reeds in die deurkosyn…

Toe draai ek om en vind verstom

ek het voor my eie deur gekom:

my huis is Hare, my huis is Syne!

Nou ken ek die huis van die timmerman,

ek ken die tafel, die eenvoudige gedekte

en die bereplek van die botterspaan

van Maria die Onbevlekte.

Elizabeth Eybers, Maria (written in 1943, when she, Dutch Reformed, was 18 years old)

n Engel het dit self gebring,

die vreugde-boodskap – en jy het

n lofsang tot Gods eer gesing,

Maria, nooi uit Nasaret!

Maar toe Josef van jou wou skei

En bure-agterdog jou pla,

het jy kon dink eenmaal sou he

die hele wereldskande dra?

Toe jy soms met n glimlag stryk … die stilte instaarlll

wis jy met hoeveel liefde en angs

sou hy sy hellevaart aanvaar?

Die nag daar in die stal -geeneen

m in jou nood by jou te staan –

het jy geweet dat hy alleen

Getsemane sou binnegaan?

Toe vorste uit die Ooste kom

om nederig hulde te betoon,

wis jy hoe die soldate hom

tot koning van die volk sou kroon?

En toe hy in jou arms le,

sy mondjie teen jou volle bors,

het jy geweet dat hy sou se,

toe dit te laat was: Ek het dors!

Toe dit verby was en jy met

sy vriend Johannes huis toe gaan –

Maria, vrou van smarte, het

Jy toe’ die boodskap goed verstaan?

I find Mary where there is life, mainly in its forms of beauty, pain, suffering and struggle. She is Woman of Life. I find her where she is Mother.

Day 48: May 13

It is Fatima Day, May 13. It is the 20th anniversary of our Adoration Chapel. My attention is on Mary and the way she has become so much part of my life, the life of the Church and of so many people around the world. From time to time there are serious objections to the way Mary is revered. And some of the criticisms are fair. They will never go away, because people will always go a bit overboard when it comes to Mary. It is the task of the teaching office of the Church and theologians to do the corrections. It is a matter of fact: Mary is here to stay. And history has shown it. This is not necessarily limited to her apparitions. It is evident in the lives of many ordinary people and the saints. Just yesterday a woman told me how her “Rosary has always been my weapon.” It was a simple testimony. To deny it would be to deny such a fact of her life. Even attempts to discredit Mary have come and gone and have never held sway. The presence of Mary is irrepressible. She is part of God’s strategy to bring His Son to people. She is the evangelising woman seeking willing instruments to work with. Each one of us is Elizabeth when she says: “Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1: 43) The Mother of my Lord comes to me in so many ways.

No matter how someone looks at it, she is present in the life of Jesus, the Son of God. No matter if she is venerated or given any attention. The fact remains that at the cusp of the history of salvation, when the time was fulfilled, when the Son of God was to be born, this happened through Mary. She is theological relevance in an event, which is the climax of the history of salvation – the revelation of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If we define grace with Karl Rahner as God sharing Himself, then we understand what is meant when she is called “full of grace”, meaning as full of God as it is humanly possible. In her case, it was total because what was conceived in her was from the Holy Spirit.

Mary can only be seen in the light of Jesus Christ where she maintains her theological significance as Mother of God. She remains in his life, not just as Mother. Fr Kentenich refers to her as the permanent helpmate and companion of the Redeemer in his entire work of salvation. As such, she remains also in the Church, humbly preparing the way, being like a deaconess preparing the gift and bringing the gift, which is Jesus her Son. The Mother becomes disciple whose heart is joined to her Son’s heart not only in an emotional bond, but primarily in the will of the Father. That is why we find her standing at the foot of the Cross, in a last act of surrender with Jesus to the will of the Father.

Mary is Divine Pedagogy. With her God attracts people because people are attracted to the Mother. That is her function: bind people to her motherly heart, then like the mother in natural life, lead them to the Father. Whoever goes to Mary will find the organic unfolding of love for the Trinity. Sometimes one appears closer to the Father, other times to the Son, another time to the Holy Spirit. It is my conviction based on personal experience that if we stay long enough with Mary, we will gradually experience the totality of our Christian doctrine: the Trinity, the Church, Jesus Christ, the sacraments and social justice. At a meeting with the Rector of Lourdes in Lourdes, where people come for healing, he emphatically said: “The real miracles happen in the confessional and at the Stations of the Cross.” These are miracles of inner healing and conversion. Stay long enough with Mary and we will experience the value of the Word of God. We develop the love for Scripture. She is not an obstacle. She is God’s pedagogy. And she remains Divine Pedagogy through her apparitions around the world in critical times. The sequence of God’s plan of salvation remains: creation, Annunciation and Redemption. The link is Mary.

Mary is member of the Church. She is with the apostles in the Upper Room for Pentecost. She herself exemplifies Church at its best. I classify that role with the concept of Fr Kentenich that she is Mother and Educator. She forms disciples for Jesus, her Son. That is Church wisdom based on experience. The Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, once reflected that if the Church eliminates Mary, it will be an emasculate Church of meetings, rules, administration and programmes. It might even be a perfectly run organisation. But it will lack the motherly warmth and care for people and their salvation. In fact, he goes on to say that woman in Old Testament and the very feminine-motherly attributes of God will be wiped out. Mary keeps our focus on woman and mother in the Bible.

Around Mary a tremendous culture (music, poetry, art) has built up. She is so vibrant and inspirational that all spheres of art remain interested in her. All these expressions of devotion are just an inkling of how good it is for us to have her in our lives. Divine Pedagogy is for our healing and salvation. She remains a clarion call to respect womanhood and motherhood. Gertrud von le Fort, The Eternal Woman. Timeless Meaning of the Feminine (1954 English edition) reflects on woman. The German version was published in 1934 when Europe was swept away by the very strong ideologies of Nazism with Hitler and its helm and communism. Both had scant regard for woman. They abused and manipulated woman according to their ideological aims. Gertrud von le Fort put in a strong plea for the eternal feminine and motherhood. Von le Fort found her ideal woman in Mary. (She was a Jewess who converted to the Catholic Church at the age of 50) Then there is the very interesting study of the German-Canadian neurosurgeon and psychiatrist, Karl Stern, Flight from woman: 1965. Stern was a Jew who converted to the Catholic Church influenced by the philosophy Jacques Maritain and the life of Doris Day. Stern postulates the feminine and masculine way of thinking: scientific or rational versus the feminine intuitive or poetic. He then goes on to analyse six of the most influential thinkers in modern time: Goethe, Descartes, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Tolstoy and Sartre. The conclusion: all of them failed to integrate the feminine side of their thinking. In fact, they were hindered by their own negative experiences.

In fact, both von le Fort and Stern would have realised that the ultimate disaster of neglect of the feminine factor in human nature was that the distortion of motherhood led to the distorted view of fatherhood. Mother-child conflict was absorbed into a father-child conflict.

Mary shows a different way. The woman in Mary her fiat (“let it be”) (Luke 1: 38). She is the strong, self-asserted woman who anchors her feminine nature in obedience to God, and not to man. She becomes Mother. In her role as Mother she becomes Educator who leads the children to the Father. What happens in the natural order in family life, happens in the order of spiritual life, and vice versa. To take Mary out, would be to ignore the Divine Pedagogy as God’s way of doing things. It would, however, also wipe out the very important psychological dimension that our relationship with Mary has to discover the fatherhood of God and discipleship in the service of the Son. That is what the Great Educator, the Holy Spirit, does through Mary. She is God’s visual aid for us.

Call her what we like. Health, good hope, mother of the afflicted, mother of divine love, mother of mercy and many more. She stands with both feet on the ground while her heart beats for God and us alike.

As for Adoration, she gets the title Tabernacle of God because she bore him. She is the eucharistic woman, the “Bakerwoman” who brings forth the Bread of life.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies, May 16 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 47: May 12

The reflection process from yesterday continues to work in me. It is the weak-strong social experience. So many examples come to my mind where the strong person thrived on exposing the wrong. That can be the possibility to do a favour, and then turn the moment into something else like a game of power. That can be a structured situation, e.g. at work where the higher person abuses such authority to intimidate.

Then there are all the others, and thanks be to God for them. Yes, some people call them angels, and they deserve this title. It means that they are selflessly caring natures. However, I found or rather coined an interesting word. It was just two weeks ago when I was called out to anoint a very sick woman. Her husband and I had a chat afterwards about the Coronavirus pandemic. He was scathing with his criticism of people who were not compliant with the lockdown regulations and I couldn’t agree more with him. I made the comment that it is in the nature of humankind, avoiding the word mankind, to look for loopholes in a system that takes freedom away. He snorted “humankind”, with no particular extra implication. That was the moment when I thought, it is the right work describe as a common feature all these good people: they are human-kind. Kindness is their humanity. Human-kindness conveys the feeling that it is nice to be and to belong. And they restore the often negatively tainted reputation of humanity as being selfish, greedy and hurtful.

It is good to be surrounded by human-kind persons. They strengthen the belief in the goodness in human nature, which in particular moments I have always been to receive. Their kindness is genuine, never patronizing or letting me feel that I am an object of their kindness. Rather, it is from the heart. The list of such persons would never end if I had to start one. This kindness is a form of love, which I experienced as being a son, a brother or a friend. And this relationship happens, it is an event as we interact. In other words, the manner of interaction gives birth to the friend, the brother (sister) or son.

And as I am writing this, I can relive certain events where this actually took place. The plate of food I receive is not just to eat. Or for that matter the car that is fixed, the computer sorted out or the maintenance that is well and quickly done. In the short interaction when that event takes place, in which I can truly relate to that person: You really care for me. Yes, today I have become your son, brother and friend. Sometimes I may not even see that person, but the gesture, in itself, speaks volumes. A gesture of human-kindness is an act of affirmation of the one who receives it. It is a way of saying, “It is good that you are.” In fact, it is a way of saying, too: “It is good for me that you are.” For that to happen, though, kindness happens when the giver steps down from their throne of their ego to encounter the other person on their level. And many times, that might mean making oneself very small, or not using big words, adapting and adjusting as one goes along to accommodate the other person. It means discretion and sensitivity for the dignity of the receiver. It always makes a difference if money is put in an envelope to show respect. That happens when I randomly get someone from the street to do some work. The kind person calibrates mind, heart and hands according to the receptivity of the other person. It is so beautiful to experience that and try it out. It is really the heart to heart contact. It can result in the experience of being lifted up, assisted, protected and nurtured.

With what can I compare this type of persons? They are like someone standing with others at a fire warming themselves and celebrating. Someone arrives from the dark, cold night. He turns and leaves the fire to attend to that person. He leaves his comfort (zone) to go to the other person. He is full of the warmth of the fire. He never loses it when he shows kindness. And the other cold person gets the warmth, too.

One must also bear in mind that such kindness, out of real interest in the other, can also be applied to correct wrongs and sin. Erroneous kindness condones wrongs and sin. In fact, it can’t be human-kind unless it also shows the right path.

It is the right human-kindness, which makes the words of Jesus come true: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 8: 12

 The whole life of Jesus radiates with kindness towards the poor, the sinner, the adulteress woman, the tax-collector, his disciples when they are tired, his Mother, and everyone. His performs his mission to save those who lost with kindness. For that reason, we believe him when he says, “I am the light of the world.” (John 8: 12) Jesus has the healing and salvation of the person in mind when he is kind. His kindness makes the other person his main interest. It can, therefore, also bring out the fierceness in him to defend and secure the other person’s right. Justice follows kindness. Because kindness will act in your interest and attempt to secure your rights and duties. Otherwise kindness would be wishy-washy.

That light also comes to me through the kindness I receive from others. Every gesture of kindness is a moment of light from Jesus. Because people are so different, I envisage that light like the different colours of the rainbow. The kind person receives the light, for which it acts like a prism for the receiver to receive and understand it. For that purpose, the light is fractured and adjusted. It is the rainbow event in the interaction with kindness. It is the colour, which I need at a particular moment. This rainbow has as many colours as there are gestures of kindness. Human-kindness is a homemaker. It is a home-coming moment. This is where I felt that I belong. It is heart to heart homemaking. Where true kindness is, the light of Jesus will never grow dim. In fact, the experience will be, in the words of Jesus, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8: 12)

True kindness, as it I see in the life of Jesus, kindness motivates justice. Otherwise, if that does not happen, it releases the other person back into the cold – insecure and unstable. Kindness is, therefore, not emotional but deeply moral. While it is a pre-disposition towards others, it is also an act of justice with the quality of the extra mile.

The opposite is aggression and pushing away. It is unsettling and destabilizing. It can lead to different forms of bullying or neglect. It is the travesty of justice.

Thank you to all those persons who gave me human-kindness and continue to do so. You make me feel special.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 16 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 46: May 11

Today I had something to think about, which I had chosen. Just then, the thought changed to reflect on something, which had become a daily struggle, very tough to the point of challenging the nerves and taking the bit between the teeth. I don’t know why I haven’t thought about it earlier. It is about the live streaming every day. This is an entirely new experience for me, as I believe it is for most of us. In any case, being without Holy Mass for such a long time is totally unprecedented. Cometh the hour, cometh this new form of technology. However, it is not the technology itself that stirred my reflection. It is the human side of this whole procedure.

I am in the Church, while the technician takes her position at home. Just now the message will come, punctually for us to communicate. It has become a routine, following the pattern: At 11.30 she makes contact that we meet at 11.40. Then the whole show starts. Teamviewer, code to her, she is connected, plug out the cable, turn on the dongle, we are connected, we are ready to go live, what shall the call it (e.g. Rosary with Fr Ivanhoe). Any music, Father? At 11.59 we will go live. You may start now. Can you see me. Yes, but the cloth is a bit skew. Now it is better. Then we go live. Afterwards, you may end, Father. Good afternoon, rest well.

Sometimes we come away satisfied, other times excited because everything fell into place. Thumbs up!

Next, we tried it with music. I tried to coordinate different singers to send their sung hymn, then we order them in sequence. On the day of the live streaming we play the music. It was always with the same outcome – horrible. So, it is back to hours of trying and trying. Come the live streaming, the outcome is unchanged, sometimes even worse.

But all of this happens with simple routine. Why do I mention it? I did say there is a very interesting process that has made itself known.

From my side it is about being led, taken by the hand step by step and see the result emerge. I am conscious of being led, and it is absolutely good. By nature, we all want to be in control of our lives. And there is a lot of merit in it. Other times, though, it is good to be led, but in a certain way.

To explain the significance of my current experience I remember different incidents of going through the same motions but with different outcome. I had a friend who was excellent with computers, in fact anything practical like electricity, woodwork or just about anything practical. We were good friends during our student days in seminary. I was the opposite of his skills package. So, I often turned to him for help. Then it all happened. Instead of just doing the work and explaining to me, he made me feel stupid and inadequate. Only when I exploded did he change his behaviour. I had learned to understand him and tell him in advance I did not want his nonsense. The fact was that it was humiliating. He went for my wounded side and stuck his knife right there until I winced from humiliation and embarrassment. What did it mean to him to exploit my weakness? (On the other hand, did I do the same with others? That calls for examination of conscience. Do I use power to abuse others?) What I can still relive as I remember such moments is the feeling of humiliation and embarrassment. I needed his help, so I first swallowed his pathetic behaviour – until I revolted.

I remember a second experience. It was one evening with a youth group in a huge old Church in the south of Germany. I was visiting the assistant priest, a friend of mine. He invited me to attend their youth meeting. The meeting was essentially about a game. Half of the young people was separated and blindfolded. Each one received a guide who had to randomly take the blindfolded one around the Church. There were lots of objects like chairs, little tables, the benches, music stands, etc. What transpired was very interesting. Some guides were careful, others foolish and let the blindfolded stumble. Others did both. Some blindfolded ones broke off the game. The blindfolded ones reacted according to the way they were being guided. Between some of them a quick partnership developed. Others were tense. We then reversed the exercise with the guide becoming the blindfolded, the blindfolded becoming the guide. At the end of the exercise, they gave feedback, which, by then was evident. However, what transpired was that all the blindfolded ones felt that they had to let go of themselves and surrender to the guide. Some felt that they simply could not do it. It was all about the kind of relationship based on trust, suspicion, resentment, anger, kindness, goodness, awaiting the opportunity to pay back, helplessness, caution and care. It was amazing to see how many emotions were running through them in this simple exercise. Or was it that simple? It was but very profound because it all depended on the interaction between the two. Was it reassuring? Did they take each other’s vulnerable condition into consideration? Why did some just rip the blindfold off for no apparent reason and found they simply could not continue? Why did some of them rebel against trusting the guide who meant well? Why the abuse of power by the guide who found pleasure in making the blindfolded person stumble or knock his or her head?

I am sure we have all been through such experiences. For example, when we were at a government department office and realised that it all comes down to playing second fiddle and let the clerk have his day. Yes, it was humiliating but we got what we wanted, even though fuming and angry. We know what it means to ask for help, which is promised with day, hour and minute. And nothing happens. Well, we try to rescue the embarrassment by saying that beggars can’t be choosers. But the admission of being a beggar awaiting the return of the master is what leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Talking about beggar. I have seen this when the beggar is interrogated like a criminal or, even worse, made to look foolish. This is demeaning and denigrating. It happens often at the traffic light when I see the driver making fun of the beggar. Make up your mind to give or not, I think. It is not wrong to say no. But look him in the eyes, greet and politely but firmly say yes or no. It leaves their dignity intact. It would merely be the application of the Golden Rule (Matth 7: 12) to treat others as you would want them to treat you.

There are many moments in life where there is the relationship of strong and weak with the resulting interaction. What did Jesus do? Once there is such a moment, which deserves to be quoted in full text:

“Then Jesus left that place and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. It happened that a Canaanite woman living in that locality presented herself, crying out to him, “Lord, Son of David, have pity on me! My daughter is terribly troubled by a demon.” He gave her no word of response. His disciples came up and began to entreat him., “Get rid of her. She keeps shouting after us! “My mission is only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”, Jesus replied. She came forward then and did him homage with the plea, “Help me, Lord!” But he answered, “It is not right to take the food of sons and daughters and throw it to the dogs.” “Please, Lord”, she insisted, “even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from their masters’ tables.” Jesus then said in reply, “Woman, you have great faith! Your wish will come to pass.” That very moment her daughter got better.” (Matth 15: 21-28)

It touched me to see how this woman humbled and humiliated herself. She who had nothing to do with the Israelite people, recognised in Jesus the Son of David from the other tribe as the one who could help her. And it was not even for herself. It was for her daughter. In stages she humbles herself even more until that dreaded word fell – the dogs. Here Jesus was in full command and gave such an answer. Quite unbelievable! First he ignored her, then told her they had nothing in common, then compares her with dogs. Yet, he proved himself again the master of his trade. He gave her the biggest praise ever. He showed open admiration for her faith. That was the highest praise that came from him. She was one of his kind. Very cleverly he made her the winner, even beating him. She overcame all his arguments. Or so he made her feel. She won the day. Before the faith of the centurion, we read, “Jesus showed amazement on hearing this and remarked to his followers, ‘I assure you, that I have never foud this much faith in Israel. (…) To the centurion he said, ‘go home. It shall be done because you trusted. That very moment the boy got better.” (Matth 8: 10-13). Praising faith was the highest honour Jesus gave. He gave it to her.

In his Letter to the Romans St Paul speaks about the relationship between strong and weak. He advises the strong to remain patient with the weak for the higher purpose. It is to remain inclusive “so that with one heart and voice you may glorify God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (15: 1 -6). Where this does not happen, space is opened for disharmony, rancour and resentment. Praise of God is not possible.

Thankfully, the daily routine of logging into Facebook has given me such an experience of being vulnerable because of lack of knowledge but always treated with care, warmth and respect. Vulnerability becomes a moment of relaxation, almost like being at a picnic. At the end of the exercise, I even feel like the winner. This became amusingly evident when one of our technicians today said to me: “You have really become an expert. One of these days you will going around to other parishes to show them how to do it.” I just smiled and, in my mind, passed the credit to the person who made this opinion possible. Every day is a parable of the weak and the strong with the weak emerging with dignity intact, enhanced and on equal footing with the strong. In fact, I feel treated like nobility.

In this little parable the real winner is our common humanity. The winner is moral goodness. The winner is God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whose image we are made and redeemed. That can be experienced in the parable of the strong and the weak.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 15 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 45: May 10

My appreciation for the Holy Spirit has grown so much that it is indescribable. I am taken aback by the subtlety, thoroughness and understanding of the Holy Spirit. What the Holy Spirit does and teaches becomes wisdom. It begins with something very small, which begins to unravel like a ball of wool. And today was no exception.

I went for the cupboard. And there it was: chips, smiling and saying, “come and eat”. But I wasn’t really hungry. And I just spontaneously opened the cupboard with the intention of looking for chips. I just felt peckish, for the umpteenth time. And I remember all the jokes of video clips I received of people in similar circumstances. My motto, “If it doesn’t move, I eat it”, is clearly not going to be the right one during lockdown. My other one is better but has nothing to do with eating. It is “sanity for the mind, sanitizers for the hands.” So, on second thoughts, ”goodbye Mr chips.” But no, chips would not be chips if it did not put up a sensual fight. How many can actually say that they want to be eaten. Chips do. Just a little bit, and chips, you have won.

There is one word, though, which separates itself from that experience. It is the word “luxury”. Luxuries, so it seems, are those things that are not really necessary. Nonetheless,we enjoy them occasionally.

 But it is not how frequently I take them that I must pay my attention to. It is more the enticing role it can play. It makes itself pleasantly known. I have found out that when I give something up, it has a habit of making a sudden appearance in my mind and taste buds. And it says, “I am your luxury” like someone would say, “I am your Bentley or Ashton Martin or Rolls Royce or Ferrari.” Well, something appealing and desirable.

But what if I consider myself as luxury? As someone to be wanted, cherished, found tasty and, in the good sense of the word, appealing and enticing? Of course, a luxury is not necessary and should be the last thing on the shopping list. But if I consider myself a luxury to me, then I am the must-have on my list. And, in fact, the word luxury always implies an extra pleasure; luxuries turn life into a feast. And that is how I should have enjoyed Mr chips. As just a tiny festive moment.

Consider myself a luxury. That means the change of mindset. It is about taking stock of personal value and preciousness. This is sadly forgotten. We forget that Jesus proclaimed that the greatest of all commandments is to love God and neighbour as you love yourself. That last part is what interests me. Conditioned to be guilty to be a luxury to myself, I allow the guilt trip to kick in. It is, then, that sacrifice mentality takes over. In this case, it is wrong guilt. It is simply not fair or just to make sacrifices overrule self-value and self-appreciation to be second best. This, invariably, leads to low self-esteem or sacrifice to become artificially the norm for self-value. In other words, the more sacrifices, the better. This mentality can even creep into my relationship with God and the way I value others. God wants sacrifices to please Him? This is evidently not true. God wants a humble heart. The focus on sacrifices in religious life runs the danger of the retribution mentality (tit for tat). “Look, God”, I say, “how much I have done for You. Now, what are you going to do for me? And when, well the sooner the better”. Such persons end up despairing in God’s silence. I remember that God remains the total Other, beyond my grasp of manipulation.  

And people may not be valued just according to sacrifices but also according to their talents, achievements in life or by adding value to others’ lives. It is really about the awareness of self as a gift to me myself, even before I do anything. I remember some time ago in Germany when a female employee of the administration of the University of Muenster in Germany died. In my earlier years as student I was in charge of the registration of foreign students. Their documents were almost never in order. The result was that I had to be very diplomatic, standing with the proverbial hat in my hand. She, Frau Richter, almost always came to the rescue. Now this time, her relatives asked, me to do the funeral. We met in her apartment where they took me to her room. On the mirror of the cupboard she wrote with red lipstick, “I want to live”. These words she saw every day and gave her the strength and willpower to beat the prognosis that she had only a short time to live. She lingered long in my memory as a person who had learned to embrace her life.

Consider myself a luxury. This means that my life is a feast, a festive moment. This attitude, which is what it should become, is far from the narcissism, which has taken hold of society today. It is the prerequisite to a full and fulfilled life. It is the acknowledgment of the words of Jesus not to put my light under the bushel. It speaks against the ostrich habit of putting the head in the sand. It rebels against the tall poppy syndrome, which doesn’t want any of the poppies to grow taller than the others. It is, in fact, the best remedy against a mass-minded mentality, which makes everyone the same and reduces the value and role of everyone to a little screw in a massive machine. This screw is disposable. Or it is like the product that has a “Use by” date. The mass-minded mentality cannot tolerate uniqueness because it wants everyone to be the same.

By contrast, the self-awareness of Jesus was tremendous. He could say things like “I am the living water”, “I am the bread of life”, “I am the way, the truth and the life”, “I am the good shepherd”, “I am the door”, “no one can come through the Father unless through me” and so many other things. He was luxury in the proper sense of the word. “Unless you eat my flesh, you will not have life in you.” Self-awareness was part of the way he was the Christ and the Son of God.

Consider your life as a luxury, as a reason to be festive. Then others can also be invited to the feast and enjoy the luxury I find myself to be. Then everyone who comes to my feast is a luxury. They are special and valued. The sensual dynamics of the luxury is that once you have tasted pure goodness, you want more of it. You will not forget the taste and when you withdraw, it will lurk in your senses and surface in your memory, which, in turn, reminds of the taste or other experiences of senses.

There comes a point when I must leave the word “luxury” and bring in the word “gift”. It has to do with God and life. I am not from here; I am from elsewhere, deep inside God. That is what the Holy Spirit can do, bringing me into the bossom of the Father. I am gift to others because the Holy Spirit transforms me into a disciple of Christ. This, of course, does not happen without knowing that being luxury to self means being enticingly precious to self and others. My experience simply is this: when I am a luxury to others, in other words something there to enjoy, they want more of me. Good tasty things are irresistible.

There is another point, though. Though born as a luxury to self and eventually to others, it is something that I must conquer. It must become more and more a gift on offer. There is sin and repentance, which obscures the luxury. These barriers can distort the gift and luxury and make it unwanted as something unpleasant. It turns itself in the opposite, something unsavoury or even toxic. All that must be overcome. That means that the luxury Is formed on the grounds of sacrifice. No pain, no gain, they say in some quarters. Virtuosity is gained on the back of sacrifice. The swimmers I knew used to be in the pool by 6am and return later for more training. There will be no festive feeling and reason to be festive and have luxury unless it has happened through sacrifice. Christians early understood that the Risen Lord is present with his wounded body. “Through his wounds, we are healed.” They felt good about themselves and bristling with courage to proclaim him. Sacrifice is necessary to make the luxury something really nice and beautiful, appealing and attractive. Being a luxury to others, it must be a sensual experience: in him, some must be able to say, I tasted, felt, heard, smelled and touched the Lord. I must live with the feeling: I should really have more of myself. Because it tastes so good. Then I will be nourishment to others, too.

Bring it on, Mr chips. However, I prefer a nice Slanghoek now.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 14 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 44: May 9

The moral responsibility for the other! Principally, we find ourselves somehow always in that position, be that in the form of the parent, the friend, sibling, the teacher, the employer, or any other capacity. That other may not even to be known, such as the car guard, the beggar, the refuse collector or a person on the street. The face to face encounter always asks for recognition of the other person, from which respect and responsibility follow. However, from their follows the appropriate action, which sometimes may just be a greeting. At the traffic lights, we often find someone selling or begging. It is better to look that person straight in the face and say yes or no. It is the recognition that counts. In other words, we acknowledge the other as person.

The question still remains who and how can this moral responsibility for the other be done. Fr Kenitenich describes the roles of educators as essentially “selflessly serving otherness”. He also calls calls this “priestly motherliness and fatherliness”. The word “priestly” he does not use in a sacerdotal way (sacramental priesthood) but to describe value-oriented interaction. And this approach is about the attitude and decision to never give up believing in the core goodness of the person and that every person wants to have lasting values such as happiness, love, freedom and purpose. In other words, by serving otherness, I wish to bring out these eternal human values. However, this cannot happen as a programme. It must follow the immediate need of the other.

Fr Kentenich once described the essence of Christianity. He said it is so basic yet profound that you can write it on your thumbnail. It is “Father and Child”. From my own experience, he hit the nail on the head. When the child in each one, in me in this case, realised the values of respect and piety (as being drawn to the mystery of life to bow before it) it can be such a father. Because then it begins to engender new life by serving. In other words, it gives rather than demands in return. This act of engendering new life takes most of the time place by manner of listening. It is a kind of listening, which allows a relationship of trust to grow and, thus, encouraging more openness. I am grateful for those relationships in the pastoral work, which have enabled me to verify this kind of fatherliness. What it says is that life is there to engender more life and loyally accompany it to its own fulfilment. That, to Fr Kentenich, is to be a Father, the real one. (Incidentally, this is also how he describes the mother.) I remember the young boys and girls who almost said in as many words that I am their father. I never looked for it. It comes with being present in their lives. It is really for them about finding someone to lean on. I myself have been privileged and blessed to lean on such persons in my life.

Many times, I discover that this kind of practice does not prevail. The narcissist is on the march. His only interest is himself and self-adulation. He doesn’t want to be under another person and rejects the challenge of attending to others. It’s always about “me” first. Such a person is a subtle or crude dictator because everyone must serve him.

I do believe that we need the morality of serving the other selflessly to make a real difference to how I am and reach out to others. And the most vulnerable person in our society is the child where our main attention should be. The priority of the child! This must be even more so in the totally voiceless child like the foetal alcohol syndrome child whom I meet at Emmanuel Day Care Centre for Children with Special Needs. Selflessness is the sign of true greatness and the key to take an interest in the other, which is, as far as this is humanly possible, detached from own interest. Fatherliness is the way to exercise leadership as the genuine power to enable, embolden and empower the life of the other. Such fatherliness is always transparent to the true fatherliness who is God. God bestows His fatherliness on the servant who represents Him. His representative then become an transparent of His fatherliness. The new world begins when such fathers and mothers relate to persons. The core attitude is: I come to serve, Jesus said, not to be served. And it is in the moral decision to selflessly serve otherness.

All of that has begun for me when the child became father. it is, however, the father who himself was spiritually and emotionally through others and the work of the Holy Spirit. Mary played the crucial role in my spiritual development as child and father. In my case, the father (Fr Kentenich) led me to the mother. Later Mary, the Mother opened my eyes to see what a treasure I have in Fr Kentenich. It is through Mary that I could understand and relate to God as my Father. It is, after all, her motherly duty to lead the children to the Father. This she accomplished so wonderfully and miraculously.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 14 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 43: May 8

The story goes on, because it so central to who I am and what has become the foundation of my identity and interaction with people. I do believe that fundamental to being me and making the world a better place is adoration of the Almighty and reverence of the other person. In other words, that is where the focal point must be – the Almighty and the other. Undoubtedly, my story is Emmanuel story, it is God-with-me-story as rich with drama with involvement of diverse actors.

But otherness goes much further than that. For the experience of otherness, I had to go just outside the door anywhere. Otherness is everyone. Otherness is the revelation of the other as so different, though not outwardly but as an experience, that she or he is a mystery in the real sense of the word. The more and longer I am familiar with you, the more you withdraw from me. I cannot fathom you and never fully get to know you. You remain forever here and gone. I don’t find you; you show yourself, then you are gone. You remain unfathomable and undiscoverable. Even more importantly, to find you, I have to leave everything and go on something like an inner exodus, in the way God said to Abraham, “Leave your fatherland.” Discovery of otherness is granted to the person who dangerously abandons themselves to the other person. It is dangerous because you have to risk everything, step away from yourself to find the other person. It is opening oneself to abuse by that person. But that is the price. Moreover, the maturity of self-abandonment is the inner quest to be able to do this surrender to other, not for my sake, but to for the sake of the other. Respect and reverence for the other is a matter of justice. Because you, the other, dictates to me how you want to be treated by me in a free, sisterly/brotherly and equal way. In other words, the instructions come from you. They don’t come from me, from my family background, from my nationality, from my culture, from my religion. There is mutual ground, though. It is that I am also to the other, her or his other. We are there to respect, and not to capture, abuse or annihilate.  The extreme forms of the other in the Old Testament are the widows, the orphans and the strangers. They were the three social categories who enjoyed no rights and were, therefore, under the direct protection of the territorial ruler – in God’s name. They symbolised the Israelites in slavery in Egypt. They were the test if the covenant with God had anything to do with God, which means with God as care-giver God in the covenant with His people. That otherness is, then, best exhibited in the parable of the Good Samaritan. What makes him different? He took the dangerous risk of face to face encounter. The gaze of the one fell among robbers transfixed him. Those eyes showed plea for help and, at the same time, became the command to help. The Samaritan could have turned away. But then he would have failed himself; he would not have been a moral person. The other person made him a moral person by letting him know, “It is either or.” The commandment is given, and he must respond to be responsible from then onwards all the way to the inn and after that. It is total responsibility, at least in attitude and intention. Jesus said clearly: “I command you to love one another as I have loved you.” It is about the rule of love taking precedence over apathy, power abuse, self-centredness and nationalism. The outreach to the sister or brother in the smallest way is the birth of the universal sister and brother. I am there for you. However, though sister or brother, you remain forever the other. It is about the beginning of a life of love, or the struggle to do so. Yes, we have the line of eros love seeking attachment (friendship, marriage); but, then, there is the line of agape love that says it comes at the cost of sacrifice of self. Jesus said of his friendship, “No one has a greater love than the one who lays down his life for his friends”. Eros finds its finest expression in agape. He also said, “ I have come that you may have life, and have it in abundance.” And again, “I have come to serve, not to be served.” And when he dies on the Cross: It is his agape sacrifice on the Cross which draws all people to himself. To be able to serve the other, is to first go to Calvary to learn the lessons of sacrifice of self. (And for that reason, a possibility of union between persons alive will only be possible at the wedding of the Lamb that was sacrificed. Because the sacrifice must be complete and unblemished. Even though, love includes the wish for the loved one to continue living, and live forever,  that desire will remain what is – endless desire that takes the trajectory of love into eternity where it will be fulfilled. But here on earth, I can only desire it. I cannot make it happen because I, too, am limited.) Whoever serves the other in this way, gives birth to that person. I am a blessing to you means that your life comes to the fore. You see yourself in a new way, of which you yourself may never have been totally aware. You will now view yourself as person worthy of unconditional care.

We know the great prejudices of our time in their destructiveness. In history there three categories of persons who were the other and suffered with severe consequences. They were (are) woman, the Jew and the person of colour. Misogyny, anti-Semitism and racism. Add to these xenophobia, paedophilia and abuse of the environment. Everything that is the other, is abused.

We have also seen what way of thinking has given rise to these destructive forces in history. I believe it is, in the final analysis, the wrong interpretation of the great principles of philosophy unum (one), verum (true), bonum (good) and pulchrum (beautiful). If one or unity becomes that we must all be under the same umbrella regardless of individuality, then there will be suppression to do so. No other way of thinking is tolerated. There is no such a thing as other challenging opinios. In other words, individuality must be eradicated, which can only happen by force. If true is my or our truth only (ideology;if good is what I or my group see as value, the same. And the way I and we are and look, more of the same. I and we are beautiful, the others are ugly. The other becomes a constant threat and to deal with it, it must be destroyed. That doesn’t have to be the case, if the other becomes the moral norm for being truly human. Then we will be human-kind. We must respond rather impose. (History and personal life have shown that there is an innate force in us that will finally say no. It is the desire or passion for freedom, which will turn into resistance against tyranny.)

The other: I am enriched by the other everywhere. Otherness is to know that you are not mine. You are and will remain a gift to me. You are God’s gift be taken care of. The story of these gifts is the story of my life. It is the miracle and mystery of God as the totally Other Who talks with me all the time – in the other.

Unity, truth, goodness and beauty are just such keys to how we find inner happiness that we must have a way of getting these values to be with us. To be happy is to be in possession of unity, truth, goodness and beauty. They are to be found in the drama of my story. Unity: I am standing on the holy ground of your life. Truth: you are and remain a gift, not for me, but to look after. Goodness: indestructible, irreversible divine origin. Beauty: awe (covering my face due to your unbearable radiance) before the mystery of the splendour of God.

The other as focus demands a new approach, in which he or she takes centre stage in my life. My life recalls the challenging presence of the process of making myself ready for the encounter with the other. It is the drama of self-surrender in order to serve. This requires a very specific pedagogy and spirituality. And I believe that my encounter with Fr Joseph Kentenich’s pedagogy and spirituality is my answer. Ultimately, the aim is to be a care-giver. And it is not even as if I can say, “I will look after you.” It is saying: “I follow your command to me to look after you.”

Day 42: May 7

Being guided to the right memories during this time is something really special. Little did I realise what the outcome would be when I took it as a time of retreat. Nor did I fathom that it was going to be all done very discreetly by the Holy Spirit. It still is a most fascinating moment of my life. As much as the Coronavirus pandemic is almost like a surreal science-fiction movie, this time is, indeed, most unexpected. The story goes on. It started with my biography as becoming child. It begins all over as the story of the other – being the other and seeing the other.

I am being led today to reflect on another significant aspect of my life, which is permeating every fibre of my soul. It has to do with the other – the otherness of the other person. Initially, I never had a name for it, but it was just there, all the time. The most outstanding time, in this regard, was during my noviciate back in 1978. I felt the intuitive need to get to know the others better but with the particular interest in each one as a person. I focused on the positive observations. Everyday I entered all 20 names in my journal. Next to every name I wrote my positive observations of that person as he revealed the positive characteristics. This went on for a very long time. What was the composition of our course? South Africans, Germans, Swiss, Spain, USA, Argentina, Mexico and Chile. Each nationality had differences, which were obvious especially around a time like Christmas. We managed to find a way to appreciate each other, accepting quite hard challenges. For example, we made a point of speaking German, our common language, to welcome anyone anytime into a conversation. This wasn’t always easy as language has so much to do with emotional comfort around those from the same country. This experience was already before we started our noviciate and lived in the common seminary. In student in particular, from Chile, had just come back from London where he had learned English. Very pompously he told us three South Africans at breakfast about his time in London one morning: “Every day I became an egg and a glass of juice.” Polite as we were, we kept a straight face as we imagined him becoming an egg and a glass of juice. Quite something. The mixture of nationalities and cultures made a very deep impression on me. Besides showing the pitfalls of being a South African without common cultural identity with considerable embarrassment to demonstrate anything as so to speak “typically South African”, it was important to see first hand, what national pride meant. We learned to appreciate an international flavour in our community. But it took a long time for me to see it in that light. Coming from South Africa, I saw such differences as source of discomfort, exposure of lack of national identity and a constant threat to my inner security.

The other! Today I can see how central to my life this topic is. From 1991 until 2009 that could be the topic of my life. I returned to Germany for further studies. From there I managed to travel extensively and work in 5 different countries. I remember my first visit to Manchester for a few months. There I saw that given the more or less the same circumstances, you find more or less the same type of person. In Oldham where I stayed with some priests, it was sometimes like being in Bridgetown in Cape Town. The social mannerisms were the same, the men loved to stick their noses under the bonnet of their cars, the women modelled night gowns, and no one cared two hoots about the English language. This was no different when I was in Mount Druid in Sydney later. The differences were sometimes mindboggling. For example, in Munich people bought their newspaper at the bus stop on the way to work. There was a box with a money slot. You would take your newspaper and through the money in the box. There was no one to sell or control or give change. In India I had a very interesting experience on the bus one day. I had taken the chance to take the bus into the city thinking I just have to hop on and things will take care of themselves. Well, the bus stop names were all written in Hindi with Hindi alphabet. There was no way I could make out where I was. I had to strain my memory to look for landmarks. More remarkably, though, was that the bus was so full that no one could move. Even so, young men would jump outside onto an open window and hang there until they got to their bus stop. What did they do with their parcels? Without seeing anyone, they would simply pass it inside to the bus for any person to take. And they when they wanted them back, they would reach with their hands into the bus to retrieve them. That was back then in Bengalore. A visit to the Hindu temples was like meeting a totally different world, especially at the monkey temple with the monkey man feeding them. Monkeys everywhere, no one touched them and the cows on the streets. It was there that I became acutely aware of the caste system and even the social divisions between Tamils and Kerala people. Yes, right in the bosom of the Catholic Church. It was impossible for them to coexist. Almost every religious community tried to be united but later succumb to the tensions between these two groups. There was no apparent reason for such division other than some kind of stereotyping and pride. Australians, on the other hand, were totally different. They emphasised equality. The doctor, professor and priest were on first name terms with everyone. One would not even know the social background of the other person. Australians have ingrained respect for the builder, carpenter, plumber, car mechanic and electrician, in fact for any artisan. However, when they spoke about the Aborigines one could hear some of the crudest racial comments ever. Aussies are marvellously helpful people. In the humid Summer months the grass grew very fast. We lived on 5 acres, mainly with grass. When I returned from a lengthy pastoral visit, I had to immediately get on a ride-on mower or the tractor to slash the grass which was reaching to my hips. In no time, I would see a neighbour entering our property with a mower to help with the slashing. Come and go, nothing said. The same happened when a gale wind smashed a tree on our property. A neighbour would come with his chain saw, and Bob’s your uncle. When I thanked him, the universal response was, “She’ll be fine, mate.”

I was blessed to work with Germans, English, Australians from the city (city slickers) and rural towns, Latin Americans from the whole of Latin America in Australia, Europeans in Australia, Asians in Australia and Indians in India. It was tremendously enriching. This happened in my capacity as Schoenstatt Father. I vividly recall my first visit to Melbourne to meet the Spanish community. I was warned that there English was rather rudimentary. Therefore, I took an interpreter for the February visit. In August, when the leader opened the door to me, she politely said, “Padre, no se habla ingles”. (“Father, we don’t speak English.”) In all fairness, she like so many other Hispanics also said, “Mi casa es su casa.” (“My home is your home.”) And they meant it. For the next visit I quickly grabbed a “Spanish course in three months”(wishful thinking! with cassettes and learned Spanish in the car via the Cassette recorder. It was amusing because every time I was told how good my Spanish was. But also, they told me every time how much better it was than the previous time! They were just so encouraging, meriting the effort rather than the outcome. My Spanish became good enough that I could give all the talks and sermons in Spanish, as well as write in the Spanish vernacular. The outcome of living and working with such different people? The language of the heart!

However, all these remain differences, which could somehow be worked out to become unity and solidarity. We always found ourselves in some way in the same group. But what if these differences are in fact otherness, which cannot be hauled into a particular way of thinking. What if difference is so much different that it is no longer different but other, e.g. woman or the stranger? Is there another way of becoming one in solidarity without otherness being expunged? Can it be the source of a new form of unity and solidarity?

My biography is rich reading of encounters with difference, which taught and changed me. It is my story as story-with-in-through different persons. But there is so much more to it. There is the other. The story goes on. I rely on the Holy Spirit.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 11 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 41: May 6

Story telling is central to the Bible because it records the mighty works of God. The main story is that of the Exodus when God led His people from slavery to freedom in the promised land of Canaan. It is the story, which records the hand of God leading His people. God is God-in-story Who is God-in-history. As part of our faith, we can tell the movement of the Holy Spirit who opens our minds to the events where we find God-in-story. It is here that I know that I can tell such stories. Many times the outward events showed themselves to be God-in-story only years later when the Holy Spirit “dots the I’s and crosses the t’s”. Things begin to make sense, which hitherto, were mostly just time clock sequence. The hardest and best thing in life is to find purpose to live. To have purpose is to have hope. Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist, who survived the extermination concentration camp, came to that conclusion. Even in the most horrific circumstances, if a person has something to look forward to, something other than material value, that person has unfathomable extra resources in the soul to survive.

That, however, does not have to be so extreme. There is something very important that I learned in my life. And it is this: my biography, the story of my life, is not just another page or chapter in a stranger’s book. It is my story. I understand that no matter how tatty the outside cover may be, it is my book. That is a very daunting thought but crucial. It does imply, however, that I am willing to see other things as more important, almost like having something like a “hierarchy of values”. It is abot knowing that certain events and experiences have imposed themselves upon me because they are part of who I am. By letting themselves surface in the soul, I see with great clarity the values they contain, from more significant to less, creating the hierarchy. For me, for example, the health and education of a child takes preference over all other values. That also means that stories pertaining to the child are so vitally important. I realise only how painfully precise Divine Providence has been to lead me to Emmanuel Day Care Centre for Children with Special Needs. I am currently the chairperson of the Board, which gives my life another perspective away from Church work. I always think that I would like to be involved in such an organisation for the rest of my life. Because my engagement there makes absolute sense and purpose. The issues of the Centre are existential because of the financial constraints. Yet, every time it emerges that God’s hand is on it. And that makes it so satisfactory. To see a child grow or hear of its success in life is an immense source of personal happiness. To be around a child brings the best out of me. In other words, my biography will reflect this, though not visible to the outside observe. In fact, it is my firm conviction, based on the experience of my life now and reflecting on the past, that healing and inner happiness is about becoming again a child. The child is divine therapy; the child is God’s treatment to heal me. And that is why I find some of the most beautiful Scripture verses on children or of children. To these belong the story of Abraham and Isaac, of Moses in the River Nile, of Samuel in the temple, of young David and Goliath, of the anointing of David, of John the Baptism and the child narratives of Jesus. But far beyond these, there is the most profound statement of Jesus concerning the child in Matthew 18: 1-3. Jesus would not let the disciples keep the children with their mothers away from him. (Mark 10: 13-16). St Paul puts it into context for us: “that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption int the freedom of the glory of the children of God”. (Romans 8: 21) And I believe that for all of us.

It is not about idealising or even idolising the child. Far from it. It is the child in us that allows us to grow to the full potential of adulthood when we perfected the essence of the child: we are again naïve, pious, respectful, capable of being astounded, humble, reverent, believing the mystery, pure, admiring any sacred person and place, spontaneous, playing, singing, uninhibited, daring, self-assured and self-assertive, sociable without boundaries, dependent, free, forever the learner, and capable of endless and diverse relationships. All of God’s graces are healing. The healing is to call him Abba, Father. Galatians 4: 6: “The spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Also, with others, I had the sense that deep inside there is a child screaming to be heard and let out. The child: the only key to unlock the soul at its deepest depths.

Consequently, the saddest thing in life must be the premature destruction of childlikeness in a child. It has life-long effects. It needs the cosiness and warmth of the mother-father- relationship, combined with the personally interested safe home. It has life-long effects. The wellbeing of child is the social justice issue adults must be held accountable to. Did I make the world a better, safer and happier place for the child? There are children who have become the universal and eternal accusers  of adults of all time, regardless where and when they find themselves: it is the Napalm Child from Vietnam, Hector and the boy from Soweto, the Ethiopian child with bloated stomach, the alcohol foetal syndrome child at Emmanuel Day Care Centre. Once I saw them, I can never forget them. They are part of my psyche and life companions. The child is accuser, judge, verdict (guilty) and sentence (forever accountable to me). Memoria passionis (memory of pain). Even, if I am not directly part of their past, they are that in my presence. I, too, stand forever accused, judged, found guilty and sentenced to always be accountable. This child will never release me from responsibility. It is life-long sentence. Allowing to be accused in this manner (how can you let this happen to me without getting personally involved to change it?), is the rebirth of personal morality and social responsibility. This kind of morality and social responsibility is inclusive because every one on this planet is a child and uniquely a child of God destined for the kingdom of heaven.

Just by the way, I often fantasise that if I ever must build a church, that one of the main ideas would be child friendliness. I would first factor in a playground.

That is what my biography must be, and hopefully is about. It is the story of how I encounter God, of how God encountered and healed me. God-in-my-story is essentially about being a child, becoming a child and empowering a child, both infant and adult. How soothing the thought: Go tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born. The whole expectation of salvation is packed into the birth of the Son of God. He is called Emmanuel, God-with-us, the “Beloved Son.”

That is where I am currently finding myself: writing my child story book. And there are plenty of memories of God-in-story, which are being woven together for me to say at one and the same time: Abba/Father, Mamma, Dera. Thanks to the Holy Spirit.

 Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 10 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 40: May 5

The teaching of the Holy Spirit is relentless. Once in its school, there is no end to learning. That is the case when we embark on the presence of God in everyday life. That is an enriching shift from the general understanding that our religious life comprises the sacraments and devotions. However much that is true and forms the rich tradition of Catholic life, the possibilities become limitless once we are sensitive to God in our everyday undertakings. We call this faith in Divine Providence. This is the belief that God sees everything, knows everything and provides everything. This is quite challenging when I consider all the open questions when it comes to facing own and others’ suffering. The question “why God?” is never answered the way I want it, if at all. And that goes for the questions of all the others. But here I lean on the revelation by Jesus that God is good and everything He does is good. Yes, it does require a leap of blind faith when such serious questions arise. Do I have an alternative to faith? If I don’t say in such moments “My Lord and my God”, I will plunge into the abyss of nothingness, bitterness, anger, despair and even atheism. Time and again I have been forced by circumstances to rectify my view of and relationship with God. Critical needs teach to pray but not to worship. Once the need is fulfilled, it is usually back to normal until the next critical need arises. God is here almost akin to a juke box. I put in my request, and He plays to my requested number. That is a huge mistake. God remains the Other, no matter how close I am to Him.  It is there that I ask the fundamental question: Who is God? The only answer I get is the way Jesus teaches me about God. Ultimately, he is the Revelation of God and its most credible witness. He is the Son of God. Whatever he says and does, he has from the Father. Which leads to that rubicon question of Jesus: Who do people say I am? And then very personally: “Who do you say I am?”

The real object of spiritual life is to sense God in everyday life. Without having this theory, I started practising it during the first time with the Schoenstatt Fathers in Claremont. For some reason I always had the desire for self-education and improvement. I just started writing moments of the day down or using the medium of writing to analyse and work through experiences. This became the norm when I first arrived in Germany. I found in my room a copy of Heavenwards, Schoenstatt’s prayer book and a brown A5 folder with blank pages. I started a spiritual diary to Mary. Why to Mary? I cannot remember. It just seemed the obvious thing to do. Every day I wrote down what was happening inside me. At the end of the month I re-read it to see what the thread was. I believed this to be Mary’s guidance. I made it a habit of offering up each day for another seminarian. I think that I was fairly successful with my observations and the ability to direct my spiritual life. What it did give me was the sense of being led by Mary. This form of spiritual journaling I continued for many years. And it was always part of my quest for self and others. I remember that there was a time, right at th beginning, when I wanted to learn to respect and appreciate my course brothers. Every day I wrote down the names of all 21 of them and how I saw the goodness and talents they exhibited. Little did I know that I was doing something most unusual – I was learning to observe, analyse and draw conclusions for what I should be doing next for my self-development. This, I believed, was God’s grace working. It did not sort out everything, but I found myself in a position to observe my inner self and environment more closely. It was becoming my way of thinking almost as a matter of second nature. All of my spiritual diary entries are addressed to Mary, my Mother. What were the components of this way of thinking? 1. Introspection; 2. Observation within me and outside of me; 3. Analysis and interpretation; 4. Application to self-education and self-development; 5. Awareness of persons and things around me. Later I got to know it as practical faith in Divine Providence in the way Fr Kentenich taught and practised it. This is the ability and willingness to act with God’s will. This again, presupposes the ability to discern His will and wishes in the finest forms. (This way of thinking and living became later my pastoral method. When I first arrived in Atlantis and saw the state of the parish my reaction was: get the people together to reflect on the life and events of the parish. Discern from there what God wants of us, then go and act. And it worked! We found a motto, the symbol and formulated the prayer. From there we mapped out a way forward. Every year we had a pastoral AGM to discern the will of God. I did exactly the same here when I arrived in Bothasig.)

In the first years of studies, however, I found myself becoming more and more isolated from the practical side of life. I was becoming more at ease in the supernatural reality with a huge gap opening to real life. I was becoming more and more intellectual and rational with supernatural life, whilst increasingly sensing my detachment from others. It was the feeling of being uprooted. There was little or no vital contact. It was all in the head. People, places and events became abstract objects. I even felt detached from my body and the diversity of passions. Outwardly I was functioning very well, though inwardly I was becoming drier and drier, most abstract and remote. I was simply not connected. I do believe today that I was somehow being carried by Mary. But that is the reason why I had the vocation crisis towards the end of my internship. I had experienced the organic flow of love and warmth in the families of my brothers, and that flattened me completely. I found the integration of mind, body and soul later in my contacts with children and people. Involvement with the practical side of life did help to create a balance. Ultimately, it is the work of the Holy Spirit.

Today I know more: I had carried in me the seed of separation, which like a germ, did its destruction in me. I also know now that the healing is to return the soul to its organic environment of attachments to mother and father, and from there to all other attachments such as my childhood environment.

We must learn to master the art of sensing God’s presence in everyday life.

In my opinion God gave us two massive signs. It was the statue of Our Lady of Fatima arriving at our doorstep here at Church on March 14. The donor, Jose Camara, contacted me last year to ask if I would want one. I agreed, yet not knowing what to do. Besides, we have Our Lady of Fatima. But this time she arrived just as we had our last Holy Mass before the State President declared the state of disaster. Coincidence? Never, that’s not the way God works. God sends messages all the time. Next, just as the lockdown was going into effect on Thursday, March 27, our processional cross arrived, beautifully red chromed. Coincidence? It is not what we or I wish, especially if it happens completely without prior planning and personal design. God’s language of love is with us. The Cross and the image of Mary are our symbols of Divine Providence showing us how to gain our direction. The other point is that for some time I have been observing in different ways the call to do one million Hail Marys. No where did I find this actually coming to fruition. We are in dire times. So I thought, with the arrival of Mary in our parish, perhaps that is what she asks of us as a huge gesture of love for her. The idea of the spiritual bouquet was born. Am I in the right slot? The reaction is quite astonishing on our groups. The fruitfulness will prove the point. Under the guidance of the staff of the Good Shepherd (the processional Cross) and the intercession of Mary, we will find the solution to this terrible time. The feast day of Good Shepherd was for us a real rallying point. Alongside the two, our Shepherd and his Mother, we go forward. Personally, I believe that something exciting is about to happen. And I believe that it is time for a new time of evangelisation. It is the time for a New Pentecost. That remains a matter for discernment.

Day 39: May 4

The opinion of everyone and everywhere is one and the same: never in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined anything like the Coronavirus pandemic and its consequences for every aspect of human life, emotionally, morally, spiritually, societally, economically, nationally and internationally. The world has truly become a village, and it is in turmoil. It is like watching a science-fiction movie, but this is not fiction. It is real. The social order and socio-economic domain are rattled. No where is there enough money to cope with the voracious demands to step up efforts to contain the spread of the virus. Our own society is being exposed in its ongoing weakness in the health, legal and educational sector. But who would have thought that food will be the immediate priority? We have a severe crisis on our hands.

If this time is so unique, then surely something very important is happening to us and our planet. Can we attempt to ask the question: is there a purpose with it? Interestingly enough, some more fundamental questions and issues are being raised now more than ever  before. We are forced to change the way we think before we change the way we live. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Inc,  is much quoted in this regard. The purpose of life, he says, is inner happiness, not material wealth. Lying on his deathbed, he gained insight into the real purpose of life. It is the move from surface into depth, from material joy to inner happiness. Basically, the time between birth and death is the time to love and be loved. He names the six best doctors: sunshine, rest, exercise, diet, self-confidence and friends. He died at the age of 56, with a net worth was US$ 7 billion.

This time is making us become philosophical about the way we do things. We are forced to unlearn the way we have functioned to focus differently. Yes, one is forced to concede, that it has brought out the uglier sides in human nature. Also, that is no surprise. Virtue thrives where there is vice; vice is more easily recognisable where virtue is required. Heroes are born where there is danger.

I cannot but help sense all the time that something special is about to happen, to me and to our parish. The signs are there but we must see and act upon them. To start with, as I have indicated, it must first come down to a particular way of thinking about time. It is biblical thinking. Negatively speaking, biblical time is different from secular time. Secular time is the sequence of events, year after year, month after month, day after day. Biblical time interlocks past, presence and future. And, therefore, Scripture can see what is happening today against the background of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Jesus be born from the house of David. That is why the Apostles preach the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus as happening now in the lives of people. That is why they could speak of Jesus coming again. This is Hebrew thinking, which made former Israeli State President Weisman once say, “When six million Jews were killed, I am there.”

I must begin again with Old Testament thinking. Old Testament time thinking is not our broad time. Rather, it is the very specific moment or period.

It is that specific moment or period! I am more concerned first to see how the Bible handles the different periods of time, those important time slots we all have. And I am overwhelmed by the wisdom because it is so applicable to every life. My biography consists in such time slots as God’s time. And, therefore, I need to write that in full:

“There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens. A time to be born, and a time to do; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill (to be sick) and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them. A time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces. A time to seek, and a time to lose. A time to time to keep and a time to cast away. A time to rend and a time to sew. A time to be silent and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate. A time of war, and a time of peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8) No book is more concerned with the inner happiness of people than the Bible. I don’t find my life in every period mentioned, but I am there in some of them.

But what about that single God-incident, that unique God’s time moment? Yes, I see that, too. It is every time there was a turning point in my life inspired by the Holy Spirit. A moment of change of person and direction, decision and, very especially, risk-taking, a moment to say thank you and sorry. All these moments! Add them up and they are a breath-taking kaleidoscope of colours, sounds and smells, a panorama of images, soul landscapes of beautiful people and a melody of life. It is of God’s wisdom, splendour and power. And that all packed together in one single life of me and every single person.  And the moments of sin and failure, despair, sickness and doubt are there, too. Many questions are waiting to be answered. Faith must still grow, and love increase. God can write straight on crooked lines.

However, it is not just these moments. Some of them became turning points in my life. Such an important turning point was my decision to leave the community of the Schoenstatt Fathers. The superiors had made the decision to withdraw its presence in South Africa after 48 years. We, the individual Fathers, had to choose a branch elsewhere to join or leave the community. Having been away from South Africa for now 19 years I wanted to come back to touch base with my roots. And I made the decision to stay. It was not in the first instance an emotional decision. It was what I believed to be God’s will for me, which demanded a leap in faith. The community of the Schoenstatt Fathers meant everything to me. I cherish community life with its multiple forms of exchange and mutual inspiration. I love and still miss my course brothers, with whom I started way back in 1977. Now the curtain came down on that part of my life causing much pain. And never would I have guessed what inner turmoil and trauma it was going to be for me. For the first time in my priestly life I was going to be on my own. That decision was a leap in faith that this was what God wanted. I know that the Schoenstatt Fathers gave me the best formation for the time ahead.

My appointment to Atlantis proved to be a masterstroke of God. And subsequently the move to Bothasig, which was a single, unique move of God. And God showed me how right that decision was. I remember the conversation with the Archbishop who informed me of his decision. Bothasig, I thought. Now where is that? It was on my birthday in Atlantis that I received confirmation and God must have had a chuckle moment. A lady came after Holy Mass in the sacristy. We had at the best of times a hot and cold relationship and quite frosty or heated. There she was and apologised for her part of the problem. How gracious! Then she handed me a little crucifix, the cross, which Pope Francis wears – the Good Shepherd carrying his sheep over the shoulder. I smiled. Bothasig – Good Shepherd. Divine confirmation. I had already accepted the decision of the Archbishop as God’s will for me. But then God Himself came with the courtesy and gentleness to show me that it is true – His will. I thought He had a bit of fun with me. Wholeheartedly accepted with the spice of Divine Humour. God’s appointment. What can be more consoling and inspiring than knowing with such certainty that the timing of God is perfect.

There is another side to time as kairos. Of course, secular time is essential (I get lots of presents on my birthday!), but it does not give meaning. Lessons can be learned but the deeper search for purpose in life is not the task of secular clockwork time. Can we take command of time? Yes, we can. That is what time management is all about: I take charge and impose my will on time. (I remember one boys camp I once was part of. The first thing we did was the change the time. Everyone put his watch 1hour and 17 minutes forward. Try to work out the real time after that! Impossible. It gave us a different sense of time. Time was now at our disposal to be shaped and sculptured.

But the meaning or purpose of time? And that is exactly the reason why I am anxious to tell everyone – this is special, unique time. It is biblical time; it is in the Bible called kairos. Kairos is God’s time. God acts into the world and makes His will known to us in the way He reveals Himself. And He does it in such a way that we can discern His presence and will. God always speaks in such a way that we can understand Him. It happens through faith, guided by the Holy Spirit. We know the purpose for all time: it is Jesus Christ, Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. (Revelation 22: 13). It is the universal vision of time. The present time goes to the past to ignite its torch, which it hands over to the future, Good Shepherd and Lamb of God, who gathers all persons and nations from all the ends of the earth through the Holy Spirit in one victorious pilgrimage back to the Father. That is time as God’s time: now and going to the end. Our time is linked to that purpose. In other words, whatever happens now, that is part of that victorious pilgrimage. Every moment of life is God’s appointed time – it is kairos. For that to work, it has to be a way of thinking. It has to become my philosophy. Then, however, in faith I must know that God has a plan for me, which must be carefully and prayerfully discerned from the very circumstances, under which I am living right now and going forward. They are, in other words, in the context of my life – past, present and future. It sounds very complicated. But I can keep it simple. It is, for example, obvious that God wants me, Ivanhoe, to slow down, take time out for me, shift the focus to more time for prayer and reflection. That is so obvious, but it can only be effective if I actually see that as God’s will and if I embrace it as such. Then it is sacred moments, it is God’s time, kairos. In other words, use common sense first, and accept the usually obvious and evident as God’s plan. And then obey. There are two other possibilities: rebellion, meaning I don’t want to accept and do as I like. The other one is fate, meaning that I am just putting the hands in my lap and passively accepting the outcome whatever it may be.

The approach of the Christian is this: you can be creative by aligning yourself to God’s will and plan. Then, and only then, are you in the religious sense a creative collaborator of God. Only then do I creatively and innovatively take part in the God-shaping of the course of events. That can happen in small things, it can happen in major things. As I recognise again: my time well and purposefully spent is the willing, free and loving submission to God’s will. And the arena of such interaction is everyday life, to start with. If I cook, I do it for the Lord, if I clean, I do for the Lord. St Ignatius of Loyola said: “Do as though everything depended on you; and do everything as though nothing depended on you.” Or as St Paul in Colossians 3: 23-24: “Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being. Do it for the Lord rather than for men, since you know full well you will receive an inheritance from him as your reward.” The thinking becomes attitude. The thinking goes as far as to recognise that the Lord has given each one of us potential. Potential a reservoir full of possibilities waiting to be explored and expressed. Again, it is not something unusual. Usually we know what we are good at. Yes, we are different with widely different potential. St Therese of the Child Jesus has the following to say about this phenomenon: “Everyone receives a different size glass, some small, others medium, others large. But every glass is full.

Thinking must become attitude. St Paul says: “We have gifts that differ according to the favour bestowed on each of us. One’s gift may be prophecy; its use should be in proportion to his faith. It may be the gift of ministry; it should be used for service. One who is a teacher should use his gift for teaching; one with the power of exhortation should exhort. We who gives alms should do so generously; he who rules should exercise his authority with care; he who performs works of mercy should do so cheerfully.” (Letter to the Romans 12: 6-8) This must increase the belief that I absolutely am the apple of God’s eye. That it is of me that Psalm 2 writes: “You are my son (daughter). Today I have begotten you.” A new time begins – in God’s time. This is the real quality time, because I am filling it with the doing God’s will.

I feel blessed in this time. The Holy Spirit is my retreat master and spiritual director. This is God’s special time with me. And all in God’s time, I am praying, “Lord, what do You want of us.” That we will do.

More significantly, I have a simmering excitement that this is a unique time for Good Shepherd Catholic Church. But what is it? Usually we should be in a prayerful dialogue with the Parish Pastoral Council and parishioners about it. Or must I take the lead and first show the obvious Divine Gestures indicating God’s will. God’s will is for me and the parish never general. It is very specific. God is walking among us. And we have to find His footprints. And that is the challenge right now, taking up God’s footprint in the sand.  It beginnings with a new way of thinking, leading to new attitudes. The one to lead me and the parish: Come, Holy Spirit.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 8 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 38: May 3

My question to the Holy Spirit. Who is she? I meant Mary of Nazareth. Answer: “My favourite”. What makes her so special. Answer: She is the Mother of God because the child in her was born of me and the power of the Most High. That is the reason why he is called Son of God. That is also the one and most important reason why she deserves the attention she is getting. And what, I continue to ask, made it possible for you to single her out for such high honours? Answer: Anawim (the poor in spirit). The day turned out to be totally different from what I had anticipated. I kind of prepared myself and made some notes. And now? I just write spontaneously. What is the Holy Spirit going to show me about “the favourite” in my life. And I want to know how. The answer is simple. Tell your story.

This is an important topic, very close to my heart. We had a picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour in our home. There wasn’t much Marian devotion in our family. There was a time, though, when we prayed the Holy Rosary. I do remember the luminous plastic one which glowed in the dark. Somewhere and somehow, I started praying the Rosary, mainly also to kill the time on the way to UWC as I was waiting for the bus to arrive. We went to live in the Redemptorist parish of Bergvliet where I became very fond of the Novena on Thursday evening. I was also motivated to go to see a lovely girl who totally ignored me! I was too shy, anyway, to make a move. And she was the star of the youth of the parish with such a melodious voice. My relationship with Mary changed when I got to know the Schoenstatt Movement, which has a Marian spirituality. The purpose is to conduct a life close to Jesus through the attachment to his Mother. The practice was so practical and very motivational – dedicate your day to Mary and ask her to help others if she so wished. She has ever since been the centre of my spiritual striving. I accredit her with many things in my life, including reaching the final moment of ordination to the priesthood.

Mary is to me the way I got to know her in Schoenstatt: Mother and Educator. As Mother she is actively involved through intercession in my life. I consecrated myself to her and later crowned her the Queen of my life. I wish everyone could have Mary in their lives. Through her I grew into a more personal relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The key person I followed in this regard was Fr Joseph Kentenich (1885-1965), the priest who really owed everything in life to Mary. I vividly remember my time of preparation for the consecration or the Covenant of Love, as it is popularly known in Schoenstatt. I still don’t know why they accepted me to join the Schoenstatt Fathers. I was rather new to Schoenstatt and had not made the Covenant of Love, which was a requirement to be a member and, thereby, eligible to apply to the seminary. I was rather new to Schoenstatt. So here I was in Germany doing my preparation. A senior student was assigned to help me. He meant well but could not do much because we had to communicate by mail. He wrote these long, complicated letters about the theology of the Covenant, which were more unhelpful than anything else. In fact, it confused me to get the impression that I was about to undertake a highly complicated step. I was in Schoenstatt itself at the time, having completed my first stage of studies. He was at university in Muenster. I had the habit of going to the tomb of Fr Kentenich every day, from one mountain to the next, which is in the Adoration Church. I was always drawn to go there and spent a lot of time in prayer. My consecration day was approaching fast and I still had the impression that something was amiss. I just could not find the key. Then one day, as I sat at the tomb of the father and founder, the penny dropped. He was taking me by the hand and leading me to the Mother. That appeared in my mind: the father taking me by the hand to the Mother. I was overjoyed but it also showed that I was in a much deeper relationship with the father and founder. That, to me, was what my consecration was about: finding the Mother through the father. And she became my Mother, too, on April 18. The title “Mother Thrice Admirable” became more and more like a battle-cry. And how comforting are the words on the light frame of the picture in the Shrine: Servus Mariae numquam peribit. (A servant of Mary will never perish). (When I returned home after some time overseas, I found that both my parents were praying the Rosary. Especially my mom surprised me because she actually joined a really nice Rosary group. I can still see her every morning at the dining room table with her prayer book and the Rosary.) For my consecration I made my own prayer. The conclusion of the prayer is: “I include the promise to crown you at the fulfilment of my vocation.” She took this more seriously than I; she wanted that crown.

Wherever I went, there was the Schoenstatt Shrine. I was blessed that for the first 18 months I stayed right next to the Shrine where I spent lots of hours. That was my true home.

Looking back today, that is from this day, I can see inner lines of development that I have to pick up again. I realise today how I grew up rather lonely though I would never have said it then. I was happy at home. But deep at the bottom of my soul there was always a sense of aloneness. My soul was a fortified castle without entrance or exit. Little did I realise how disconnected I had become from my own parents. In this is where Mary’s educational work did wonders. I wrote a letter one day to my mom to apologise for the unfairness in my thoughts about her. That was what the experience of Mary’s motherhood gave me. I did also later realise how disconnected I had become from my father, though we never had any conflict. Right through my years of growing up we never interacted about anything personal in my life. And I was ok with that. My world of school and studies was miles apart from them. And that was ok. After all, I had opportunity. When we did interact, it was me informing them about important decisions. Yes, I was always respectful, obedient, informing about my coming and going and asking for permission where required.

 Mary showed me something miraculous one day. And this is what happened on that day. We, that is the novices of the Schoenstatt Fathers, went for the first month of noviciate to a little town called Endel. Endel has its own Shrine. It is so far north, that it is almost on the same altitude with the northern border of Scotland. And that means that we had sunrise as early as 3am and sunset around 10.30am. To me that was a beautiful experience and I enjoyed it after the long, dreary Winter. I enjoyed the light of the North. One morning, May 14 to be exact, I woke up around 4am; it was as if I was woken up for this time. I went to the shower on the passage, came back and found this little card with the picture of a little blond girl and an inscription. I could never find out who put it there. Sadly, I lost the card which I kept all the years. Whatever it was, I cannot tell what suddenly touched me. I just had that overwhelming sense of being a child. And that was all that mattered. Child of the Father! On May 26 1978 I captured that experience in a prayer under the title “n Groot Kind van Vader God”. In it I gave expression to all that I was going through with this new moment of grace – being called by name, free, carefree, being found, being formed by the Father, being soothed, sobbing in His presence, being hurt by the discipline of the Father. It was a life-changing moment. I also realised that it did not matter if I became a priest or not, as long as I have this moment in my life. That was more precious to me than anything else in the world. And that is why I can say with personal conviction: Mary leads me to God the Father. The concluding line of the prayer is: “Hy is my Vader, Wie oor die horison uitstaar.”

A critical year was my internship back in Cape Town. Those were the years that one returned home only for internship. I left Cape Town in December 1976 aged 21 years, very keen and open to new experiences. I returned home in January 1983. Siblings were married with children. I was a stranger to myself in this new family environment. The long time away had uprooted me. That year was tough. One of our priests was almost killed in a car accident and I had to shorten my holidays. It was a rough ride, which came to a head when I visited my brothers in Windhoek for holidays. The contact with them with their spouses and children shook me. I saw what I really loved most – family life with warmth and personal care. I decided to face this squarely and made the decision. Now or never. Either or. My mind was made up. I informed the priests that I was leaving. I informed my parents that I was leaving. Their response was refreshing. “You don’t do it for us. You have a home.” I wrote a letter to my superior. Later, in a phone conversation the priest in charge of the next three months of retreat advised me just to come and reflect on my decision in the stillness and contemplation of that time, which he himself was going to conduct. I would also have the time to pack my things to return to South Africa. (As it turned out, he did not take us. Another priest did. In our first conversation this priest, a real gem, addressed my decision to leave. He is a holy man. But the other one was available for personal conversation because he stayed in the same house writing a book. He was a true son of the father and founder of Schoenstatt and the priest in charge of the priests in Cape Town. We had built up a good, open relationship. He never tried to interfere with my decision, merely pointing out some wider perspectives. They knew about my decision, though my course brothers did not. We came back like sailors from a ship wreckage – broken and desperate. We had lost quite a few good brothers. They looked to me for leadership and asked me to take charge until we sorted ourselves out. I did, knowing that I still felt free to decide whatever I wanted. But they needed me, these men I loved as my own brothers. And they said they needed me to lead them.

But I must go back to the time before I returned to Germany. When in crisis, crown Mary, Fr Kentenich advised. On November 17 1983 I decided to write a prayer and crown Mary the Queen of my heart. In this very personal prayer, I stated: “Ek gee aan jou my wil en my verstand. Maar veral gee ek aan jou, Koningin van my hart, my hart en hele wese. Ek le in jou koninklike milde hande my hele toekoms. Wat jy vir my gee, is ek bereid om nederig te aanvaar.” I left everything in her hands and crowned her with a paper crown. The heart is the symbol on this crown. Things slowly fell into place. I had found my place again. I had distance from the trauma of the year, which had made me emotionally drained and very vulnerable. I was ok. I was her work of love and she used the sons of the father and founder to assist me.

I now clearly understand the levels of conflict becoming levels of healing. Mother-conflict? Unashamedly today, yes. Father-conflict? Also, yes. Where does it come from? I was very sensitive to the conflict between mother and father, which affected me deeply. I wanted more harmony from them and my little soul radar picked up every sign of discord. And there were times when there were many. At the age of 13 we were separated as family because of high school education, which was not available in the area to Coloured children. My parents had made the decision to send us to Cape Town. When four of us had to be there, my mother followed us to work and look after us. My dad stayed back in Stompneus Bay with the 2 younger ones and my grandfather. Much of what I did to achieve had to do with them. I wanted to make my father proud with my academic achievements at primary school. And I made my mother proud at high school with the clean sweeps at prize giving. I stood in admiration of her enormous sacrificial capacity. And there were other academic moments. Sacrifice. That I got from her. Our relationship grew from the distance when I found myself  studying and working as a priest overseas. Every Sunday evening at the appointed time I called them. They were always so excited to receive my call, which became something like the highlight of the week. I know that my dad would end a visit to a friend to meet our phone appointment. I did that for as long as my dad was alive, from 1991 until 2001,and afterwards with my mom until 2007 when she died. The highlight for us together was when I graduated with my PhD. It was my dream to bring them to Germany to attend. I saved up every cent and managed to bring them over to me. I had sympathetic assistance with accommodation and flight. But all the other accommodation and flights in Europe I covered. It was worthwhile because I could experience them from close range. They were willingly dependent on me, and I became their father, mother and carer. They relished the opportunity, having never been on another flight other than to Windhoek, or, for that matter to any other place outside of Cape Town other than Windhoek where my brothers live. We had wonderful moments in different cities of Germany. The highlights, undoubtedly, were Lourdes and Rome. My dad was emotional in Lourdes. It moved him to tears to stand at the grotto of his beloved Mother. In Rome we went all over and saw so much – on a low budget. We saw the Holy Father. My father was ecstatic. That afternoon I had to rush to our accommodation to get a car to help get home from the bus stop because he was having breathing problems. My dad’s comment later. “After that experience, God may take me.” And even now, our relationship is growing in leaps and bounds.

Mary, Mother and Educator.

My spiritual home is the Schoenstatt Shrine. There is no better place to be. There I know that Mary gives me a home, she educates me, she wants me as her instrument. And she never fails. She uses every opportunity. That is her nature as Mother. I just now recall one incident in the Shrine. As I was praying, I noticed someone approaching who had done some immense reputational damage to me. I couldn’t face him and avoided contact. He would have welcomed such avoidance, too. As I got to the car and opened the door, I saw that this as a missed opportunity. Our Lady wanted me to go to him. I went back to the Shrine and as he turned around, said to him, mentioning his name. “It is ok. I forgive you.” He tried to do some small talk, which I tolerated for a moment until he finished, and left I felt at peace.

 I was not always as loyal as she was, not always as obedient to her. I made mistakes along the way which she corrected. She showed me the truth in seeing the wisdom of Fr Kentenich who said: “See on the forehead of every woman a crown of Mary.” You can’t go wrong with such advice. I enjoy taking parishioners to the Shrine. There they are in good care.

Anawim! The one who is small and gentle before God. The one who is on the side of the underprivileged and place their trust in God. Anawim spirit, most perfectly expressed in the words of Mary: “I am the handmaid of the Lord.” She is the favourite of the Holy Spirit.

The Anawim Mother and Anawim Educator takes perfect care to make me an anawim son. Totally available to Jesus Christ, her Son and High Priest. She must be the favourite of the Holy Spirit whose assistance and intervention she employs so wisely to intercede for the right graces at the right time. Every spiritual experience, no matter how real, must be anchored in a natural experience to find its way into the soul, right into the depths of the layers of the soul, in the subconsciousness. Then only is healing total and the grace emotionally active. That is why today it happened as I was writing. I was led to find my anawim parents. Towards the end of their lives, pained by suffering both physical and emotional, they prayed. They had become beggars of God. These anawim are the best covenant partners of God and stand under His special care. Anawim spirit is child spirit, in which life stretches its trajectory more and more to the other side – the kingdom of God (Matthew 18: 3), where “He (God) shall wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain, for the former world has passed away.” (Revelation 21: 4) I feel good to be your son. May WE all rest in peace.

Well, Mary. My favourite, too.

Fr Ivanhoe May 7 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 36: May 1

It is an open day. Let me see what the “Master Educator” (Fr Joseph Kentenich) is going to do today with me. I quite like the title “Master Educator” because it so accurately and creatively describes the Holy Spirit the way Jesus describes it: The Holy Spirit will show you the truth. And how generously and thoroughly that happens. The grace of God does nothing but educates, forms and transforms until Jesus arrives in person and mission of each one of us. Everything about this great companion of the soul is that is so thoroughly personal and direct. The result is that I find not some kind of truth, but my truth with intuitive certainty. In other words, it simply is so! It brings out the proverbial files, photos and images. It combines and associates, it opens closed spaces with precisions. The Holy Spirit does also much more than that. It re-calibrates the soul to open more and more. It is, as Fr Kentenich prays, “the soul of my soul”.

Today, however, is going to be “A day in the life of a parish priest”. Not quite typical, nevertheless a day, with a few recurring elements. And so, it is over to the grandmaster of all education.

Ever since I have been discharged from hospital, I have a massive sleeping disorder. This begins in hospital and continues at home. The reason is the battery of drugs I have to take to stave off the asthma and prevent a relapse. With little bit more than one liter of oxygen intake, I can go home. The sleeping disorder: night is just the extension of daytime. After a little bit than more than 3 hours so sleep, it is the end. Day encroaches upon night. Yes, I remember the words of my father that his children don’t have a “lui haar op hulle kop” (no lazy hair on the head. Tell me where they have all gone.) I get up – eagerly to begin the day. It is again going to be with bleary eyes. A good cup of coffee, then what women reportedly do so well:  – multi-tasking. The washing goes into the washing machine; the lunch gets sorted out, which will take a quick visit to the supermarket. I am ready for prayers and the day, which will be in fullswing with the Archbishop in a zooming session at 10am. Another new experience.

The shopping experience was very good – no queues at all. I don’t look for things, I ask the workers in the aisles. One dear lady is sitting on a crate packing the bottom shelf. I ask for directions; she tells me to go the corner, where it is. With the arm she points to the corner. Had I followed her arm my head would have hit the ceiling. I can see her tiredness. They opened at 7am; she, too, has family, and presumably so much more on her plate. In another aisle, I meet a smiling face, i.e. behind a mask. “Father, I am C, the mother of E”, she says. Of course, I know her. She is a parishioner. We chatted for a moment. Go anywhere, I am bound to find a parishioner and the conversation is always good. I look at something on the shelf. I would love it. No, a little voice says. I hear the voices of parishioners saying, “Go for it. Spoil yourself a little.” I took it. Nice to spoil yourself. In future I must listen more often to my parishioners. I quickly go to pay the DStv. I know that I was too late yesterday to change the already smallish package. I haven’t even gone to the lounge, let alone turn on the TV since back from hospital. It doesn’t warrant DStv. And there is such a thing as solidarity with the poor. Next time, I will do it. I get home. Now it is time for breakfast. Multi-tasking. While the water is boiling, I get the washing from the laundry. O horror of horrors! I forgot a full packet of tissues in the pocket of the trousers. What greet me was damp laundry full of strips of white paper. This is going to be fun! I can’t put the machine on again. Well, all the washing into the basket and to the washing line. The solution was simple – just shake out the tissue paper. And it worked. The result, though? My small garden looked like a snow landscape. All over, like snow, white strips. The little undying macho in me says, “At least it is not pink.” Then a sigh of relief, finally breakfast. I unpack all the tablets, in total about 23. Now I know that I do have problem, all of them for just one ailment with some trying to balance the side-effects of the other. I once jokingly said to the doctor: “You are poisoning me healthy”. Only then it was true, as it is probably now. Then he said, “I have to give you so much cortisone, it is taking you to the toxic level.” I requested to hear the side-effects. Well, if nothing else was going to do the trick, why not just get on with it. But I also knew, this is definitely not the long-term solution. Then off to the pharmacy to get extra medication. There, no surprise, I recognize a parishioner. A really nice man. He bends forward a little bit, rushing as though walking against a mini gale force. Shopping is not for the fainthearted. I smile, wave. He just stared. Then we meet next to each other. Hold your distance! I greet and he recognizes me my voice. Breaking into a huge smile he says, “Father, you look like a robber.” So that is the formula? Priest plus lockdown plus mask, and the outcome is a robber. Simple stuff, easy. Inside the pharmacy madam has a mask dangling from her ear. I thought Cyril Ramaphosa demonstrated how to put one on. Well, he did it his way, and it was amusing. She assists. I feel that I had to say something. After a few moments I clear my clean throat and as politely as possible say: “Excuse me, don’t you wear your mask?” She apologizes and explains that she has just had a piece of chocolate and  to replace the mask. Fair enough, life is like a box of chocolates, anyway. And she is one of the sweet ones. But my voice, too much apparently controlled irritation, a little bit of sarcasm. That was uncalled for, I thought on the way home. On the way back, I was thinking of some people whom I know who are falling through the cracks of the charity network. I must call them. The housekeeper calls and wants to come to work. I say no, it is too risky on the taxi, but I understand her frustration with no radio and no TV. Just one month prior to the State of Disaster someone unscrupulously (who would do it in a scrupulous way. It was forced entry.) broke into her humble dwelling and took the TV. It was her pride and joy, the first TV ever. Now gone; with two young adults sharing the place with her. She has to stay at home, for the sake of both of us. Sanity for the mind! Constant vigilance is needed; much easier is sanitizer for the hands. At home – multi-tasking! Prepare everything in little dishes and fast cooking. Preparation time 25 minutes, cooking time 20 minutes, eating time 15 minutes.

After the meeting it is time to get the systems going for Holy Rosary at 3pm. Madam Technologia is patience in person. Alas, we struggle at start at 3.30pm. Logically she worked her way to a solution.

Then it was time to write, prepare the sermon and get the Church ready for Good Shepherd Sunday, our day! The writing of the newsletter article only finishes around 9pm. Beforehand a phone call from a worried wife about a husband who is due for major surgery. I gave her the blessing and called him to give the blessing. A phone call from a daughter who is worried about her mom. I call her and give the much-appreciated blessing.

Lastly, I tally the Hail Marys. The cooperation of parishioners humbles me.

Just a last phone call to my boy for the ritual of the Father and child blessing. “God bless you, Joshua, (God bless you, Daddy); I love you, Joshua (I love you, Daddy) Good night, Joshua (Good night, Daddy).

Time for prayers and good night. So, Master of Education. Lesson taken. One of my favourite country Western songs always comes back to tell me: Ned Miller (1965) “Do what you do do well boy. Do what you do do well. Give your love, and all your heart. Do what you do do well.” That was his “simple philosophy” as the song says. Or, Fr Kentenich even better: “Do the ordinary things in an extraordinary way.” That happens where there is the spirit of love and sacrifice. Without grumbling. And best of all: dedicate it as prayer for someone. That’s it for today.

As the hymn fittingly brings down the curtain for the day:

“Day is done, but love unfailing

Dwells ever here.

Shadows fall, but hope prevailing,

Calms ev’ry fear

Loving Father, none forsaking

Take our hearts, of love’s own making,

Watch our sleeping, guard our waking,

Be always near.” James J Quinn (1969)

Fr Ivanhoe Allies May 1 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 35: April 30

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen (St Augustine’s Prayer to the Holy Spirit)

It was going to be totally different today because I thought last night that I had received an inspirational moment for today. Instead, here I am reflecting on the death of two women, Desiree, my sister, and Jane, my brother’s sister. Today Desiree would have had her birthday on earth. Instead… And so that leaves me to do the gathering under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Both were oxygen tanks, supplying breath to others, all the time, until all the oxygen was spent – the one on a parkrun, in nature. The other one in the privacy of her bathroom. The one, Jane, characteristically saying, “You go on, get to the clubhouse”, the other one without any word. She had already said everything by her actions: up at around 4.30 am every morning to get things ready for the family, especially the son who had to be sent off to work. Both were found by their youngest. The mother tank was empty, possibly running low for a very long time. The setting had to be right. I remember Desiree, serenely in bed. She was anointed by the Holy Spirit, wrapped in total stillness. The Holy Spirit gave her the last rites. Both were sisters, mothers, friends and confidantes. Mothers to their own mothers. Both could organise your life before even you could see it coming. Both had the gift of compassion. Giving and reminding to give. Ask others, ask the beggar, ask relatives and friends. Friendship! They breathed it. Both were indomitably pragmatic. To give is to get your hands dirty where your heart is. All these people will sing the symphony, which they were to them. They better have enough oxygen in them. Both just interested to make life easier for others – oxygen in their tanks. Was their last breath enough oxygen in us to take us to the clubhouse? The oxygen continues as aspiring memories. May they be with us on the wings of the wind. “Dear Sisters, you can’t leave it. Nothing will stop you from breathing on us”. Born, and died to give life.

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen (St Augustine’s Prayer to the Holy Spirit)

It was going to be totally different today because I thought last night that I had received an inspirational moment for today. Instead, here I am reflecting on the death of two women, Desiree, my sister, and Jane, my brother’s sister. Today Desiree would have had her birthday on earth. Instead… And so that leaves me to do the gathering under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Both were oxygen tanks, supplying breath to others, all the time, until all the oxygen was spent – the one on a parkrun, in nature. The other one in the privacy of her bathroom. The one, Jane, characteristically saying, “You go on, get to the clubhouse”, the other one without any word. She had already said everything by her actions: up at around 4.30 am every morning to get things ready for the family, especially the son who had to be sent off to work. Both were found by their youngest. The mother tank was empty, possibly running low for a very long time. The setting had to be right. I remember Desiree, serenely in bed. She was anointed by the Holy Spirit, wrapped in total stillness. The Holy Spirit gave her the last rites. Both were sisters, mothers, friends and confidantes. Mothers to their own mothers. Both could organise your life before even you could see it coming. Both had the gift of compassion. Giving and reminding to give. Ask others, ask the beggar, ask relatives and friends. Friendship! They breathed it. Both were indomitably pragmatic. To give is to get your hands dirty where your heart is. All these people will sing the symphony, which they were to them. They better have enough oxygen in them. Both just interested to make life easier for others – oxygen in their tanks. Was their last breath enough oxygen in us to take us to the clubhouse? The oxygen continues as aspiring memories. May they be with us on the wings of the wind. “Dear Sisters, you can’t leave it. Nothing will stop you from breathing on us”. Born, and died to give life.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 30 2020 (Hospital)

Day 34: April 29

Today it is as if the Holy Spirit said to me. Let us go for a stroll. Going for one on one walks to talk with a fellow student became normal for me and us during our student days. One would just invite someone and talk. Those were always very deep conversations. The best of these were with my Argentinian friend and course brother, Fr Juan Jose Riba. We struck a chord each other and spoke about deep things. Juan Jose was a prayerful man with the fiery passion of St Paul. He had the faith of a child and the energy of a horse. He played football as if his life depended on it. I felt sorry for the football when he kicked it. I believe the passion in him was the cause of his massive stroke. He had to learn that the slow way is the best way for him. These walks became a paradigm of life for me. They were encounters of mystery between us. Sometimes it was like confessions. We never held back to praise, thank or correct – all straight from the hip. Life is to walk with someone like Juan Jose. All life is mystery, in the original sense. Not a riddle nor a puzzle. It is more the way St Augustine compares it to a tapestry. He says the side visible to me is the back piece. I see the knots and cut off threads. I see the image, yet not in its full beauty. That is visible to God alone. One day, in what we call the beatific vision, I will see me as I am. That to me, is the mystery of my life. This mystery encounters me in varying ways. It happens when I am overcome with awe and would rather flee than hold my ground, almost like Moses meeting God in the burning bush. My mystery is Sunday morning when I enter Church in procession. As I step into the Church and see the people, I am overcome with awe. All these people here, they are here to worship the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are to me enough proof that God is in my midst. All life is mystery. All life is sacred. When I look at my parishioners from my chair at the altar, I do shudder sometimes. I almost want to delay the opening of Holy Mass. Thank God for liturgy to ritualise the experience of the moment.

It simply is an indisputable fact. We have in our nature the urge for God – the religious urge. If we don’t find Him, we will find a replacement for Him. The urge is irrepressible and, once found, makes the difference. Despots, dictators and tyrants fear this and find it an intolerable challenge to their claim to absolute power. William Golding, Lord of the Flies gives insight into how a group of young school learners slowly create their god, an idol on the mountain. It justifies their way of life as if from there they get the mandate to live the way they do. And that, in spite of all the values they received from school, which were thrown overboard. People search everywhere. My heart is the search organ for God. As St Augustine says in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” I will forever be staring into wastelands until I find God in me and around me.

That mystery is Jesus Christ from the beginning (John 1). It has become flesh and dwelt among us. It is presence of the mystery of God – sacrament, God sharing Himself with us, God in eternal dialogue with us, speaking Himself to us in the world. And the sacrament, Jesus Christ, is sacrament in the Church. What tremendous grace! Seven ways to encounter the mystery!

The mystery that is the sacrament creates its own culture called the sacramentals. Holy Water, candles, novenas, prayers, Stations of the Cross, the Holy Rosary, the scapular, pilgrimages and many other forms of popular piety. When I take Holy Water and bless me, I renew my baptism. When I light a candle, it reminds me of Jesus consuming itself and when I pray for someone, it is in the solidarity in the one Body of Christ, the Church. When I pray the Stations of the Cross, I accompany Jesus on the way to Calvary. When I pray the Holy Rosary, I meditate with Mary on the life of Jesus.

Sacramentals are not about themselves. They refer to the sacrament and the mystery. Many of them are experiences from nature. I remember the day driving into Atlantis. It had rained the day before. There they were, 18 in total, standing in a row with the last ones on top of a bale of hay – Cape Blue cranes. Majesty and poise! ““How great thou art”!” I enjoyed the colours outside of Atlantis, changing with the seasons: brown to green to wheat gold (what a fascinating colour), against the deep blue sky. I remember the dogs that waited each time for me to arrive from my day-off and stay with me until the following Sunday afternoon. Each time they came to me before they died, limping to my house to die with me. Such wonder.H “How great thou art”! When I observed the dung beetle with the manure ball, untiringly rolling and rolling. Or the sugar bird with the most beautiful plumage. Breath-taking. “How great thou art”. Or a few evenings in Constantia Parish in my office, all quiet. The sound of a bird in the night, a nightingale. “How great thou art”. The swallow, which returned year after year at the beginning of Spring from the Northern Hemisphere to the same lamp in the same passage of the boilers to make its nest. O Divine Wisdom! The Protea! Beauty incarnate. “How great thou art.”

I think of individual moments, which became sacramental to me. They are moments of enlightenment. They showed me the mystery of God in my life. There is Oma Maria Overhaus from Germany. She died at the age of 99. Oma slept with her window open, Summer and Winter, even with temperatures below zero. Whenever she saw me, she would say, “Ivanhoe, der Lieblingsjuenger Jesu.” (“Ivanhoe, beloved disciple of Jesus.”) What did she see? I never told her that my Confirmation saint is indeed St John the beloved disciple of Jesus. I know someone who has Divine Logic in her when she said, “Greatness through gentleness.” That is the wisdom to renew the world and make it a better place – everyone with greatness. “How great thou art.” Another moment of enlightenment, standing out like the windmill in the dry Summer heat of the West Coast, happened on the 4km long pedestrian zone of Copenhagen in September 1984. A seminarian and I used the last opportunity to go on holiday. We did this by ship, bicycle and train. We decided to go to Scandinavia because it was the cheapest on offer. Well, on this particular sunny day, in the throng of thousands and thousands of people we were just bleep on the radar. Then suddenly a teenage girl turned around to me and smilingly said, “Black is beautiful!” She rushed on. Now, where did that come from?! It was a seminal moment! I travelled thousands and thousands of kilometres to get the message. “Angel of God.” It became bread for ever. Later during the annual retreat, I found a word, which became one of my favourite Scripture verses because it contains everything I am. I read from an encyclical by Pope John II, 1 Corinthians 15: 10, “I am what I am by the grace of God.” Today I can see the connection with that Copenhagen moment. Black, red, white, yellow, brown. I am, we are what we are by the grace of God. And we are all beautiful but in a particular way – the way we are. “When I in awesome wonder”! When I was in Australia I did not go out of my way to meet South Africans. That was not my mission. I was there to work with whomever God sent me. Nor did I ever speak much about South Africa and only when asked. One day, completely out of nowhere, a woman came to me and said, “Father, I want to love you for all the pain you endured in your life.” I instinctively what she meant though we never spoke about South Africa or my personal life, for that matter. I never liked doing it. As I began to observe her, I knew that she had mastered the art of love. Her English was quirky, but she could laugh about it because she saw and spoke with the heart. She taught me so much about love as I observed her. May she rest in peace. She knew that love heals and restores dignity. “O unfathomable love.” She loved until it hurt. She had the voice of warmth incarnate when she laughed (which sounded like bells), she spoke or sang. Children, youth, the old and sick, young couples and people from all nationalities wanted to be her.  She could laugh and cry. She loved God and “la Mater” (“the mother” as she called Mary). Then there is this tiny woman, never aging. She is not going to die. One day she will just close her eyes and fall asleep with the name of Mary and Jesus and Fr Kentenich and her husband on her lips. “O unfathomable love.” She is goodness. There is this man who cannot walk straight and looks neglected. When I saw his sunburnt skin and face, my first inclination is to say, “That is how imagine Jesus had he become old.” “It is accomplished.” And woman and child. To be man is to make serve woman and child. I cannot be redeemed without woman. No man can be. And to appreciate that, I have to become child. Jesus, child of Mary. “Nos cum prole pia, benedicat Virgo Maria.” (“Mary with your loving Son, bless us each and everyone.”)

Or the couple who defied a racial system, which found human love across the colour divide its biggest threat to pure race. They reminded me of the blade of green grass, which explodes through the concrete base. Mystery of irrepressible love! “O Love Divine”. Or the first Spring flowers. “Majesty. All glory, honour and praise!” Or the ocean – vastness! Majesty! I remember the Muslim colleague of a man, to whom I was bringing Holy Communion. As he entered the bedroom, he took off his shoes. When he left, I asked, “Why did he do that?” The prompt answer, “Because of you”. O Divine Presence! (With reverence before each other we can make the world a better place.) There are the children with special needs at Emmanuel Centre Day Care Centre. They are so spontaneous, so giving of love. I wish I could be there more often. It is a reality check. Fr Joseph Kentenich declared us “Lap children of the Father”, especially if it is a child with special needs. That is me; that is all of us. “This is my beloved Son.” You are my beloved! There is that boy who gave me the greatest gift and title of all: Daddy. Grace so undeserved. “Amazing Grace, how sweet a song.” There are the friends in a group called Lebenskreis 7 (Life circle 7), which I joined in 1980. Our mascot was a teddy bear, which they passed from one to the other. Two of them travelled to my ordination on December 12 1987. I lost contact, and they found me again. One of them came to visit me with his daughter. No pressure to send messages or query my silence. I feel their presence. They are just there. Each one has a little stone teddy bear. The real one absconded but was found recently. Once loyal, always loyal. Covenant loyalty. There is my course, Cor Patris, with whom I started my priestly training in May 1978 in Schoenstatt in Germany. We laughed, we fought, we debated, we argued, we roughed it, we played – all 21 from 10 different nations. We fell and stood up, grew and collapsed. But we held together. “Where there’s love and loving kindness, God is feign to dwell.” (Gelineau Psalms)

Someone sent a message today, which sums it up. When we breathe in and out, we say the name of God: Yahwe. He is our first and our last breath. Jason Gray, The sound of breathing, sings this so inspiringly.

God saturates my life with His presence. I am truly spoiled. Call me “spoilt brat”. I take that as a title of honour: Spoilt Brat of God. And it continues today.

I have seen so many people and been to so many places. The outcome? The world has become to me a B and B.

I am God’s beggar. I am in His cycle of endless love and mercy.

One day I shall see Him as He truly is. That is my hope. Then, well then:

He will put His finger on my nose and say, “child”.

And I will put my finger on His nose and say, “Abba, Father”.

I found my place in the great cosmos, and right here.

And I will hope for the day when my boy will join me. Heaven would be incomplete without him.

And I hope for the day to praise and thank God with all those through whom He spoilt me. Heaven would be incomplete without them.

And I hope to be united with my entire family. Heaven would be incomplete without them.

And I hope that the work to overcome poverty may prevail.

Spoilt Brat of the Father. I am beginning to like my title.

And two fathers (Fr Joseph Kentenich and Dera) and two mothers (Mother Mary and Mamma) will smilingly be looking on.

And together there will be the great celestial choir singing to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”

All life is mystery, is sacrament, is sacramental. It is liturgy.

Day 33: April 28

The Holy Spirit took me by the hand today into the vault of my soul, but much further into the locker room. The locker was opened, and out came the thickest of files.

The Coronavirus is benign, though a killer. All it says, is: “Get out of my way, and I will get out of yours.” But that is difficult because we must make the change to treat this guest with respect and resistance. We must continue to practise social distancing.

There is a virus far more lethal than the Coronavirus or, for that matter, of all viruses put together. It is stuck between the ears, nestled in the mind and directing an orchestra of cacophony. It destroys. What is it? A US American astronaut who had been on the moon was asked if he hoped to find life on Mars. His terse answer was: “I hope not. We have never dealt well with others.”

For want of a better word, I call that virus “it”. And I think I have got it right. What is it about? “It” is the virus that changes everyone and everything into objects. They become disconnected from each other, loose, disposable. And this is how I experienced it. I remember the feeling of void and emptiness in my hometown when I wondered where everything was from? I wondered how it all fitted together, and why it did not. I wondered why I can’t place myself in what I am seeing, hearing, feeling. I wondered why I wasn’t part of it. The times when I lost that sense was when we played as children, and we did that a lot. We were lost in play, and that was when things fell into place again – only to come knocking at the door once more. The experience of displacement became social once with the discovery that we made environments of “us” “them”. Why must I buy through a window, while they go inside? Why did I have to hide when the dompas police came to the mens residence where I was visiting? “It” had made its first move.

“It” – it begins with the loss of the innocence of the child. It begins with the awareness of shame and continues with the experience of being an unworthy thing, an “It”. To be unworthy is to not to belong. For the child it leads to loss of innocence and awareness of shame. I remember how as a young boy in the village I was enthralled by the dances of the Xhosa men from the Transkei. They would gather in the warehouse of the fish meal factory and perfect these powerful dances. Dressed in bits of animal skins, most of which appeared to be cowhide, the legs and arms would be going flying everywhere until they would almost collapse from exhaustion. I loved and imitated this form of dancing. Others noticed that I performed. Until one day, sitting in a circle with friends, my dad wanted me to dance for them. I looked into the circle and didn’t like what I saw. Men drinking, and I must perform. I think I did. Then I clammed up. I closed up from that day. Never ever again such embarrassment. Never let your guard down again, I decided. It is something which I overcame very late through preaching. When I was first ordained I decided to prepare all my sermons in writing, word for word. I was always well prepared. I gave myself five years of this kind of practice. After five years, another five, then more until the notes became shorter. That was when I returned one day to South African and was asked to help out with the German speaking Catholic community at Nazareth House. I there and then decided: to heck with all the written notes. Make notes but leave them at home. Trust your spontaneity, and if it doesn’t work one week, there will be another. And if people see you stumble, so what? That was a huge change, for the better.

What makes “it” so dangerous? It makes everything non-personal. It places social, moral and spiritual distances between people and reality. “It” rips apart what belongs together.  It becomes a way of life. “It” doesn’t live here, “it” lives somewhere else. “It” is imposed upon reality and the lives of people. Its domain is fantasy and ideology. Everything around me becomes material. When persons are effected with this virus they become cold. Social envy makes way for being part of the lives of others. I am an unworthy thing; so are you. The difference is that you have the power and, therefore, the last say in the matter. Remember how Cape Flats people used to have one big thrill? When the All Blacks came to town and beat the Springboks. “It” doesn’t want you to succeed, not your children. “It” gloats in your failure. “It” breeds suspicion. So terrible. “It” isolates from reality, it is fuelled by the lower passions of greed, lust, envy, which would otherwise be kept in check, modified, changed, replaced or ennobled by the greater passions of care and responsibility. “It” engages in endless comparisons, competitions and battles – all to avail. “It” is the fight for supremacy, not solidarity and social concern. The elbow and the bully. “It” creates that social pecking order, from top to bottom to create the bizarre social Darwinism of survival of the fittest. The it-ideology answers to itself. There is no such a thing as sin, only rights and wrongs. And guess who determines that?

It gets worse when the it-virus becomes the way we reject and despise ourselves. The African-American comic Chris Rock was shocked one day when his little daughter asked him: “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair.” He decided to investigate the hair industry in USA and dived into the murky waters of relaxers and hair straighteners. He visited laboratories and interviewed celebrities. They spoke about how different types and characteristics of black hair are perceived in the black community. Chris Rock made the movie “Good Hair”, released 2009. (All of them had a good toxicating drink from the dregs of the chalice of the it-virus. Some of the men confessed that they had never ever seen yet their wives with their natural hair.)

And so “it” takes a stranglehold on the immediate intimate relationships. It was sad to see how around me, mother and father included, absorbed the “philosophy of it”. Be not yourself! Make your hair straight. Despise your own body. But that is how I saw it. I remember years later, while reflecting on my relationship with my mother, I wrote a letter to her. In it I apologized for seeing her that way. She, too, needed guidance and in spite of everything, she was a model of love, loyalty and sacrifice.

The loss of security. I was a hypersensitive child. It made me sick and I suffered from a running tummy all the time. Why did I have to drink all that Milk of Magnesia? When hurt, I could sob bitterly. It was much deeper than just the physical pain. It was pain in the soul. But why? That is the reason why adults to this day cry, but without tears. My woodwork teacher had a penchant for flogging, for anything. He thought he was great. One day he came to console me because I was so uncontrollable, and I apologized to him. All I possibly did was get a line wrong on the drawing board. He never did it again. It always left me wondering: “Why does everybody hurt?” Today I know: everybody is crying. Somewhere there is a song by R.E.M. Everybody hurts.

Years ago a priest gave me a first account of the tears of the soul. It is an account of how “It” became a child. He had gone to see Fr Jospeh Kentenich, the founder of the Schoenstatt Movement. Fr Kentenich, by the sheer power of compassionate, fatherly listening could unlock the tears of the soul. This priest goes on to tell that as he recounted something about his life, the floodgates suddenly opened and he cried bitterly. He sobbed, his whole body shaking. Before he could control himself, he was wetting his pants. I looked at him. He wasn’t embarrassed in the least. In fact, his eyes were bright and his face beaming. A cathartic moment. He became the child of the father. He felt unconditional love and acceptance. That happens when “it” becomes “child”.

There is a book, which I read and helped me understand. David Zelle, It. Yes, that is the title of the book. His mother, an alcoholic, for some reason hated him, locked him up in the basement, starved him and sent him to school without any scruples of being exposed. His father was a dedicated fireman, also drinker and unable to protect his son. His mother could never get herself to call him by his first name. She called him “It”. An unworthy thing, to be scorned. He suffered from anxiety attacks, depression and was prone to suicide. Love saved him.

“It” is first a way of thinking, then everything else follows in its wake. Fr Kentenich calls it mechanistic thinking. The outflow is mechanistic living and loving. Mechanistic thinking separates what belongs together – everything. God, people, nature, cosmos. It becomes a form of mass-mindedness. Everybody begins to think like that, with devastating consequences for people who are different or other.

Make people “it” and count the bodies: genocide. In the Great Leap, which followed after the second 5 year plan of Mao Tse Tung who wanted to develop rural China between 1958 and 1962, up to 55 million Chinese peasants were left to die to starvation. Japanese war crimes during World War II are estimated to be around 14 million. In Germany the Holocaust massacred  6 million Jews. In the Ukraine genocide 7,5 million Ukrainians were starved to death. The Nazis killed 3 million Poles, 17 % of the entire Polish population. The Turks killed 2 million Armenian Christians. In Rwanda, 1 071 million Tutsis were killed, 70 % of the entire Tutsi population of Rwanda (20% of the national population). In Namibia the killed 110 000 Herero and Nama, most of whom were driving into the Namib Desert to be shot. In Argentina (then called Patagonia) in the 1870’s the Mapuche were reduced from 250 000 to 25 000. The list goes on and on. Label, stereotype people, make them “it”, and they are free game. In Rwanda, Tutsis were called “cockcroaches”.

It is dangerous for otherness. It silences it. The foetal in the mother’s womb – “it”. Saartjie Baartman – “it”. All are voiceless. They need advocates.

It is beyond belief. Just consider what we have done to our planet? And people are replaceable cogs in the big machinery of “it”. The lack of care for the poor in our country is just another version of the same philosophy of it. Let me get to the trough first, and to hell with you. The consequences of violence corruption are legion. Life is a conveyor belt in a factory, and a garden. “It” is a very voracious time eater. But it doesn’t know how to eat. Everything must go fast. It’s not how we used eat Sunday roast, in fact all other meals. First the veggies, then the best for last –  the roast potatoes and the meat!

Once “it” takes over, the destruction is like the burst of the damwalls. The symbols are power, money and the phallus. (In my opinion, rape is nothing but the clenched fist in the pants.) Salvation seekers are prone to addictions of all sorts. Let me not believe for a moment that we are immune to the it-virus. Tod Strasser, The Wave, proved the point to his history class. Change the rules of social engagement, resist other opinions, put people into uniforms and esteem the bully. The outcome is the willingness to destroy. Because the powerful ones have become the acolytes of the it-virus.

Does it all end there? No. I have tremendous persons who became what I call “Prophets of Worth” from the other side of the railway line.. I remembered Stuart who visited one day and came back with a bookshelf he had made. Stuart was a cabinet maker. There was Georg, ever restless, long blond hair and red beard, red Vespa. He loved to share the human warmth of our home, and I joined him at his place to prepare for examinations. Georg was an activist to make people know that they are worthy. My friend Tony. We joined the seminary together. Together was the purest person I know. When God expelled Adam and Eve from Paradise, He should have asked Tony to come back to be the gardener. He caught Cape Cobras with his bare hands and teased them to take photos; he taught me to find shark teeth on Blaauwberg Strand beach (which I never found; he did.) He could caress the smallest flower in his beautiful big hands; he couldn’t care two hoots about clothes but was always neat. He could bandage the broken wing of a bird. He had snakes for pets and exquisite birds. He collected minerals and loved nature. Tony was colour-blind and tone-deaf, i.e. figuratively speaking. He could see no class distinction or difference of religion. Tony died at the age of 52. His parents didn’t like me at first. Remove “it” and we became the best of friends. His father made me a chalice for my priestly ordination. Then there are Henry and Cathy. Childless, they adopted four, regardless of skin colour. Paragons of love. Resistance fighters againt “it”. There are the two Schoenstatt Fathers, Fr Ripberger and Fr Schneider. Compassion with the poorest of the poor. Goodness is unstoppable is the antedote to the “it- virus”. The condition is to take the other personally.

Is there a way forward to overcome the “it-virus”? Is there anything that stops “it-fying.

To  combat the it-virus I found three things: a master, a metaphor and a mystery. And all of it mingled with lots and lots of pain. I found them all three in different forms and times. I never understand their structure until today. I think of the movie “Lean on me” with the young Morgan Freeman. It fits the description. The master, the metaphor (school as place of self-development), the mystery (unfased belief in the human potential deep inside the breast). I think of the great little book someone gave me many years ago in Germany called the Johanneslegend (the legend of John). It is the story of a weekend with a great master, far from the city. Johannes learns again to live and believe. I think of the great book by Richard Bach: Jonathan Livingstone Seagull (1970) and I love the soundtrack by Neil Diamond. Jonathan wants to fly. The master tells him: “You’ve got to understand that a seagull is an unlimited idea of freedom, an image of the Great Gull.” I just listened to the track, “Dear Father”. And the parting words of the master: “Keep working on love.” I think of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Little Prince. Everyone must read this. The fox tells him a secret when they parted: “Important things can only be seen with the heart.” Everything in life teaches, if I am willing to be an eternal learner. For that reason, I love Greek and Roman mythology because they explore the mysteries of life. I love Aesop’s Fables with its unfathomable wisdom (ask The Frog; the Turtle and the Hare, etc.). I love Hans Christen Andersen’ fairy tales and the Brothers Grimm, Jakob and Wilhelm. ( The Czech movies of these fairy tales hold be spellbound.) I am moved by the movie ET and the book Michael Ende: Momo (1973). Scruffy, little girl called Momo, who set out to give people their freedom and time. I find wisdom in all fairy tales and fables and once had a good collection of African fairy tales. I just was just naturally drawn to them. Today understand why. They are holistic before things and people were split up. They form one without denying other. They are wise. They move into life in different way and are texts of protestations against making people and the world becoming “it”. They embody either all three M’s or part of them. They speak the language of the heart that is clear to the mind.

Find a master and let her or him guide you. The right one is the one who understands you and has gone the way. That master for me is Fr Joseph Kentenich (1985-1968). We have never met, yet he knows me. He spoke of the organic thinking, living and loving. He was concerned to help people find again the way to see life in totality.

Everything in life is metaphor. It is here and now, yet always away. There is a Mimosa tree outside the hospital window. When in full bloom, it is a sight to behold. It could just be a tree. Or I could also say it just married the sun. An ocean of yellow. I can see a nun. Just a woman with a veil. I could also see the bride of Christ. To be a man should send out the signal to the woman, “Come, with you are safe.” To the child, “Come, I am here to protect you.” To the woman and the man andthem Metaphors make me see more clearly, think more deeply, hear more soundly, taste more intensely and touch more sensitively. (I cannot forget the moment when I gave Joshua his first statue of Mother Mary. “Wow”, he exclaimed. “This is not a statue. This is the real Mother Mary.” Not quite, my son. But it is ok. Life is still undivided, unsplit. Everything plays, talks and thinks with you.) Metaphors school the senses. Psalm 34: 8: “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” (Taste and see.) In Jeremiah 15: 16: “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.” And Ezekiel 3: 1-3: “He said to me: ‘Son of man, eat what is before you; eat, this scroll, then go speak to the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth and he gave me the scroll to eat. (…) I ate it and it was as sweet as honey.’” I find it so meaningful in Nigeria that in common language everyone is elevated to stardom. The woman is called “Madam”, the man “Sir”, regardless of their social status. There was an aura of reverence. The cosmos is in me. My whole body is a microcosm: minerals, liquid, vegetative, movement, intellect, the angel. Not so long ago, when my nephews were still at school, one of them asked me to help with task. That is now some 11 years ago. It was about sports. I designed a game whereby about 7-10 teams were competing in a football tournament. The value of a goal was determined according to the number of physically and mentally challenged players, the number of under-aged children and girls. More than a match, it became an exercise of humane behaviour. To me I designed a metaphor of life. The it-virus gives up against the power of love. Metaphors mean a lot to me. I admired a man called Vince in Australia, originally from Cape Town. When he died, I held his funeral. His wife gave me a gown, a belt and a jacket. I still have these items. When I wear them, I am in communion with Vince. In German there was elderly woman who loved me dearly and tg

Mystery means life is so much more. It is to discover otherness and that I am that gift. It is to find that Divine and human belong together. The more I find the one, the more I search for it. That mystery is the divine spark as divine love. St Justin the Martyr called it “logos spermatikos”, intimately linked to the Divine Logos. Each one has that divine sperm or seed, a divine particle in the soul. I have a divine seed waiting to be formed. What a bold thought!

There will be lots of pain. The immersion into life to let go off the it-virus plunges into dark moments of guilt, fear of annihilation and loss of reputation, doubt, uncertaintd insecurity. There is a lot of risk involved. The risk is the plunge. And I have been brought to the cliff to take the plunge.

But how does that happen? It is a life process as a life drama. It is a love drama. Bette Midler sang of this: The Glory of Love. “You’ve got to give a little, take a little, and let, let your poor heart break a little. That’s the story of, that’s the glory of love.”

Is there a seminal moment in my life, which I can return to? The answer, according to Fr Joseph Kentenich (founder of the Schoenstatt Movement) is in the relationship of father and child. Spiritually, I experienced that. But it had to be seated in real life experience as well for it to be woven into the fabric of my entire being which is body. Only if it becomes me, will “it” becomes “I”, and “I-for-you”. Today I remember the story, Dera, my dad told me, not just once. And this is how it goes. As a baby I was sick from birth. It was double pneumon ia. For two years they took me the doctor. I believe his name was Dr Molteno. Dera told me he had spent enough money on me to buy a car. One day Dr Molteno suggested that they take me to Groote Schuur Hospital they kept me for two weeks. I was alone. After the two weeks Dera went to fetch me. In his words: “The nurse gave you to me. She asked if she should fetch your things. I said no. I took off my jacket and wrapped you in it. Then I took you to the nearest shop, placed you on the counter and bought you some clothes.” That is the answer. Father and child. That is when I can taste, breathe, smell, touch again. I breathe. Clean air, not the contaminated air of “it”. The boxes of all the three M’s ticked: master, metaphor and mystery. Master of love, metaphor of life in father and child, mystery of connection to me. I am gift. There are certain things I just can’t explain. They just fall into place as my truth, with absolute certainty. I must say I believe.

Once loved, the ethics of responsibility can start. The awe I have of the Good Samaritan. The rabbi and the priest passed on the other side. They refused to get involved. They did not make eye to eye contact. The Samaritan did that and the roles reversed. He was not in charge anymore. The injured man took over. “Now that you have seen me, now that you know me, now that you have taken me personally, you must respond. If you fail, you fail your self. I command you to look after me, and you will find your calling to be carer. If you do, you are free. You can go. Freedom is to respond to be a carer. And you took me with you.” Cycle of love may not break off. Jesus: the consummate Good Samaritan. Without the discovery of love, how can we apply the ethics of the Golden Rule? If I value myself as gift, then I can treat others with reverence. If I see me as “unworthy thing”, it will be difficult. The slave expects to be treated like a slave. Love rattles the cage of inner enslavement. It alone is the key to open it.

(It has to be the real father. I remember a book by an Australian author, a very successful man who suddenly one day began to suffer from severe migraine and depression. Floating from years from one psychiatrist to another, he finally met one who said to him: “Go and look at your father.” His father was veteran from World War II. He never spoke about his war experiences. They had an estranged relationship. His research showed: his father was a fake. He was not the person he pretended to me. That determined his relationship with his son. He was always wearing a mask.) He wrote a book. I think it is MacKenzie, Father.) Father? I remember in Australia after Holy Mass. Some very concerned people came to me and asked me to talk to a woman whom I upset very much during my sermon. I mentioned father. I was not even sure what I had said because it was rather short and not the main point. I went to her. She said, “It is ok for you to talk about the father. My husband is a useful father his sons.” I was dumbstruck. I never spoke about her husband. She also had a point. Metaphors are organic. They bring things into context. They must be clarified.

In Ital 1986, McDonald’s opened its first fast food chain in Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps) in Rome. Carlo Petrini reacted to this and helped to found the Slow Food Movement called Agricola, non-profit food and wine association. Carlo Honore’ wrote a book “In Praise of Slow” (2004). There he describes the Slow Movement: “It is the cultural revolution against the notion that fast is always better. The Slow philosophy is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace. It is about doing everything at the right speed. Savouring the hours and the minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible instead of as fast as possible. It is about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.”

Well, that is music to my ears. Fr Kentenich motivated the young students on October 18 1914 to do the “ordinary things in an extraordinary way.” It broke neck of the it-virus because it was more than just a pedagogical approach. It was the integration of grace of nature, of doing something beautiful for Mary. Extraordinary implies attitude before action. First get it right between the ears. Get it right between the ears by getting it right in the heart. Extraordinary: do it with love – for anyone, as long as it is done with love. And that love then was for Mary. Love and freedom amalgamate to give extraordinary quality to the minutest, most insignificant of actions. And it is done for someone you love. That is his practical philosophy of life. Personal loving and sacrificial exchange is the vaccine to strengthen the immune system against the “it-virus”

Peter Wust, my favourite philosopher, compares life to the swing of the pendulum. It can swing loosely and, therefore, endlessly and aimlessly. If the pendulum has a fixed point. Then it can swing. The cosmos has one fixed point. It is the old rugged Cross, so despised by the world. What a wonderful attraction for me.

Fr Kentenich was once said: “You can write the essence of Christianity on your fingernail. It is FATHER-CHILD.

That is the solution.

Or read your Bible.

The Bible is the greatest protestation against the notion that I am an unworthy thing. It is force of personal engagement, blood and gore, sin and shame, love and guts. But never ever is the Bible “it”.

You will still need the drama of love to say: I am because I have been loved. It is the drama of father and child.

Go, covenant

Go, find the sister and the brother. Find Jesus in each one (Matthew 25)

 For now, in lockdown, I am Mary’s florist, collecting for spiritual bouquet. (a Slanghoek would also be nice now, or a Port.)

Day 32: April 27

Today is Freedom Day. I vividly remember the day I left early from Muester in Germany where I was studying to take the train ride to the South African Embassy in Bonn. I was early, and as usual greeted the majestic Gothic towers of Cologne Cathedral as we passed through the station. It was showing its blanket of black soot, always with gaping wounds to fix the damage caused by the air pollution to the sandstone. At least, Father Rhine is in full flow. Europe awoke from sleepy Winter. However, as the Germans say, “April macht, was er will.” (“April does what it wants: April maak wat hy wil.” It was, in other words, a mixture of seasons. When I arrived at the embassy, there was not all too much movement. Just a few people, an art exhibition “Naledi”. Someone, whom I made out to be the ambassador explained the word Naledi. Nice. I came out none the wiser. I tried to find a path to her to congratulate her, but to no avail. No champagne, no warm greeting, no music, no snacks. Just an ordinary day. I was disappointed and will never forget the moment. Years of yearning for freedom, laced with pain, just like that? Incredible!. Until I saw the massive queues on TV in South Africa of people waiting to cast their first ever vote in the country of their birth. It was a very, a very emotional time but no one to share. For Geman TV, just another short news item. However, the Holy Spirit, my trusted retreat master, got me going today.

Freedom. Fr Joseph Kentenich, the founder of the Schoenstatt Movement, called the “the royal gift of freedom”. No definition seems to plumb its full meaning. Freedom is the right way of thinking. Freedom is the attitude. Freedom is the ability to make choices, decisions, be responsible, Freedom is to be a moral person, to say yes and no, to give selflessly, to respect otherness, Freedom is to sing and dance. Freedom is to play without inhibition. Freedom is the sight of a child running, carefree. So, it is a gift, a royal one. In other words, I receive it and it makes me feel like a king. The experience of freedom is “daai lekkerkry gevoel” (that feel-good feeling) of just being present and it is good, energising, dynamic, personal and owed to someone else to be empowered to do something with purpose. That helps me to cut through the swathe of descriptions to find the nitty-gritty of freedom in the myriad of tiniest of experiences, which, each point by point, painted this Van Gogh-like impressionistic image of freedom.

As the Holy Spirit leads, so it waves before me a postcard with a painting from the great Dutch painter. It is of a mother who enters in the afternoon with the gate of a garden. She brought her child, is bending down and releases it to go to the father. He, too, bends down to receive the child with open arms. The inscription on the painting says, “The first steps.” That moment for the children – the royal gift of freedom. The royal gift of child. That woke so much in me. My experience of my father is one of re-assuring strength. Never fear when Boeta Willy is near. He became sceptical, disappointed and pained in later years, but he never feared. A man of principles, he remained a man of God, especially when his boundaries cracked and his health failed. But he retained a certain aura of nobility. My mom had her own quiet way. Freedom – the jersey being fitted on as it grew under the knitting needles. Daai lekkerkry gevoel.

The Holy Spirit opens a little window, which gave me the experience of a little chariot ride or a ride in a hotair balloon, which I was privileged to ride, even though it was just the lift-off. I was assigned to help out in Manchester for a few months, “to help sort things out”. An extra pair of hands on deck does help to defuse tensions. Anyway, on this particular morning I walked to the post office to buy a stamp. When my turn came, the female clerk greeted me, “Good morning, love, how can I help you?” Such warmth and friendliness! Was I in Athlone?! And all the time after that, it was Yes, love, no love. The public domain became an arena of so much goodness and warmth. Had she touched me with her hands, she could not have done it better. It was the voice. I can still see her and feel the moment today – one of ecstasy. It was a little chariot ride with a queen with the royal gift of freedom. In seventh heaven. Wherever she is, God bless you, and make you queen of heaven. (And it is the reason why I love Pieter-Dirkie Uys, “If you don’t know what to call me, call me Darling.”)

An important moment was a family outing from Stompneus Bay to Pater Noster. We never had picnics. Why would you, if you live in a place where people come for picnics. My dad borrowed a car. There we had our little private spot, at a pool between rocks with this wonderful water and goodies. Mom was the happy host. She never went into the water. No other people were in sight. My dad taught us to float, which was the only way he could swim. It was pure elation and ecstasy. It just never seemed to end. The harmony of family. The soul drank unceasingly. The experience of the moment became the royal gift of freedom.

Our life in Cape Town at school was never easy. We lived as backyard dwellers in a shack, but with no concerns in the world. My mom took care of them as my dad had to stay back for work in the village. It was sacrifice in our stride. We had everything, because we had each other. It was a training ground for freedom. Strangely enough, you can find a king in a shack. Or not so strange, because the palace is where the king is. The royal gift of freedom touched base with real life of sharing, tolerance, patience, humility, solidarity, respect and care. In all adverse circumstance, it was about holding your head high, being at your neatest and most respectable. The many teaching moments of freedom that come with being said No or Wait, or There is nothing, or It is not your turn or Next time. And always to Church on Sunday.

Freedom without siblings? Impossible! Not always easy, we have a bond of “ek kyk uit vir jou”. We look out for each other. It is not about trying to change each other but just be free together.

Words have set me on the path of freedom as an arduous long road. That is why I enjoyed books that described journeys to freedom: Slawomir Rawicz, The Long Walk ( (1956) from a concentration camp in Russia to India; Helen Keller, The Story of My Life 1989; Christi Brown, My Left Foot; Virginia Axline, Dibs; Henri Charriere, Papillon, Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, Emmanuel Levinas, Humanism of the Other 1982, Fr Joseph Kentenich, Pre-founding Document 1912; Martin Luther King, I had a dream; Legson Didimu Kayira, I will try (1965). Isaiah 2: 1-15. Genesis 12: 1-3.The deepest impression of them comes from Kayira, a young Malawian boy in pursuit of education. He found it in adventurous ways in Cincinatti where he was awarded a scholarship. What an adventure from a rural town where his mother threw him into the river because she could not feed him, to become a leading academic and writer. What intrigued me most was his school motto, which became his source of inspiration – and of me to this day: I will try. That is the royal gift of freedom. If I had these books again, I would salute them every morning – one royalty to another.

There are my stories of basking in the freedom of others. I remember the day Dr Beyers Naude (his father was Jozua Naude’, cofounder of the Broederbond; his Sociology professor was none other the then Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of Apartheid. Beyers Naude’ became the youngest member of the Broederbond. The Sharpeville Massacre, March 21 1960 shook of this man who preached the Biblical justification of Apartheid. He started to re-read the Bible and found the texts used for Apartheid deliberately distorted.), the founder of the Christian Institute, came to address students at the University of Western Cape. The lecture hall was jam-packed. But there were other more pressing needs. I had never met him before though I had been into contact with the Institute in Mowbray. The great man, all immaculately dressed in suit, sat on the floor waiting for the students to air their issues. When he spoke, it was sincerity in person. Here was a free man, once Moderator of the mighty Dutch Reformed Church, who had come to the insight that Apartheid was not from God. He gave up everything. Freedom, a royal gift, full of sacrifices. There was the other dominee, Nico Smith, from the University of Stellenbosch and a member of the mighty Afrikaaner Broederbond, who did the same after a visit with students to the squatter camp in Crossroads. He abandoned his comfortable lifestyle to become the pastor of a poor community in Mamelodi/Pretoria. He later joined the African branch of the Dutch Reformed Church due to its refusal to oppose Apartheid. We met briefly when he visited my university in Muenster/Germany. I was doing my doctorate. I stood in awe of the man and his freedom to abandon everything in the name of the Gospel for the freedom of our nation. The royal gift of freedom is a task. It is Divine Mission.

Fr Joseph Kentenich, the freest of all persons. Free choice to go to concentration camp in Dachau on January 20 1942 when he could have escaped it. All he needed was to reapply for a second medical examination, which would have declared him unfit for No, I go because God wants me to go. It is all that counts. “And if all that God wants me to do is to lift my little finger, then that is all that I shall do.” He took on the might of the Catholic Church for speaking his mind and paid the price of exile to Milwaukee/USA, being told that he will only return to Germany in a coffin. He never uttered a word of resentment. Fourteen years later, he was asked to return to Germany and St Pope Paul VI reinstated him without reservations. My spiritual father of royal gift of freedom.

I love the freedom story of a young girl, formerly from South Africa. Young, cheeky, cute, emigrated to Australia with her family way back. Yesterday I recalled her story of grabbing the opportunity of freedom. Catherine is PhD in a specialised branch of Biology and now in her third year of medical studies. She immerses me in a long list of young people who walk with the royal gift of freedom. Freedom is like a ball of clay. Use it, mould it.

Freedom I see in the eyes of my cousin’s son who calls me daddy. Freedom as the equivalent of trust, which connects the desire of freedom to the royal gift of Divine Freedom, like the eagle becomes free when it feels the glint of the sun in its eyes and knows: “I must fly”. It is the sight in the eyes of the bridal couple at the altar. Trust me, they say. Freedom is the in the face-to-face encounter, in which each one says, “You may trust me.”

I see the royal gift of freedom in the faces of countless volunteers. They truly are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people set apart. “You, however, are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own to proclaim the glorious works’  of the One who calls you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were no people, but now you are God’s people; once there was no mercy for you, but now you have found mercy.” (1 Peter 2: 9) I salute them today, my heroes of the royal gift of freedom.

To be free. That I found happened with the mystical glimpse of unconditional recreative love. It is the experience that God is love, and that I am His child. It is the experience of floating on “eagles wings”. To be free is to be endlessly carefree in the presence of the living God.” (Fr Joseph Kentenich)

The royal gift of freedom. Mary. Everything is said with the least of words: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38)

The royal gift of unsurpassable freedom: Jesus. As the Good Shepherd he says: “The Father loves me for this: that I lay down my life to take it up again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down freely. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” (John 10: 17-18)

To sum it up in a word: GENSHAI. It is an ancient word, which says: “Never treat another person in a manner that would make them feel less – including yourself. You are the gift. You are the gift, you are the meaning in your life, and an element of that in the lives of many others.” (Kevin Hall, Aspire – Discovering your purpose through the Power of Words) Never rest until I find something great in me to salute me. Never rest until I find something great to salute in the other person. Never let that freedom be taken from me.

To be free is a moral responsibility to bind to a just cause.

The royal gift of freedom, in the words of Fr Kentenich, is to practise love. Love and freedom form a partnership when their purpose is to “selflessly serve the otherness of the other.” It is to be mother-father.

And then, the crowning of the royal gift of freedom, in the words of St Mother Theresa of Calcutta: “Do something beautiful for God.”

Now I cast my vote for my nation. Cheers to the royal gift of freedom!

Fr Ivanhoe Allies, April 27 2020 (hospital)

Day 31: April 26

Today is Sunday, the day of the Resurrection. It is the first day of Creation, on which God ended chaos and created the universe. St Justin the Martyr says in today’s reading of the Liturgy of Hours: “We hold our common assembly on this day because it is the first day of the week, the day on which God put darkness and chaos to flight and created the world, and because of that same day our saviour Jesus Christ rose from the dead. For he was crucified on Friday and Sunday he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught them the things we have passed on for your generation.” God reveals Himself to us in Creation and History of Salvation. Creation history has its existence in salvation history where Jesus Christ is its Alpha and Omega, the one who is, who was and who was to come.

I am privileged to have spent my childhood and early youth close to nature. Everything spoke in tongues, which I understood. Tongues of beauty and innocence, tongues of play and ecstasy, tongues of freedom and creativity. But there were other tongues, too. I found myself very often, even as a young child, just staring, either from the hills behind our house or on the beach. I wondered: “Why is everything so wrong?” “why is there always something that stops the unfettered, unhindered enjoyment of Nature because we were always separated into “this is you belong, this is where you don’t belong”. This place called Earth is not home. It is not just the roof over the head. It is existential to the core. It is displacement in the soul. The Germans call that home “Heimat”. Afrikaans call it “tuiste”. It disrupted that desire for harmony. And it all seemed to me embedded in existence. It was there. It took me a long time to understand that we made it that way. But it robbed me of the innocence of my childhood. It created a sense of void, uncertainty and insecurity. It became my God-given mission to enable bonding and healing. For that to happen, however, I search and continue to search. This search is universal and won’t end.

Creation has never been static. It has always been the stage of human and divine drama. Roman and Greek mythology grappled with it. It comes down to the relationship between gods and humans to make sense of everything in the universe. Most of the times the reflection tries to explain why things are as they are: wrong, tough, burdensome. Some answers are suggested. Yes, there was this Titan god Prometheus. He was a trickster who stole clay and fire from Zeus, the eagle, and gave it to humans. Prometheus tried to created man in his own image. For his punishment he was banned to the Caucasus Mountains and tied to a huge rock. There an eagle came every day to eat his liver. That happens when we try to make someone into our own image. We have stolen from somewhere, we use someone else’s substance. Another Greek god was Tantalus who was rich. He wanted to impress the gods at a feast and tried to serve them his own son. For this, he was punished. He was made to stand in a pool of water under a fruit tree with low hanging branches. The falling fruit always eluded him and when he bent to scoop up some water, it just ran through his hands. The relationship between father and son. It reminds me of Abraham and Isaac, and Father-God and Jesus. That relationship defines the world we live in. But it also defines when work is creative. If it serves life, it is creative. Otherwise it is tantalus – futile and laborious.

There was Sysiphus, the king of Ehpyra. For his craftiness and deceitfulness he was punished to roll a huge boulder up a hill. Once he reached the top, the boulder rolled back, and the he had to start all over again. Sysiphus work – that can so easily be our plight for dishonesty, cunningness and corruption. Life deals a severe hand.

The brother of Atlas had his hands full, literally. For his rebellion he was condemned to hold the universe, never to move one centimetre. He was always bent and in pain. Rebellion against the gods has painful consequences.

The search for relief and reprieve pervades Roman and Greek mythology and left later a profound influence on the development of Christian ideas. There is, for example, Charon, the ferryman. He had a ferry to transport the dead from the world of the living to the dead over the Styx River, which means “hatred”. This river was difficult to cross and wound itself 9 times around the earth. With his immense strength he could do it. I can see the resemblance with St Christopher. Who is going to be the ferryman from Hades to heaven? And how is he going to do it?

One thing I know – life is a drama, with actors on the stage. The scriptwriter and the script can be different. But the drama is there, from the beginning to the end. The actors are God, the devil, us and the planet we live on. Can we choose to play or stand by? According to Fr Joseph Kentenich, we have three choices. We can be passivists (on-lookers; Afrikaans “draadsitters”). We can be activists, trying to make a difference or change. We can be creative collaborators of God. The last one is what interests me. Activists are good but they tend to see history just as a sequence of events, not interlocking and giving meaning. To find meaning, I ask the religious question: what do I discern as God’s wish? Be on the stage with God.

Wherever we look, there is the same cry – from antiquity to today: who is going to rescue us? Who is going to rescue us from destruction and extinction? Who can give a plausible answer to the situation of our world and history. There is even the theory in a play Asinaria by Plautus: homo homini lupus. Man is the wolf to man. He is man’s worst predator. And there is the evidence to bear it out. I believe there is one word, which brings it together. It is the word salvation. In the Psalm 121: 1: “I lift up my eyes to the mountain. From where shall come my help? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”

The Israelites tried to make sense of their world, their pain, suffering and hope. They used the old Creation epics of the Mesopotamians, “Enuma Elish” (1754 BC) to explain Creation from the watery chaos and the Gilgamesh Epic and adapted them. The difference? The Creation epics pass through one massive, explosively dynamic experience of the the EXODUS! God Yahwe made Himself known to this insignificant people whose cry for liberation He heard. I will be your God, He said. And you will be my people. That relationship became a covenant, which was repeatedly broken, but every time restored by God. And the Creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2 are trying to give an answer to the great questions of humankind. Who are we? Why are we the way we are? Why can’t we stop hurting? Why can we be so uncaring of the environment and the planet? What should we do? The difference since the Exodus event is: God is part of the equation. He is in the mix of time and space.

Everything is God’s doing. And He saw that it was good. When He made and woman, “It was very good”. God is the origin of who we are – His image. It means likeness to His heart and mind. It means we can speak with Him. It means we can love Him. It means He can entrust us with His Creation. God wants man and woman to be stewards of Creation. Not exploiters or abusers – stewards. Till the land, name the plants and the animals. Look after them. Ever since Creation has been for the birth of the freedom of the children of God. “Yes, we know that all creation groans and is in agony even until now.” (Romans 5: 22) Everything is tense until all of creation, man, woman, minerals, soil, plant and beast, will say “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8: 15) But God’s Creation, though perfect and complete, was not done. The drama of creation continues in the relationship of woman and man. Together and the way they interact the show that the Divine Drama of love and power and wisdom continues. The feminine and the masculine will remain the space for the rescue of the human race. And, therefore, when woman and man went against God even in Paradise, they struggled to find the right formula for their relationship. That explains the recurring themes in the Old Testament of God’s relationship with His bride or spouse. Why the hurting? The answer is in the Cain and Abel story. “Am I my brother’s keeper.” (Genesis 3: 9) Once we deny that, we feel free to dispose of him. It is the killing of a feud between two cultures: Cain the cultured farmer, Abel the nomadic herdsman. Cultural differences do create negative stereotyping and prejudices. They are fatal. And so, the story goes on and on and conjures up desires for salvation, the yearning for a Saviour. (Isaiah 11: 1-11). There will be perfect peace. “There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.” (11: 9). But it still has to wait for the birth of Emmanuel.

Jesus. The tree of life in the Garden of God. The New Adam (Second Adam) (Romans 5: 12-21) And in the First Letter to the Corinthians 5: 22: “Just as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will come to life again.”  The totally obedient Son of God. Sunday, the day of the Resurrection is the birth of the new Creation. Mary gives the female part, called by the early Church Fathers the “New Eve”. The interaction between Jesus and Mary is one of total obedience to the will of the Father. The new Eve and the new Adam remain in a dialogue of love to show us the Covenant of Love of God with His Creation. Everything in Nature is bilingual: female and male. And both are God’s languages of love to us. Without woman, man cannot be redeemed.

How did our Creation narrative start again? How are we born again? With the word “care”. In the beginning was “care”. All intention in God is love. (John 3: 16) Jesus is the consummate carer, with Mary to assist him. Therefore, let’s hold with Seneca the Younger against the homo homini lupus: “homo sacra res homini.” “Man, an object of reverence in the eyes of man.” (Wikipedia) It is the difference between the clenched fist ready to strike and the open hand offering the sign of peace. God will ask us the same question that He asked Cain: “Where is your brother, Abel?” The answer determines if I have looked after my brother or sister and made the world a better place. Or if I looked the other way. Care of Creation is to make space for the sister or brother. For that we need the power of the love of the One, the Son of God, who hung on the tree of life. It is good to say today, that that “tuiste”, “Heimat”, “home”, is possible because of the humble Carpenter of Nazareth. I can take of Nature because it is home and mother. And I find so many sisters and brothers, regardless of origin, all as Garden of God. Why a sigh of relief! Surrounded by so much beauty and goodness. It is possible to split a prejudice – with the wood of the Cross.

Finally, an ode to the beauty of woman and man from Fr Joseph Kentenich: All the works of culture put together is but a speck of dust compared to the glory, with which You have endowed woman and man. (Heavenwards, Creed)

It is Sunday. Love reigns supreme again.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies, April 26 2020 (hospital)

Day 30: April 25

Today it appears the Holy Spirit just said: “Hold it, stay put.” So that us what I am doing, in hospital, flat on my back and accepting God’s will. I was looking forward to be saying Holy Mass with my parishioners. But, as I figure it out now. Sanity for the mind, sanitizers for the hands! I feel bas that the good Spirit of Christ has it so hard with me. Anyway, it always has the last say in the matter. And that is all that counts. It wants me to focus.

I have a moment to reflect on my vocabulary based on experiences during lockdown time. I decided to make a list of meaningful four letter words.

  1. 2 Love. 3 Rest. 4 Slow. 5. More. 6. Less. 7. Time. 8. Zero. 9. Easy. 10. Bond. 11. Hear. 12 Read. 13. Work. 14. Weak. 15. Trust. 16. Care. 17. Mary

In this regard, there is no better retreat master than the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Let me start with the first word.

  1. It is so obvious and yet I can forget so easily that prayer is not time wasted. It is the best thing I do. It is the most priestly activity I have. It is the moment to savour the presence of the Lord and the love of his dear Mother. Prayer and leadership. The first step to be a good leader is to be prayerful. Prayerful go through right and wrong passions, self-gaining thoughts and self-abandonment. It is connected to an important four-letter word called “will”. It takes more time but gives greater certainty. All creativity begins with prayer because to be creative is to know and do God’s will. Pray is to ask, praise, thank, repent. So many people ask for prayers. The best thing someone can tell me is, “Father, I pray for you.” That person holds me before the living God. To pray is just another way of saying that I love you. No one can hold someone before the throne of God without love in the heart for that person. Jesus always sought the silence of the mountain to pray, to be alone with his Father. Even the disciples could see him first as a man of prayer. And they said, “Lord, teach us to pray.” (Luke 11: 1-13) He taught them the Our Father. He taught them to call God, “Abba, Father.”
  2. If I don’t love, I am dry wood, dark night. Love is the essence of my life. St Therese of the Child Jesus said, “My vocation is to love”. Simple, yet it is everything. Not all my love is good, pure or selfless but I will keep trying. It is important to see that there is an order of love, a kind of hierarchy of love, a list of priority. No one can replace God. But there are times when I feel strongly drawn to other forms. But also these, if correctly understood and eventually purified in the crucible of sacrifice are rungs on the ladder to God’s heart. All love must find its way to God. Only then will it be reproductive, creating life. Remain in me, Jesus said (John 15). Remain in my love. And then, it becomes a commandment of the highest order: “I command you to love one another.” That is the order from the master of love, from the captain of my soul, as if standing on the boat of my soul in the storms. I prefer it in Afrkaans “stuurman van my siel”. It is the melody of home as a child among dinghies and trawlers. The heart is a radar for love. It is created to scan for love.
  3. I find it difficult to rest. There are times that my mind is ticking over. I wrestle with questions, design plans, and can be creative in my thinking. I struggle with people’s questions and problems of family members when I should be resting. I wish I could do more for them. It makes me get up during the night, all this thinking. But there are times when I must just let go. Jesus advises to sow, then step back and watch the seed grow. He says in the parable of the farmer who goes to sow, then to rest. Mark 4: 27: “Through it all the seeds sprouts and grows without his knowing how it happens.” The inability to rest can be pride, and that is very questionable. It can be the wish to be productive all the time. And that is impossible. The batteries must recharge. Rest is sacred. When God finished His work of Creation, He rested and invited all living beings to rest with Him. Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are weary and find life burdensome and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11: 28) Let him take over.
  4. Well, that is one thing I am learning all the time in the hardest way. Asthma slows down. It can take hours just to take ready to go down from my room. Be slow. That is the only way to deal with it. Any form of rushing is squeezing the life out of me and causing the sensation of asphyxiation. Tiredness and lack of energy slow down. Slow. Measured. Sit and wait. That is survival. That is good.
  5. It is so good and so dangerous. More of what? More trust, peace, kindness, service. More work. More time. But does it lead anywhere? Yes, more respect, more gentleness, more prayer, more gratitude, more God. More: that has its dangers. It can be disregard for boundaries of health and personal relations. It can come from a kind of hubris. I alone can do it. It can be a kind of pseudo-messianic attitude – I will save the world. It can be the rush of blood, the thrill of achievement, which can become addictive. Real more that brings quality is often less.
  6. I have to learn the hard lesson that it is good for me to do less. However, to achieve that I must be less. Less is not less perfect nor is it less quality. There are times when I must have a hands-off approach. Do less, stand back, and be surprised by what is growing without me. And it happens in astonishing ways. Becoming less is a form of leadership. It is to know the right moment to surrender. That is why I am attracted to John the Baptist of his mission for Jesus: “ He must increase, I must decrease.” (John 3: 30) Less means handing over to others. It is to go out of the way of the Holy Spirit to let it do its work.
  7. The magic word today is time. I still marvel at the way we played as children. Time stood still. We were absorbed in play. How do I combine again that life is to play, to be absorbed in timeless creativeness. It is not the multitude of things, rather the fulfilment of life that matters. Today no one has enough time. Yet, it is the most precious thing we can give to each other. Giving time is to share the heart. Everybody is looking for someone to spend time with them. There is no greater gift than to waste time with someone, meaningless, profitless time. And then to see the magic it works. To give this kind of time is to connect to timeless time, to eternity. Because such time is drenched with love, and love is eternal. It is mutual enrichment. I come away like I have been drinking fresh water. Time spent with God and people, Jesus might answer today when asked, “What is the greatest of all commandments?” (Matthew 22: 38)
  8. It is a new word in my vocabulary. Maybe also because of my experience of asthma. When the air is used up, everything in the body and mind streams towards zero. And I have experienced it. Zero. What is its message? Abandon of self. That is how it is going to be one day. Nothing. Zero. The end. Let go, become zero. And then, not yet. So far, anyway. God creates out nothing. My nothing, my zero. We say in Latin: creation ex nihilo. He can use zero to start all over again. And that is one of the greatest moments in my life. Love can create out of zero. Jesus breathed his last – and became the Saviour of the World. (I have quite a few zeros behind my name.)
  9. Do not always struggle or fight. Be prudent. Sometimes it is better to let go. It gives space in the mind to think again. To be soft is perfectly already.
  10. A golden word. One day a priest who observed me said, “Fr Ivanhoe, you have an abundance of attachments”. He was so right. I won’t mind that as the epitaph on my tombstone. That is also my mission: to bind. To have a heart that binds. To bond is to consecrate. It is to covenant with each and everyone.
  11. People say I am a good listener. To hear is not enough. To hear with empathy and understanding is the art of listening. I try to listen. I find out that in listening to them, they find their own answers. That is what God expected of His people when Moses said to them: “Hear, o Israel”. They had to stand to hear his words. That is why we stand to hear the Gospel. The opening words of the Rule of St Benedict is to listen. “Listen, my son to the precepts of your master and incline the ear of your heart.” (The Rule of St Benedict, Prologue) Jesus wants us to listen. By listening we hear what he wants. From listening follows obedience. Listening brings fruitfulness. After a long and arduous night of unsuccessful fishing Jesus told his disciples to try once more. Peter answers so well: “Master, we have hard at it all night and have caught nothing. But if you say so, I will lower the nets once more.” Mark 5: 5) God said: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” (Luke 9: 35)
  12. I have always been an avid reader. Reading for me is a form of curiosity. I must know, all the time. In reading I find so much new inspiration. Holy Spirit is my best librarian. Here, take this to read. Or my eye falls on something just by the way, which is the right thing just there and then. To read and learn from others is an act of humility. The one person I can read all the time are the works of my spiritual father, Fr Joseph Kentenich.
  13. I enjoy work, always did. A certain word of my father accompanied me all my life. It was the day he said to me, “You know, people can say what they like about my children. But no one can say they are lazy.” Spot on, Dera. Both he and Mamma are greatest examples of work ethic – hard working people. I enjoy what I am doing. I know also it is sacrifice. Work is creative if it is God’s will done with love. The reverse side of love is sacrifice. From Fr Kentenich I learned to do the ordinary things in an extraordinary manner. Extraordinary. That is not skill or outcome. It is do to it with my free will and out of love. And I must know where God wants me to work.
  14. It is ok to be weak. In fact, St Paul writes that he can boast. I am not there yet. But weakness is creeping onto me. The mind is strong but the body can’t deliver any more. The memory is good but not what it used to be. The moral strength is not always enough to resist temptation. It is so important to control the fantasy and realise boundaries given and boundaries set. My heroes today are weak by worldly standards. They endure terminal sickness, they are have Altzheimer’s Disease. My heroes go the extra mile. To be strong to me is no longer in the arena of achievement. To be strong is to be kind, gentle, sacrificial, caring, pure, fighting for justice, helping the poor, making a child and woman feel welcome and safe. To be strong is to give. I found out that I acknowledge weakness, there are so many who help. To be weak is to be dependent and, thereby, discover the immeasurable font of goodness and love of people. I have found that out time and again. Now, certainly, I have learned so much about modern technology. I still think better with a piece of paper and a pencil. But I appreciate what I have learned. It is phenomenal even if I understand only half of it. Did St Paul mean some of this when he said, “When I am weak than I am strong?” Jesus. He made himself the weakest of all – and became the strongest.
  15. Trust someone, and you can fly.
  16. We can change this world if we are care givers rather than profiteers.
  17. Mary: Love and trust. The gift of the Holy Spirit to me.

Good: standing as word on its own.

I am sure there are other four-letter words. They all have one thing in common and can be included in one four-letter word: They are good.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 25 2020 (hospital)

Day 29: April 24

Life in isolation has the effect that I become more observant. The odd phone call lingers so much longer. The news of a parishioner who is dying sinks in deeper and spurs on to further thinking. I am more aware of the chirping birds and feel inclined to give them something to eat. I know I shouldn’t do it but there is a bond between us. How can I eat alone while they, my friends and choir, are just sitting there? Prisoners in solitary confinement befriended the little creatures that made their way into the cells. They talked to the ant, not because they were going crazy. They saw it with different eyes as a living creature and, well, because they longed for company. It is the ability to see everything twice, as my spiritual master and father, Fr Joseph Kentenich, founder of the Schoenstatt Movement, teaches. First, it has its own natural meaning. The wind blows from high pressure to low pressure. It transports moisture in clouds, which, when it reaches condensation, forms rain. The same wind is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit breathing life into Creation in the beginning. As I feel the wind on my face, it prompts me to pray, “Come, Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” The face of an elderly person is wrinkled. There is a dermatological reason for it. At the same time, that face tells the story of a life. Everything has this double meaning.

Circumstances can make it easier to read the message. Although mentioned previously, I recall again the incident in Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Cancer Ward. When the cancer patient left the ward and stepping out of the hospital, it was as if he was seeing for the first time the blossoms on the trees. They showed themselves off to him and spoke to him: “See us, here we are.” Francis of Assissi had the rare gift of observing and personalising everything in nature and he preached to the birds and the animals. The sun became Brother Sun, the moon Sister Moon. Even Death become his brother. There is something innocent and unspoilt in this gift. A child is the same. As children in our village we gave names to rocks and certain parts of the beach or of the hills. They were alive with us. They spoke to us and shared our lives, as we shared ours with them. We saw the cross on the back of a donkey and say it is because it carried Jesus into Jerusalem before his crucifixion. There is a thorny plant we give the name “Christ thorn”. Even its little red flower has the shape of a cross.

However, it goes much deeper. Malcolm Muggeridge once wrote: “Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message.” What do I know about this? More crucially, do I do and experience this? How important is it to be able to do this in my and our interactions with Nature and people? The master of this was Fr Kentenich. As I said, everything that exists has this double meaning of own reality and symbolic reality. The symbolic meaning, as it reflects God’s message, is prophetic. It is God’s voice and attaches us to Him. He distinguishes four prophetic attachments: prophetic human attachment, prophetic local attachment, prophetic pain attachment and prophetic thing attachment. All four are transparencies of God’s presence and voice. It is too much for me to explain everything in detail. nThey are speaking, and the art is to find their message. Even suffering and pain. The question is always: “What is God trying to tell me?” The inability to do this reduces our environment to mere lifeless matter and abandons the environment to the mercy of a materialistic philosophy whereby everything that exists is to be used and then discarded. This applies also to human life. The human being is no longer person, an image of God. It is a replaceable cog in a huge machine. Holistic organic thinking sees everything in entire perspective – spiritual as well as material, useful as well as subject to moral responsibility.

I had the theory and practised it. This happens foremostly in group discussions. But Oma Stoeppler taught me the gift of prophecy. When I met this gentle soul in Germany, she was already over eighty years old. What did a young South African student for the priesthood have in common with a senior woman. Well, nothing. That was until I listened to Oma Stoeppler and, thereafter, looked forward to every visit to her. Oma Stoeppler had the clear blue eyes of a child. She had the most gentle smile and could speak of the most atrocious experiences she had during World War II with an inner distance because she saw everything from heaven, from “lieber Herr Gott”. She could speak of the gentleness and politeness of God. She bore no one any harm and never had a bad word to say about anyone although she was fully aware of someone’s wrongs. In short, she was what Fr Kentenich calls “a workday saint”. But she was at her most interesting when she spoke about the tiny things and happenings around her. Oma Stoeppler spoke with such wisdom about the poetic beauty of God in the Autumn leaves that fell to the ground. And when she looked at her hands, she told so many stories of her hands and the Rosary she clutched as a soldier during the war pointed the rifle at her and her two children to execute them for no reason other than that they were Germans. She spoke about that Rosary, mere beads, yet to her God’s shield to us against evil and danger. She could point to a tree or a flower. And when Oma finished, it wasn’t the same ones I initially saw. They, too, seemed to be speaking and singing. All this she did so naturally, that it was hard to believe that someone could be so supernatural and yet so natural. There was no difference.

I am surrounded by prophets and prophecies – messages of God’s to me. They speak of God’s power, wisdom and love. And I really wonder many times what the prophecy of my asthma is. Yes, it brings the message of the Cross, the message of trust, the message of complete abandon, the message of balance, the message of less self-importance, the message of vulnerability, the message of self-acceptance, the message of dependence, the message of humility, the message of rediscovering the difference between important and less important, the message of boundaries. The word “asthma” is a library. It is a prophet of wisdom.

The Gospel of John develops a sign theology, called in Greek semeia theology. Every miracle of Jesus is a sign of his divine nature. He breaks discourse with miracles, which are signs. In Cana he turned water into wine. We read: “Jesus performed this first of his signs in Cana in Galilee. Thus he did to reveal his glory, and his disciples came to believe in him.” (John 2: 11) Again in Cana, Jesus healed the son of a royal official who was dying in Capernaum. There we read, “This was the second sign that Jesus preformed when he returned from Judea to Galilee. (John 4: 54) Finally, the only sign will be his Cross. “And I – once I am lifted up on high, I will draw all people to myself.” (John 12: 32) Without the prophetic understanding of our environment we cannot never see what Jesus means when he says he is bread, water, light or the shepherd. His most prophetic vision? The face of his Mother that looked at him with the love of His Father and the hands of the Baker Woman that prepared him, the gift of bread that we be fed.

I buried Oma Stoeppler. Her death was the way she lived – prophetic. She radiated God’s presence and voice in the hour of death. She was a sign that paradise was not lost. Fr Kentenich once commented that two things we have from paradise: the stars and the eyes of a child. She had stars in her childlike eyes.

Now I see all sorts of prophets around me, of a different kind: masks, sanitizers, protection gear against virus infection. Lockdown. What do these prophets tell me? How are they God’s message to me? The art is to get the message. And there are other much graver things happening – sickness, fear, death, hunger. What do they say? I must talk to the master of prophetic teaching and practice, Fr Joseph Kentenich and to Oma Stoeppler.

For now, they want me to pray and search until I can hear the prophets speak.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 24 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 28: April 23

It is strange how there are times when I am searching, or even not, when a text or sentence just falls into my hands to enlighten me. It can be a word of encouragement, hope or correction. Nevertheless, it drops in like an unexpected visitor and leaves the way it arrives – silently but as food for thought. I used to right them down and put them somewhere for me to see during the day. There are times when I recorded them in a little notebook. I believed them to me words from the Holy Spirit. Such messages today are intermingled with the loads of other messages in my inbox and Whattsapp. I don’t worry too much about the sorting out. There is a spontaneous, intuitive harmony or echo between the soul and a word or sentence for it to become a message. By harmony I don’t mean a symphony. It can also be cacophony, dissonance, pangs of conscience. Harmony is not quite the right word. All it says is that they fit together to stir me into deeper reflection or even catapult me into tumult. They just seem to “click” at that moment but not necessarily neatly dovetail. I guess that it is better to stay with the word echo.

Some of these messages have life-long quality. They don’t have an expiry date and best before. They can be used again and again and never lose their freshness. This became so beautifully clear to me one day when years ago a man came to see me with a very serious spiritual and moral question. It had been with him all his life and he felt that he had to finally face this “demon”. I instantly felt great admiration for him. He was an excellent professional, head hunted by his company, a wonderful husband and father, a very devout Catholic. For the sake of the health of one daughter who was born almost completely deaf he left Sri Lanka to go to Singapore, from there to Australia where she received a bionic ear, which did wonders. In the course of several conversations he found the solution. At the foot of the Cross. However, he had a Scripture verse, which accompanied him all his life. He attended a top school of the Christian Brothers in Colombo and found a verse, which he wrote on every page of his notebooks and at the head of the paper of every exam. Now, he found its relevance for his problem. The verse is from Philippians 4: 19 where St Paul writes: “My God in turn will supply your needs fully, in a way worthy of the magnificent riches in Christ Jesus.” I never wrote it down. It just stuck deeply etched in my memory. From that moment, that was all we spoke about until he found peace in his soul. Just one Scripture verse, and his whole life was in perspective and reset. It was balm, fire, water, rock, joy, harmony, peace, correction, trust, and many thinks amalgamated to be sustenance and remedy.

I remember reading the Confirmation certificates of persons from the Dutch Reformed Church who wanted to get married in the Catholic Church. They must, like anyone else, submit baptism and Confimation documents. It always fascinated me that they had a particular Scripture verse on the certificate of Confirmation. They themselves chose it like a kind of life motto. Catholics choose a saint name to indicate change of direction to Christ and commitment to service of Christ in the Church. Do I have such a Scripture verse? I am too complicated to have one but there a few, which stayed doggedly with me, rising their heads above the others to re-assert their supremacy. It is because they simply had a bigger role to place with the moulding of my identity. One Scripture verse is 1 Corinthians 15: 10. After reflecting on his humble state, St Paul says, “I am what I am by the grace of God. And his grace to me has not proved to be fruitless.” It is a message of rebirth of origin – the grace of God. It rises above biographical origin, ancestry, background, ups and downs. In fact, it weaves its way through all of these to gather what is necessary to show that the grace of God is also present within them. But it is God’s grace, His interaction and the sharing of His love with me, which made and makes me the person that I am. From the moment I was conceived, God’s grace formed me. Every prayer I made, every blessing and every sacrament I received poured into the same mould to do its role in shaping and forming me. It is pleasing that the verse also points out the fruitfulness of my life and its worth – all by the grace of God.

There are other verses, one of which is from John 17: 18: “That they all may be one.” It coincides with a fervent desire for the citizens of my country to discover our oneness in Christ as sisters and brothers. That is the vision for my nation.

Before all these words and messages, there is one, which changed everything for me at a time in my life when I was searching. It became the catalyst for everything that happened afterwards. In fact, such was its impact that I can divide my life before and afterwards according to it. It simply was the turning point. It came at the time when I was at my most critical thinking. I questioned everyone one and everything. I was like a conglomeration of stones thrown down by the force of the river at the end of its flow, waiting to be sorted out. There were the stones of my upbringing, I was questioning my parents, my academic choice, my emptiness, my radical search for clarity was driving me crazy. I was testing and probing everything. I was looking for solutions to a country that spawned so much hatred through racism. And I was feeling very insecure and uncertain. In spite of everything, there was a radicalness to find the answer, which never left me. Until one day, in Schoenstatt (Constantia) a visiting Brother from Germany who was an intern invited me to help him with the day for young boys. I had already made first contact with the Schoenstatt Movement. I agreed. He had as the text for the day excerpts from a talk given by Fr Joseph Kentenich (founder of Schoenstatt Movement) on October 27 1912 to very young, rebellious boys whose spiritual director he had just been appointed to be. Other priests before him succumbed to the pressure, one of whom needed psychiatric treatment. Fr Kentenich, with a natural skill for formation or education, read them well. They had a thirst for freedom and self-dependence, in a radical way. They wanted someone to trust them. That sat well with him. So, having first interpreted what was on their minds and hearts, he put before them a challenge, which said: “Under the protection of Mary we want to educate ourselves to become firm, free, priestly characters.” Firm meant loyal, disciplined, committed. Free meant independent, making choices, being responsible, “not being galley slaves or licking the boots of the superiors” (Fr Kentenich), making personal decisions. Priestly meant lasting values and principles. The ball was now in their court. The ball was now in my court. “Under the protection of Mary” didn’t feature too much in Fr Kentenich’s approach because it wasn’t central to the boys right there and then. They needed to flex their radical moral muscles and stretch their idealistic wings. Only later would they appreciate the work of grace as a necessity to take their self-education from feeble attempts to greater heights. I was very interested in this, but true to my nature, tried it on my own. However, instead of peace of mind, it caused unprecedent havoc inside me. Now I had a measure to judge everything by, I was in turmoil because I was even more radical and idealistic. It was this that also caused a void in me because I was questioning everything I was doing, found it wanting but with nothing to replace it. I there and then, radical as I was, decided that I would rather sit somewhere in an office as a clerk than pursue a university training, which was a form of mental enslavement and certificate for the sake of a certificate. There was deep seated dishonesty and self-deception in the way we were being taught . With few exceptions, everything was of low standard and we were treated like school children. Every day in the lecture room I looked around me and saw the same: we are slaves. It was there and then that I decided to quit university, which was a heavy blow to my parents and siblings. On second thoughts, I did go back, for their sake and out of love for them. It was also a rare moment of pragmatism in my life: just get on with things and life will sort itself out. Later, under the wise and radical guidance of Fr Ripberger and the wise gentleness of Fr Schneider (both Schoenstatt Fathers) I stayed clear of some of the rocks for my very insecure boat. This state of instability persisted right after my choice to enter the seminary until I made my consecration to the Mother Thrice Admirable of Schoenstatt, which took my self-education to another, not necessarily easier, level. That was the time I made the promise to crown her if I reach the goal of ordination. She had her hands full and to this day I can testify that it is true: when in crisis, crown Mary. She is Mother and Educator – she is restless until she makes me find Jesus and the Father. She relentlessly works with the gifts of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to educate with a firm motherly hand and compassionate heart.

It is amazing how one word, a sentence, can become the script for a life drama. The message stuck: “Be the change you want the world to be.” (Mahatma Gandhi) Do I really want to continue with this retreat during lockdown? I never started it. It is still in the hands of the Holy Spirit.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 24 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 27: April 22

Some say they are water on a duck’s back. By that I mean disappointments. I don’t believe them because disappointments hurt. There are minor and major ones, but all of them inflict a kind of its own kind. To the major ones belong breach of trust or the irreversible consequences of crisis or disaster. They can be the result of one’s own deeds or inflicted by someone or forces beyond personal control. The minor ones? They are never minor really, if they are left unattended to. They add up and become a constant source of loss of interest and energy. By the week I share the disappointments of people. And they challenge me to face my own. Left unattended, the effects could have devastating lasting effects. The lockdown time offers ample time to do this, and not for the first time.

To illustrate the point. Years ago in Germany I was helping out in a parish in Germany. The parish priest was by no means old but often sick. There were times that I was in fact running everything in the parish but the administration, which was masterly taken care of by the secretary. Somehow the man fascinated me. I was young and in the full passion of pastoral work, which interfered with my studies. And here was a priest who always seemed listless and disinterested. He was kind and helpful whenever spoke with him. He celebrated Holy Mass without much passion, or so it seemed to me. I watched him go through the motions:only one verse of the hymn per part of the Holy Mass. Afterwards he disappeared into his house where he was shielded by his housekeeper who was his sister. It was very difficult to get to see him. I once mentioned this confidentially to a parishioner. The story he told him was quite baffling. The same priest had once been the “star” of pastoral work with youth in the city. He was popular, successful and sought after. Later he became parish priest. He was a very sensitive man. When I asked what happened that made him so deprived of energy, the answer was: disappointments! Not any particular one, or major ones. Just disappointments, which snuffed the fire out of him. All he did in the end was perform his duty. He had lost control and allowed the emotional effects of disappointments to reduce him to a passionless, fireless man. It was hard to see, and I have seen it repeatedly. I think of the eighty years old priest I had once stayed with in Australia. He gave his life to youth and family ministry, never for a moment losing this interest and passion – a true example of a good priest. He had a little notebook, in which he kept the names and dates of wedding anniversaries and birthdays of people and of their children. If your name was in book, you received a call. My name made it  into that little book and his memory was bad. My birthday followed the day after his. I always invited him out for dinner on his birthday. When I drank the toast, I did it to me, too, to which he always objected. We always had a good laugh when I explained to him why. The next day I would fall over his feet to get me a present. Anyway, this very same man hid his softness with extreme gruffness. He always put up the appearance of being hard and tough. And he had more than 40 years of priestly experience in the field. He had seen it all. One day we were chatting about the future of priests in Australia. He had given his life to many years of youth work and had only one wish: vocations to the priesthood. That never eventuated. At that point, he broke down and cried bitterly. It was a bitter disappointment he had never come to terms with.

There are disappointments of shattered lives and livelihoods. These are never water on a duck’s back. We can put on a facade or mask, even with some success. They are daily visitors, small and big ones. Some impact more than others. I have had my fair share of them. Today I recall with some amusement my first disappointment at primary school. I loved singing in our school choir, which was directed by the principal himself. One day we practised. Suddenly he stopped us. Again he made us sing, and stopped us again. We repeated the routine once when he looked up and said, “Ivanhoe, I think you should go and water the garden.” It spelled the end of a promising career. Little could he know how much effort we made at home to put in extra singing lessons after school, spontaneously meeting in each others’ homes. How could he know that I had been following the advice to eat wax crayons and black board chalk to improve the quality of my voice! But he was probably right at the time and I enjoyed gardening, too. Nevertheless, the disappointment did hurt and made me actually believe that he was right, which is total rubbish. Some disappointments turned out to be turning points in my life. I was the star grade 7 learner at primary school, which wasn’t too difficult given that we were only 12. The factory manager decided to sponsor the best learner a bursary for high school anywhere. There and then my father decided that there was only one school that met the standard of being the best. It was St Columba High School in Athlone, a Catholic boys’ school. My eldest brother who was already in Cape Town was directed to made enquires. I had the best pass, but the manager never kept his promise. I believe to this day that that was a turning point. Another turning point was my matric results, though I had a first grade pass. I had set my sight on becoming a medical doctor. On the basis of my September results De Beers Mining had granted me a full bursary, covering student fees, stationery, clothing allowance, transport and food allowance. It was the best bursary ever. I just needed the same kind of results. It all turned out miserably wrong. The exams were easy, and I was on cloud nine. Then the shock came. Our school was one of the “top ten schools incriminated in the leaking of exam papers” and, hence the results were held back. When they did come out, to my horror my best result was Latin. A learner who could barely pass Mathematics had an A pass. The results were not a true reflection of the exams. And what ashamed me was that the school did nothing. That was the end of my lifelong dream. I then went to UWC, thinking I could get into medical school via the BSc degree. This was possible but would not have worked anyway due lack of funds. Nevertheless, I started and did the first and second year, taking the subjects that would enable me to apply for medicine. I was horrified to see the lack of quality of the lecturers. It was less than I had had at high school, which was very good. In fact, I compared them with my teachers and they were nowhere near the same quality. I suddenly struggled with a serious matter of conscience. How could I possibly accept this low standard? It became excruciating the more radically I dealt with it. Before the September exams, I finally made up my mind to end my studies than to be ashamed of the degree. I informed my parents. They were disappointed but respected my decision. There was hushed silence in the house as by then also my siblings knew. Somehow, I was relieved that I could talk about it. They could not understand. I slept over it, then went to them the next morning and told them that I would go back to write the final exams for the first year. And so I did it the following year. At the end of that year, I sat with the same issue, but had made up my mind to just get it over and done with and become a teacher. But it never happened that way. I didn’t return for the final year.

What happened with these disappointments? During my second year I was grappling with another issue: priesthood, yes or no. I had to finally make up my mind. And I did. Well, when I arrived in Germany for studies, I was told I didn’t have to do Latin because my marks were good enough for exemption. Had I attended St Columba’s High School my path to university would have been different. Had I proceeded to medical school I would have been so fulfilled. I don’t think I would have followed the calling to the priesthood. Disapppointments directed my path to the priesthood. And through my studies at UWC I developed an interest in and love of the human body, plants, animal, landscapes and minerals. Disappointments mapped the road for me to leave my dear community of the Schoenstatt Fathers who decided to leave South Africa just as I was about to return home to work here after almost 19 years of absence. Put before the option of staying in South African and leaving the community, I opted to stay. And I am happy to be back.

As they say, God writes straight on crooked lines. He does work in mysterious ways to teach obedience to His will.

There are other major disappointments but somehow, by the grace of God, I needed them. They educated and formed me much better and more thoroughly than any programme could ever have done. The minor ones can keep me awake: the slow pace of growth in my spiritual life; my increasingly poor health, the lack of cooperation from parishioners; the arduous of getting parents to participate in the faith education of their children; the inequality between rich and poor; the inability of people to keep promises to be at meetings, et cetera, et cetera. I have learned to live with and manage imperfection. I have had to accept that people are not perfect – intellectually, spiritually, morally and emotionally. In fact, they are like me. Imperfection is normal. Only God is perfect. And I have had to learn to see people for the potential they have and can give under their circumstances. I have made imperfection a friend. Disappointments taught me that. It made me wiser. And, let me not forget the myriad of disappointments I caused others.

Jesus had more than his fair share of disappointments. He had them because he remained focused on God’s will. Nevertheless, he felt the pain of disappoint, when he said: “What comparison do I have to describe this breed? They are like children squatting in the town squares, calling to their playmates: ‘We piped you a tune, but you did not dance! We sang you a dirge, but you did not wail!’ In other words, John appeared neither eating nor drinking, and people say, ‘He is mad’. The Son of Man appeared eating and drinking, and they say, ‘This one is a glutton and drunkard, a lover of tax collectors and those outside the law!’ Yet time will prove where wisdom lies.” (Matthew 11: 17) He worked so hard for the faith education of his people. But one day he despairingly said: “But will the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?” (Luke 18: 8) These are words reflecting deep disappointment after hard work that seemed to be in vain. And let’s not forget how many times his own disciples disappointed him. And throughout the Old Testament we read of God’s bitterness and pain because His own people disappointed Him.

Every disappointment taught me to detach me from self. It gave me the sense of refocus on what is more important. It made me distinguish between what belongs to God and to mammon. It helped me be more compassionate. It gave me new values. It made me trust Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It made me freer. Disappointment became a wise teacher. But I am not looking for it! But they are a constant motivation to believe that God has a plan. And, fortunately, it is not the only way God teaches. But He does use it to great effect.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 23 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 26: April 21

One evening before the Easter Triduum, it must have been Holy Thursday I receive a phone call to ask if someone could come around to bring me something she had made for me that day. Of course, she may. On second thoughts, she decided not to come because it was already 9.30pm. I got excited to see what it was and there was already an emotion of gratitude welling up in me. Someone had been working the whole day to make something for me! Wow. Just so wonderful. She came the following day. It was the painting of the Good Shepherd. I was overwhelmed with joy. I sheepishly asked, “Why the Good Shepherd.” She said, “Well, I painted the Good Shepherd, and thought of you.” She took me back to a delicate moment in my life.

I have a good collection of pictures, and they all mean much to me. Each one of them has a profound story to tell. When the picture of the Good Shepherd arrived I had the urge, or shall I say, the prompting of the Holy Spirit to revisit the stories because the pictures are there all the time. The image of the Good Shepherd is very dear to me. When the Archbishop of Cape Town, Stephen Brislin, asked me in July/August 2015 to come to Bothasig I had no hesitation to do so. And that although it wasn’t easy because I loved my parish of St John the Baptist in Atlantis. We were in the process of building up ward communities and the signs were very promising. I was very excited about this new growth, which held so much good for the parish. I always felt that I should have stayed another six years to complete the building up. But it was about doing God’s will. Well, I was meant to keep my new appointment a secret and wait until the new appointments were going to be announced in September. On my birthday in August, a woman came after Holy Mass into the sacristy. We didn’t always have a very harmonious relationship but somehow managed to eke out one that was manageable. She apologised to me, which I found very gracious. Then she gave me a little cross.  It was the cross with the Good Shepherd of Pope Francis. To me that was a direct sign of God that Good Shepherd in Bothasig was where He wanted me to be. How polite, how tender and gentle God is! The image of the Good Shepherd, as Fr Joseph Kentenich, the founder of Schoenstatt Movement, interprets it, has to do with Shepherd love, Shepherd loyalty, Shepherd strength. I always felt a strong attraction to this image. A religious Sister said when she heard of my transfer to Bothasig and the concern some people had for me: “Fr Ivanhoe will win their hearts.” Humbly I took that as my pastoral programme and approach.

I visited the other pictures in my house. There is one at the top of the staircase leading to the bedroom. It is the image of Jesus knocking at a door to enter. This image hung in our bedroom. As a child I saw it every day. Years later I had a little youth group in Germany, which met every Monday evening. One of our topics was my favourite image of Jesus. I recalled that one. It just resonated joy, trust, the presence of Jesus, goodness, assurance and love of Jesus in me. When it was time for me to leave Germany, that was the picture they gave me. Ever since, I know that knocking at the door of people’s hearts is all that matters. The seed was sold mysteriously when I was a young boy.

There are the pictures that have to do with home and experiences of values. One photo I have is that of a fishing trawler filled almost to sinking point. It is slowly approaching the jetty for off-loading. I saw it so many times, and such a picture made an indelible mark on me. Image of the rich haul of fish through the inspiration of Jesus. But just then, it was simply an image that made the place my home. Always when I spontaneously draw pictures, they will be of a trawler and anchor. The anchor is a favourite – symbol of hope and safety in the storms. In my office hangs the image of a blue anchor given by the Holy Cross Sisters when they left Atlantis. The symbol of my primary school was the anchor. This symbol with the school motto “Standvastig en getrou” (“Steadfast and loyal”) meant a lot to me as I travelled through life. The other symbol, though not in my house but with my eldest brother, is the steering wheel of a boat. I just love it. My dad dismantled it from a trawler, which went down in a storm in the bay near the jetty. That steering weel he turned into a lampstand. Jesus is the skipper at the steering. In Afrikaans we call him “Stuurman”. Of course, there are photos of the boy who calls me daddy. Whenever I see his photo, I smile and stare at the wide-open horizon over the Tygerberg Hills. I wonder what the future holds and if I will be part of it. I pray to God that I will be. I have the image of the pelican feeding its young on my priestly stole. From my childhood I don’t remember too often seeing one. But there were times when one uprightly and majestically with an aura of a prince would glide into the calm waters of the bay and out again. The pelican was almost a mythical bird for me. Imagine my joy when with a group of seminarians seeking their image of Christ for their priesthood decided on the pelican, although with a more profound interpretation. I was ready for it. I have a very delicate cross in my office – delicate because of the substance it is made from and the story. It is Croatian as was the donor. She discovered one day that when her mother was pregnant with her both parents decided for abortion, which they undertook to do themselves. The mother drank litres and litres of quinine. The foetus resisted and resisted until they relented. She often wondered what had happened in her life and made her the person she became. One day her parents told her and asked for forgiveness. However, still not over the news and living with the emotional trauma, she came to see me. At the end she found the answer and even purpose. She gave me the cross to thank and remind me of the journey we had been together.

Jesus was full of images to explain his message. Pearl, sun, moon, mustard seed, vineyard, mountain, angel, birds, storm, sparrow, lilies, soil, home, wedding feast, tree, sheep, bread, yeast, water, fire, hen, shepherd, lamp, light, way. He used them in parables as teaching elements. But they also reflected his own experiences. I can imagine that the face of his Mother and the hands of Joseph made lasting impressions on his soul.

Before their wedding I ask the couple what image they have in their heart of their partner. I am blown over by what they tell, even though they have never given it previous thought. And I ask them to find their own image or brand of their relationship. That one goes on their wedding candle. Usually, I have found out, when the relationship matures, it happens around the enrichment of such symbols or images. When it goes wrong, there is a change of image. The knight in shining armour has become a threatening predator or tormentor. And the princess has become the lady with the broom. Images in the soul construct or deconstruct.

That is why I can relate to the Scripture verse that we are God’s work of art.  What is man? “You have made him little less than the angel, and crowned with glory and honour.” (Psalm 8: 6) When He made us in His image, He said, “It was very good.” That image of God is visible in the many images, which reveal something essential in our souls. And St Paul, to express his joy and pride in his community, resorts to the image of the crown: Philippians 4: 1 “For these reasons, my brothers (and sisters), you whom I so love and long for, you who are my joy and my crown, continue my dear ones, to stand firm in the Lord.” And he writes so movingly to the Thessalonians that one day he will stand before the Lord with a crown in his hand to present them to him. “Who, after all, if not you, will be our hope or joy, or the crown we exult in before our Lord Jesus Christ at his last coming? You are our boast and our delight.” (1 Thessalonians 2: 19)

Every one of us has a gallery of images, real ones in terms of photos or paintings. I believe the soul is like an art gallery with such paintings, photos and sculptors, each with a story. And, interestingly enough, they never just return to repeat the same story. Time and new experiences added something to them. Stories become unlimited story tellers.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 21 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 25: April 20

Sometimes the soul is like being on a high mountain. The view, the sun, the fresh aware, the space, everything to behold and expand the soul. But life seems to have its way that these are few and far between. Perfume or fragrances can have that effect of being transported to a “better place”. I was reminded of this again at the recent funeral when I incensed the coffin. Stench has the opposite effect. Smell is for the baby a primordial experience. The smell of the mother’s skin relaxes the newborn child. A baby can smell the difference between the milk of its own mother and that of another mother.

Sometimes literature helped me to understand the power of our senses, especially when some are more emphasised than others. Years ago, I read the book by the German writer, Patrick Suskind, Perfume. The Story of a Murderer. (The book of Joanne Harris, Chocolat, explained to me the significance of the sense of taste.) It is about a young boy who was born under a table on a smelly fish market in France where his mother was working. He grew with the stench of, which permeated his who being and became the way he saw life, society and people. He grew up an orphan. He was gifted with the ability to distinguish between a wide variety of fragrances. Ironically, it also gave him the most sensitive sense of smell to be able to make the best perfumes. Even so, this stench in his being made him a highly destructive person.

This is so different from the words of St Paul in 2 Corinthians 2: 15: “We are an aroma of Christ for God’s sake.” This aroma is like the sweet smell of the flower, which attracts the bird. The aroma or fragrance of the Christian is the first point of giving witness. It is their way of life before a word is spoken. St Paul is very pleased to have received from Timothy’s faith and life, “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”(Philippians 4: 18) In Ephesians 5: 1-2 we read: “Be imitators of God as his dear children. Follow the way of love, even as Christ loved you. He gave himself as an offering to God, a gift of pleasing fragrance.” In other words, like Jesus, the sweet pleasing fragrance, so we, too, must be a pleasing fragrance to him through sacrifice and witnessing. Fragrant for God, smelling good for Jesus is a thought never considered. Even the Scripture verse from the First Letter of John 1: 1 fails to list the sense of smell for the experience of Christ: “What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon and hands have touched – we speak of the word of life.” They are there – touch, sight and hearing. Did they not smell him? These three are arguably far more in our awareness than smell. Yet, perfumes are perhaps as an important consideration as the clothes we are wearing. They are almost equal to the clothes. In the Middle Ages washing one’s body was not so common. French kings made excessive use of perfume to cover their body odour. Odour or scent is all-pervasive in life.

What brings me to the topic? Fragrance has something to do with heaven and home. I remember the smell of the earth in my hometown after the first rain. The water steams from the fields and the soil gives off that fresh earthy fragrance. There is the salty smell of the sea or the pungent smell of the fish meal. It can also be the smell of seaweed and the manure of the seagulls on the rocks. Home is smelly – with the nice and not so nice ones. In early Spring there is nothing that can beat the softest and sweetest fragrance of the viooltjie, a tiny blue flower, or of hyancinth. Fragrances are about home and, at the same time, being transported to something heavenly. Being at home meant the smell of chocolate cake from the kitchen, of food on the stove, of snoek and bread in the oven, and so much more. Let me not forget the smell of Vicks or camphor when I was sick with a cold or flu. It still hangs in my nose. The sense of smell became so real to me when one day I visited with a priest a fragrance museum (or exhibition) in Enschede in the Netherlands. It was amazing to see the exhibits and how the widest variety of fragrances were reproduced. If you wanted to smell old boots, there they were. Not so nice was the smell the Dutch in their forthright manner called “poep”. No translation or further comment. On our pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2018 I had collected before some perfumes before we left. I wanted the pilgrims to smell the Holy Land. I took aloe, cassia, lemon grass, cinnamon, rose oil and some others. I wanted them to know what happened on the evening in Bethany where Jesus spent his last night with his friends Lazarus, Mary and Martha. “Mary brought a pound of costly perfume made from genuine aromatic nard, with which she anointed Jesus’ feet. Then she dried his feet with her hair, and the house was filled with the ointment’s fragrance.” (John 12: 3) This was such a touching gesture of friendship and love the night before Jesus departed for Jerusalem to suffer and die. It was a sensory and sensual gesture of her love for Jesus. When Judas objected, Jesus told him: “Leave her alone”(John 12: 7) The next time his body was anointed for burial. “They took Jesus’ body, and in accordance with Jewish burial custom bound it up in wrappings of cloth with perfumed oils.” (John 19: 40)

At Church it is the smell of incense at Holy Mass and at funerals. Many Catholics associate incense with Solemn Mass. There is Psalm 141: 2 that says that our praise may rise up like incense before God. “May you accept my prayer like incense, my uplifted hands like the evening offering.” At funerals we incense the body of the deceased and pray that his soul may rise up to God like incense as a pleasing offering. We are blessed at our Church to have so much lavender. I like to go out and smell the followers or crush a few leaves to inhale the fresh, pure, herbal smell. I will always associate that smell with my time at Good Shepherd Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has a special ceremony for the blessing of the oils, called the Mass of the Oils or Chrism Mass, on Holy Thursday. The bishop blesses the oil of the sick, oil of catechumens and chrism. These are fragrant oils meant to strength and soothe. Through laying on of hands and anointing the Holy Spirit imparts the grace to the sick or dying, the person prepared for reception into the church and with chrism at baptism, ordination of the priest and the consecration of altars. Pure olive oil is the base mixed with other fragrant oils, like balsam for chrism. (In the Armenian Church myrrh is mixed with olive oil, 48 fragrances and flowers).

The opposite of fragrance is stench. And I know that smell, too. The first reaction is to get rid of it as soon as possible. The Germans have a saying: “I can’t stand your smell.” In other words, I can’t stand you. Bad smell is everything of that person. Both fragrance and stench have spiritual meaning – the one pleasing to God, the other He despises. At this stage, one must remember that fragrance or sweet scents were as such not important. It was what they represented. God wants the fragrance of repentance, prayers, love and charity. At the other end, He found abominable the stench of sin. Fragrance has to do with care, stench with lack thereof. In Isaiah 1: 11-13, God gives the scathing verdict of those who neglect their duty of care: “What do I care for the number of your sacrifices? (…) In the blood of calves, lambs and goats I find no pleasure. (…) Bring no more worthless offerings: your incense is loathsome to me.” And what is the reason? They neglected to look after the orphans, the widows and the strangers (Isaiah 1: 23; 10: 1-2). Social care and justice was fragrant to God.

Fragrance is compassion, mercy, kindness, charity, forgiveness, repentance, conversion, prayer, adoration and peace. It is everything that pleases God. It is, above all, Jesus Christ, His Son, who came to do what pleases the Father.

I think it is a beautiful image for our spiritual life – be God’s perfume, be a pleasing, fragrant offering to Him. And it doesn’t take much.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 22 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 24: April 19

Any retreat would be incomplete without the meditation on the name of Jesus. For the disciples, Jesus after his Resurrection was the “Lord”. That was the sum total of their experiences with him after he was risen from the dead. That title “Kyrios”, originally reserved for God in the Old Testament was conferred on Jesus (John 21: 7). His name described their new awareness of his presence and purpose in their lives. It was in the strength of this name that they preached, performed miracles and sacrificed themselves.

The name “Jesus” makes all the difference. The hermit priest, Charles de Foucauld , followed Jesus who turned his life around from a flamboyant playboy to unquenchable search for a life of poverty amongst the poorest of the poor in North Africa. His thirst took him to the desert where he spent hours in adoration of the Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. It was in one meditation that he found his life motto: Jesus Love. He drew a red heart with a cross at the top. Jesus was all that mattered to this radical follower who was tragically killed. He believed that Jesus could be through him the sign of reconciliation with the Muslims. There are other saints who discovered Jesus in the same way. For Ignatius of Loyola, Jesus was the King of kings who alone deserved his loyalty in the same as he, Ignatius once was a loyal soldier. To mind comes the incredible dedication of St Theresa of Calcutta to the people dying on the streets. Malcolm Muggeridge, an atheist and sceptic, who wanted to expose her as a fraud, was a journalist with the BBC. He decided to visit her in Calcutta. One day he accompanied her. He saw her bending down to lovingly take a dying man into her arms. His body was stinking and eaten away by worms. Muggeridge said, he wouldn’t do that for a thousand dollars. Nor would I, she replied. She believed that she was holding Jesus in her arms. He made his conversion to Christianity and wrote the famous book based on his conversations with her, “Something beautiful for God.” Muggeridge called her “The light that can never be extinguished.” The motto of St Theresa of Calcutta and her Missionaries of Charity is the words of Jesus on the Cross, “I am thirsty.” Then there is St Margaret Mary Alacoque who found Jesus in the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and St Faustina that Jesus is Divine Mercy. To this list can be added the names of people around us, parishioners in fact, who are sterling examples of the power of the name of Jesus. They look after a sick spouse, a substance addicted child, a spouse or parent with Alzheimer’s disease and of persons with other forms of mental illness. They do it in the name of Jesus.

Jesus is the name I call on every day – in daily prayers, at Holy Mass or just spontaneously. While reflecting on his name, I remember how a woman one day put it in the most beautiful way I have ever heard. In their group of mothers, she was looking for her life motto. In other words, she was trying to formulate, based on her life and faith experiences, what she believed to be the core of her identity. She came up with the most astonishing formula: “My heart is full of Jesus.” What an amazing thing to say. And it suited her so well. She made that motto her core identity and tried to live by it.

For me this process of discovering the significance of the name of Jesus happened with a group of seminarians who formed a course during the years of formation with the Schoenstatt Fathers. Our life motto was Cor Patris (Heart of the Father). Jesus is the heart of the Father. We found this motto symbolised in the Pelican. According to a North African legend, the pelican tries to feed its young during a severe drought. Unable to find food, it one day returns to the nest to find the young birds dying. The pelican then uses its long sharp beak to pierce its own heart. With its blood it feeds the young ones who recover while it dies. St Augustine interpreted the death of Jesus on the Cross and his sacrifice in the Eucharist in the light of this legend. Christ is the true Pelican who sacrifices himself so that we may have life. Our relationship with Jesus was henceforth shaped according him as the Pelican, the Heart of the Father.

The name of Jesus stands out in our Christian spirituality in a prayer called the Jesus Prayer. It has its origin in the Egyptian desert with the Desert Fathers and Desert Mothers. The prayer is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” It is based on three Scripture verses. 1. St Paul’s hymn to Christ in Philippians 2: 6-11, “Jesus Christ is Lord.” 2. Luke 1: 31-35: Verse 35 “Son of God”. 3. Luke 18: 9-14 The parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector. The tax-collector says verse 13, “O God, be merciful on me, a sinner.” These three were combined into the Jesus Prayer as “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me (a sinner)”. This prayer is said on a rosary of 50 beads. It is meant to clear the mind and the heart to focus on the power of the name of Jesus. It was one of my favourite prayers for a long time and it is time to revive it. The name of Jesus is like not other. We must call on this name as often as possible, “So that at the name of Jesus every knee must bow in heavens, on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father: JESUS CHRIST IS LORD.” (Philippians 2: 10) The power of the name of Jesus reverberated in the work of the apostles. When Peter and John met the crippled man, Peter said to him: “(…) what I have  I give you. In the name of Jesus the Nazorean, walk.” (Acts 3: 6)

In times of uncertainty, let me first call on the powerful name of Jesus: Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Prayed 50 times, breathing slowly and evenly, it has the most calming and strengthening effect.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 20 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 23: April 18

Last year I had almost every week a funeral, sometimes two. Right from the word go in January, the “funeral season” started. And the trend never stopped, right into the new  year 2020. Then the state of disaster was declared. On Thursday, March 26, I had a funeral. The regulations were in force not to exceed the number of 50 to participate. It was a strange experience to see such a small group of people for a man who was very popular throughout his life both in society and in the parish. The second funeral was on Friday, April 16. It was quite a task to get everything organised from the point of view of the lockdown regulations. The family had to get a permit from the police for the funeral, and so did every individual attendee. I am not sure if they all complied but that was the requirement, anyway. It just drove the point home to what extent we were in the grip of the Coronavirus and Covid-19. I always paid attention to the tributes, and at these two funerals it was no exception. In any case, it is my custom to meet with the family beforehand to learn more about the deceased. Still, tributes or eulogies play an important role. Almost without exception, they highlight the merits of the deceased. It seems to be the inevitable effect of death, that the good sides of the life of the deceased surface, no matter how many shadows hang over him or her. That is how everyone wants to remember her or him. And that is good. In fact, it is an act of charity to react in such a way. Naturally, the tribute must be done with caution as regards the not so good things. I remember a widow years ago telling me after the funeral of her husband, “You know it wasn’t like that.” And I knew because the family were friends. But to return to the effect tributes have on me. At both funerals the image of two great persons rightly emerged – nothing was made up. The eulogists had done their homework. I could hear of two men whose lives were full of meaning and purpose. Both were well known to me and I will miss them, each one in his own way.

 As it happens in time of silence and solitude, some things sink in very deeply and make one think more. I had to reconsider the experience of death in my own life. What I then realised was that I very seldom really worked through these experiences. They happened, I locked them away and moved on. As I mentioned previously, the soul can be like a locker room with many lockers, each with something locked up. The Holy Spirit, come the right moment, then opens the right one. Inescapably, it is time to look what is inside and let it come out to see. This time was no difference. I went back to the time when my father died, which was in 2001. I was in Perth conducting retreats, giving conferences, holding group meetings, arranging pilgrimages, engaging in youth events and a family weekend. It was my annual visit to the Schoenstatt Movement and it was a programme-filled time. Just then the news arrived that my father had a critical set-back. He was already suffering from a heart condition, probably brought on by acute asthma, which he had all his life. I had just started an all-night vigil for youth. In between hours, I sneaked away to the public phone nearby to call home. In this way, I was kept up to date with his last hours. The next morning, I went to rest, having completed the vigil. My only means of communication was the cell phone which was very expensive. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to use it to call home hourly. My father died that day. I received different offers from groups to pay for my flight home. But how could I go? It became a real conflict of conscience, having to decide between staying to finish the pastoral work or going to the funeral. I decided to stay in Perth. The family understood and never put me under any pressure. But it was my father who made my decisions easier. I had been visiting home every year and because of his ill health. Every time at the airport when we said our goodbye, he made me understand that in the event of his passing on, I should nor feel obliged to attend his funeral. Every goodbye was as if he was lowered into the grave. He valued the work I was doing and many times reassured to feel free to do it. His death had a very fine touch of Divine Providence: he died on September 15, the date of death of Fr Joseph Kentenich, my spiritual father and the day of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows. I felt at peace with my decision to stay in Perth. And the long cell phone calls never appeared on the phone bill! But it always seemed that my father never quite left. Over the years I have had many important little conversations with him. Usually I imagined him present and found myself asking the question what he would have done or said. That habit remained with me. I found that his death made him very real in my life – he became a counsellor.

With my mother it was different.  I said good-bye to her at the airport in 2007 on my way to Nigeria. Two weeks later I received the message that she slipped in hospital and fell on her head. This time I insisted to go and was granted leave. She never awoke from her coma. I anointed her and conducted her funeral. We never had the opportunity to say another word. Very different from my father, she held a tender position in my heart. The memory of her has to do with quiet self-giving and sacrifice. Both parents, however, seem more on this side than on the other. Both seem to have never entirely left and in some way have immortalised themselves in my life. All of this was going through my mind as I reflected on the tributes I had heard.

Last year in September my eldest sister was found dead in the bathroom of their house. That was a total shock. Nothing prepared us for it. I remember arriving at their house and found it so unreal that she was dead. It was like a deep sleep. It was devastating to lose someone who was so naturally an emotional piece of the puzzle of my soul – her voice, warmth, knowing everyone’s business (and even secrets), her tough loyalty, her undaunting compassion. She is irreplaceable sister. She is still not gone. Time couldn’t do its work because there were so many other things which needed attention.

Then what can I do to find some form of closure? Closure is not cul de sac. It is the link to here and the gateway to eternity. This is what I opt to do. God created my and your heart to be united with Him in eternity. The heart is the symbol for eternal love. In my heart there is a special section called heaven, a place for the deceased loved ones. That is where they are. And every time when I am at the altar, they gather there, too. There is nothing in this world nor in our faith that says that we separate from them. Love is our eternal bond, here and in life thereafter. I know that they have joined those of whom Revelation 4: 8 says, “Day and night, without pause, they sing: ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, He who was, and who is, and who is to come!’” And why shouldn’t that music echo through them in my heart?!

Every funeral brings a tear and a smile. A sigh of relief for their presence and anticipation of future eternal life with them.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 22 (Bothasig)

Day 22: April 17

The first period of the lockdown (April 16) has now come and gone. It is no longer relevant because we already find ourselves in the extended lockdown time. However, the end of what would have been the first period has a certain significance for us. We would have made the tally of the Hail Marys said thus far. Well, from March 27 until April 16 the number of Hail Marys prayed is 147 473. It is going well, but still far from our target of one million. The context is what makes this act of devotion very relevant.

Besides the context created by the Coronavirus and Covid19 there are so many different other layers such as the global political scene, the economy, the social inequality between rich and poor, the communication, the technology and medical science, the availability of food, the consequences for the academic field and the diverse family situations. Then, very strongl,y there is the emergence of analyses leading to all kinds of theories. In essence, the crisis caused by the Coronavirus has opened every area of debate and plunged the world into a kind of vacuum into which anyone is welcome to make a contribution. And religion is not far from it, as one would expect. But who are the protagonists in this arena? Well, the major religions are conspicuously absent with interpretations, analyses and prognosis. But all kinds of religious interpretations claiming the status of prophecies are on the rise. I have been listening to these and they all have one thing in common: they go back to a certain time when somewhere some general statements were made and are now claiming to be verified by current circumstances. What is it with prophecies, which make them either attractive or draw scepticism?

They are attractive in times of instability and uncertainty. They are hardly noticeable in other times. Prophecies answer to the need for clarity of a certain kind. It is not enough for people to receive answers from science or leaders. They need answers from “above”, the answers from God. That is, to a certain degree, understandable. Once we know “God’s mind”, we have certainty and peace of mind. People don’t want to be left in the dark. Who doesn’t want that, anyway? It is the kind of information that prophecies offer, which appeases them. With all the information in the world, they can’t or will not make up their own minds. The problem is that there is not just one prophecy. Invariably, people align themselves to a certain one. Prophets are expected interpret current circumstances. They must be God’s voice today! Why are prophecies difficult today? The difficulty has to do with the understanding of prophets. A prophet or prophetess is someone who has the calling from God to be a prophet. Such a prophet has a message from God to proclaim. And the prophet, by virtue of being called, has direct contact (immediacy) to God. And all three of these characteristics of prophecy can be complicated. The question is: who can vouch for the authenticity of the prophet? And is the prophecy credible? Also, the prophet can err, both in the message and the calling. It is so easy for a prophet to confuse his personal mission awareness with God’s calling. Even the prophet is not exempt from mistakes. Who can fully and unerringly understand the mind of God or of Jesus Christ, the Son of God? In the Old Testament prophets were a normal institution in religion and society, next to the priest and the king. At the coronation of a king, the prophet anointed him. It was the prophet who gave advice to the king. The king would normally consult the prophet to know God’s will. Conflict with the prophet results in conflict with God. The big difference between the king and the priests, on the one hand, and the prophet, on the other hand, is that the first two are structures. They come as part of society whereas the prophet is a charismatic figure. In other words, he has his origin in God. (There were times when prophets were absent.) Very often I find that what is being proclaimed as prophecy is nothing new: the call to repentance (which is central to Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of heaven) and the punishment by God for sins. All throughout Scripture, these two positions can be found and they have never been negated or diluted. Prophecies, which claim the end of world is near can be rejected out of hand. Only God knows when the end is coming and Jesus warned against such doomsday predictions.

We have a certain difficulty with prophecy in the Church. The prophecies of the Old Testament were endorsed and fulfilled by Jesus Christ. His prophetic mission went to the Apostles and from them to the Bishops. In a certain sense, the prophetic mission disappeared in the Church. Prophecy today in the Church is usually exercised at gatherings of the Bishops such as a Council where everyone is engaged in the discernment of the Spirit. However, the Church also knows the charismatic personalities who are the saints. They, too, were God’s voice and answer to the needs of their times. All too often, though, they clashed with the institutionalised hierarchical Church. It remains the teaching of the Church that every kind of prophecy, message from “above” or apparition of Our Lady, Jesus or a saint must be verified and declared authentic by the teaching office of the Church. What does that mean for us as Catholics? When we hear of a prophecy from a Catholic, we must ask the question: Is this verified by the Church? If it isn’t, then it remains someone’s personal opinion. It also implies that our Church leaders (Pope and bishops) must have their voice in the domain of giving prophetic leadership. They must speak with the authority of their office.

Now why all this rambling about prophecy when my actual point is the spiritual bouquet to Mary in the form of the one million Hail Marys? The first reason is that the gift of prophecy as gift of the Holy Spirit has never left the Church. Every baptised person receives this gift which is marked by the anointing with chrism. This means that every Christian has the calling to be a prophet, in other words, to speak on God’s behalf. The second reason is that the gift of prophecy is best exercised within the community. Each one may bring a different perspective to the interpretation of a certain situation – and may even be right. However, the fuller understanding is in the exchange of the community. Dialogue enriches, completes and corrects. The third reason is that the discernment of God’s will needs a prayerful atmosphere. No one can step from the street, so to speak, and prophesy. Prophecy requires fasting to be free from own expectations and self-interest. Prophecy demands emptiness from the own will to be open to God’s will. Prophecy is best possible where there is prayerfulness, stillness and dialogue. In fact, prophecy as discernment of God’s will is through selfless listening to God and what He has to say through the sister and brother. In this regard Mary has often been seen as prophetess, as a woman who was fully capable of discerning God’s will. As the woman endowed with the fulness of the Holy Spirit, she could gather the apostles in the upper room at Pentecost to pray with them. The Holy Spirit moves where Mary is. In other words, the graces of the Holy Spirit can be expected where Mary’s quality of faith, hope and love is found. And this what makes us truly charismatic believers or prophetic followers of Jesus Christ. It is about knowing God’s will for us here and now and doing it. What does the spiritual bouquet do in this regard? It makes us a prayerful community. It nurtures the spiritual atmosphere to address the prophetic question “What does God want of us?” In the presence of Mary, we may expect the listening quality of Mary. (Remember, the answer comes from God to a listening heart.) We don’t act as individuals but as collective. This is what we attempt year after year with our Annual General Meeting at Good Shepherd Catholic Church, which focuses on one question: “What does God want us to do for the coming year?”. Together we engage in Spirit-filled dialogue. The answer can never be complete because we are human. But it is also possible because God reveals His will through the Holy Spirit. And we do believe that in faith we did find God‘s will to be “Love in Action” as expressed in our Love in Action Prayer.

Once the lockdown is scaled down or even lifted, we will not be out of the woods yet. We cannot just go over to the order of the day. The signs now are of such magnitude (i.e. of God speaking) that we may not sidestep the important question, “God what do you try to tell us as Christians right now”? If we don’t do it, we will loose the opportunity to work hand in hand with God – to be prophetic.

Meanwhile, may the spiritual bouquet keep us prayerful in communion with the Holy Spirit so that we will be ready to address the reality of God speaking to us. Then we will fully exercise our gift of prophecy.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 19 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 21: April 16

I have been asked so many times what it is like to be celebrating Holy Mass in an empty Church. And immediately I must confess that it is very daunting, definitely very strange. There is no eye contact, no possibility of getting a vibe in the congregation or just no one to look at. From where I am standing or sitting, I have an excellent view of what is going on the Church during Holy Mass. And I do miss the banter before Holy Mass, especially when my not so favourite football club lost that weekend and I have to cop it on the chin when mine lost. Then there are the greetings after Holy Mass and the children, or someone trying to turn such a brief moment into an office hour. All these little moments make the experience of Sunday very human and thrilling. So people want to know how I am coping. It is so different that I must totally adjust. It is also a good time to get over the niggles and to lick wounds. There is the sensation during Holy Mass of being looked at by invisible people, and that they do it very closely, or so I amagine. From where I stand, I can see that comments are being made on the Facebook as we are live streaming, though not necessarily specifically about me. One thing I have to guard against very closely is that it does not become a polished performance. It can just be as at every Holy Mass on Sunday. But how does one achieve it without altar servers and people. Well, I imagine that I am in the home of a certain family and am celebrating Holy Mass in their presence. I can see where they sit Sunday after Sunday. I need that kind of personal visualized contact. I am celebrating Holy Mass at 10am. However, I make a blend of all three Holy Masses and their little episodes. At the beginning there are the chronically late ones who fill up the Cry Room or dodge behind others to sneak in. There are those who hang around in the doorway and scouting the interior to find a suitable seat. There is the hurry of some choir or band members to get to their seats and the music before we start. Then there are those who love a giggle or a short conversation during Holy Mass. And, o yes, the annoying gum-chewer who is inevitably a visitor. (My own people don’t do such things.) There is the child who is restless and poor mom or dad is embarrassed at first, then gives up. O yes, from where I stand or sit, Big Brother is watching you. However, all that makes the celebration of Holy Mass such a human experience. Roll them all into one, and I have a potpourri of impressions and emotions, which I try to relive as I am celebrating in an empty Church – with a more or a lesser degree of success. It nevertheless remains a very odd experience. I do confess, too, that when it is over, I am thoroughly relieved and even quite exhausted. I am aware of the fact that I am pouring myself out without the energizing presence of people to restore the batteries as the celebration goes along.

However, and fortunately, it does not end there. I do get feedback from people commenting how much they miss being at “our Church” again and express such a desire for the Eucharist. That is very encouraging and a hopeful sign when the situation returns to normal again.

One thing I am keenly aware of is how the shift has taken place. And though at first sight negative, it is doing so much good for those who are seizing the opportunity. I hear comments such as “We pray so much more together.” Nothing sounds more pleasing to me than that. And throughout there is so much creativity taking place with parents attempting to keep their children occupied and interested. There is another aspect, which is most significant. It is the drastic shift from parish church and community to the family. And that, in my opinion, is great. Compare what the Pastoral Plan for the Catholic Church in Southern Africa, p. 17, quoting Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium (Joy of the Gospel) paragraph 28, has to say about the parish:

“The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration.”

Every aspect listed above is now so much reduced on parish level. At least, we still have the means of social media to communicate, and very successfully. But what about those parishes who do not dispose of such facilities? Environment for hearing God’s word, growth, dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship, and celebration. This has shifted to the family home. The fact simply is that the shift has taken place. According to the Pastoral Plan: “A family which has the experience of Jesus at the centre becomes the source of joy and strength for others. In this way the family brings the Good News to other families and becomes the perfume of the Holy Spirit in society.” (p. 36)

And it is my hope that at least some of it will remain when the lockdown is lifted. This time should be the birth, growth and triumph of the domestic Church, which is the Church in miniature. Parish Church and Family Church need each other and must learn to work hand in hand. It will be such an important task to gather and evaluate the home experiences of Church and then to see, which dimensions of Church life at home can be sustained. There is always the risk that Church is divorced from family and social life, and it happens more often than one realizes.

Families are erecting their Catholic Corner or Prayer Table as the centre of family Church life. They are looking forward to the live streaming of Holy Mass. Prayers are said and the Rosary recited. Most importantly, it is a side of being Church, which is in desperate need of discovery and development. It is that institutionalized parish Church is just one focal point. The other essential one is the family home, called in Church documents the “domestic Church”. I hope that in these days of isolation from the parish church the domestic Church will make huge strides. It would finally drive the point home that parents share the priestly life and functions of Jesus Christ the High Priest. They gather for worship and preside over the prayers. And especially, the moment of the family meal could be the centre of family interaction just as Holy Mass is for the congregation on Sunday. It could be a time for Bible stories and the stories of saints.

I often marvel at stories about survival of the Church in times of severe struggle. Once I met a Chinese woman who was a Catholic. Her family belonged to the underground Catholic Church. No one in China was allowed to have any religious sign or symbol. If found in possession of one or displaying one in the house, the consequences were severe. She said that her father taught her and her brother Catholic catechism. All of them had to lie on the floor so that nobody could see them on the street. Her father would then do the teaching in that way. The Church survived in such conditions because it became by force of circumstances the house church. We don’t have such circumstances, but we do feel the absence of the parish. One thing, which severely hampers the growth of the Church is the expectation that Church is there to deliver certain services. This service delivery Church is then expected to be ready at the request of people – for baptism, First Holy Communion, Confirmation, wedding and funeral. The Church that functions like this is already dying.

I am hopeful that the importance of family Church is better understood and will continue after the lockdown in some form. This is the Church I would like to see, where faith is lived and proclaimed at the coal face of life. As the nucleus of society, the family is also the “foundation and crown of the Church and society” (Fr Joseph Kentenich).

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 16 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 20: April 15

The trigger for today was last night when I was invited to watch on Youtube the crowning of Mary in Schoenstatt/Germany as Queen of Health. Since I am closely associated with the Schoenstatt Movement and subscribe to its spirituality of the Covenant of Love, I was interested to watch it. What further intrigued me was that though in times of crisis Catholics very often turned to Mary by consecrating themselves to her, this time there isn’t any significant reaction. In the pasts, Popes didn’t fail to consecrate the Church and the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. What made me equally interested in the topic was a request from a parishioner for clarification regarding the crowning of Mary. We pray the Glorious Mysteries and don’t think much about the crowning of Mary when we pray the last mystery “the Crowning of Mary”. What did these two things trigger in me? And why now?

Well, triggers are triggers and these resonated deeply in me. I have a devotion to Mary, which is spontaneous and personal. I have never had any issues with her veneration. Spontaneously it was first just the love of the Church for the Mother of God as she was proclaimed at the Synod of Ephesus, which paved the way for her veneration. In my childhood years I remember that we prayed the Rosary in our family. But it also soon faded out and I can’t remember when we actually stopped praying as a family. However, the Rosary remained dear to me. It did help later that we went to live in  Redemptorist parish with the custom of the Novena, a weekly devotion to Mary. In my first years at the University of Western Cape I spent a lot of time waiting for trains and buses and spending even more time on them to and from university. It was then that I always had my Rosary in my pocket and prayed it. Before exams in the hall, I would pray some Hail Marys. But that was also just about it. I never knew nor celebrated the feast days of Mary. A more profound awareness of Mary in the life of Jesus came when I joined the Schoenstatt Movement. There it is not primarily the devotion to Mary, but rather the recognition of her role in God’s plan of salvation. She is the constant helpmate and companion of Jesus in his life and mission to be the Saviour of the world. This is the position God granted her. As much as we call ourselves the children of Abraham, our father in faith, we may also regard ourselves as daughters and sons of Mary, our Mother in faith. She is the Mother and Disciple of Jesus. Over and above, in the Movement she is seen as the model of Christian life in terms of her faith, hope and love. She is God’s practical example of how to respond to His call and follow His Son, Jesus Christ. All the time, she never stands in the way of her Son. She is the pathway to him, as she best illustrated it at the wedding feast at Cana. With our affection for her, she leads directs that affection to Jesus, her Son. True devotion to Mary leads to an even deeper attachment to Jesus because she gives what is in her heart: Jesus. As someone so accurately once put it: if we follow the Annunciation when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary, then her attitude and answers simply mean “My heart is full of Jesus”. That is what the Angel recognized when he called her “Full of Grace”. This means full of the Holy Spirit, full of the Father, full of the Son, full of yearning for the salvation of her people, full of the covenant of God with His people and full of the promises of God to her people. Seen in this light and highlighted by her own words in later apparitions, she always took the attention away from herself and referred us to Jesus. Pope St John XXIII formulated it wonderfully: “The Madonna is not pleased when she is put above her Son.”

The devotion to Mary is so much about the outpouring of the heart to her just because we shower her with the love of a child for the Mother. Or such outpouring results from certain dire circumstances in the history of the Church when the comfort of a mother seemed humanly speaking more in need. Where this happened, Catholics were always in real danger of exaggerations and deflections from Christ. In themselves, these exaggerations don’t have to be a problem if gradually they are bent back to be theologically right (biblically and in keeping with the teachings of the Church) and flow into the life of Christ and his salvation work. I can understand, that when the heart is overflowing, there can be excesses. In the Church’s earlier tradition there was a saying “De Maria numquam satis”, which, translated means “Of Mary never enough”. Behind this is the aspiration to give more titles to Mary, something which the Church treats with caution. Something else, though, is the expression “Pro Maria numquam satis” ((for Mary nothing is enough”). Also, this time the Church has a guarded position though it means something quite different: if you love someone, nothing will ever be enough to show that love. However, caution must be taken so that the impression of worship or the sidelining of Christ is not implied. With regards to the devotion to Mary in the past (or even today) there are two camps – the minimalists and the maximalists. Minimalists are cautious especially where they are in a Protestant environment. Maximalists go the other way, which is particularly prevalent in Latin countries such as Spain, Portugal and Latin America. The same can be said, however, of Catholic regions in Germany.

But what triggered something off in me, was my own devotion to Mary through the medium and guidance of the spirituality of the Schoenstatt Movement. What did it give me? The Covenant of Love with Mary is under her inspiration the way to the Covenant of Love with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In other words, it leads to the full discovery of the dimensions of the Baptism covenant. And this really happens, where the attachment to Mary is not firstly a devotion but a relationship, in which she is actively engaged according to the order of grace (the grace of God constantly forms and transforms, takes us away from sin and comfort zones, to become an image and disciples of Christ) as Mother and Educator. Her function as such is to lead us to a personal encounter with Jesus. The medium is her motherly love for us. What attracted me first to Schoenstatt’s spirituality was the aim the founder, Fr Joseph Kentenich put before the young boys on October 27 1912: “Under the protection of Mary, we want to educate ourselves to become firm, free, priestly characters.” Firm in truth, free in attitude and decision, priestly, meaning principles and values. In other words, here was a form of spirituality, which set about a programme of self-development through self-education under the intercession of Mary and out of love for her. The aim was full discipleship – for every person. This personal relationship with Mary became for me a formal consecration to her. And as my gift to her, I crowned her Queen of my heart and life. What has it brought me? Essentially it gave me the experience of Christian faith in practice on a daily basis. Mary is the example – her availability to God, her openness for the Holy Spirit, her love of her Son, her strength under the Cross, her concern for the disciples (and the Church) at Pentecost, her dignity and freedom, her compassion. And so much more. Jesus’ last care for his Mother inspires me to this day, when he said to Mary, looking at the young disciple, John: “Woman, behold your son”. And looking at him, he said: “Son, behold your Mother.” The text continues, “From that moment the disciple took her to his home.” (John 19: 26) That encounter, and what follows, is the origin of the covenant of love – a relationship of mutual responsibility. For me it still has to do with following Jesus and looking out for others, the way Mary did it. In fact, it is a relationship, which brought the Bible and our Christian doctrines to light. Mary is the biblical woman in the service of God’s plan of salvation through Jesus, His Son, in the Holy Spirit.

In that regard, I can personally say, “For Mary nothing is enough”. It is the language of love as the language of the Father – to see Her with the eyes of the Father and love her with the heart of the Father for the sake of Jesus, His Son. She loves the Church as she loved the disciples. Church without Mary will be a Church without any sense of God’s women in Scripture. It will be a Church without the motherly touch of compassion, care, love and solidarity. I find it interesting that in certain debates how quickly some colleagues are to throw Canon Law into the discussion. Their lack: the inability to see life. Mary shows that to me. In addition, in my relationship with Mary I could develop respect for women as Her image and daughters. In fact, through her I could acquire a different and deeper relationship with my own mother. She has also shown me that the relationship with her is anything but primarily sentiment. It is truth, values and attitude. It is faith in practice. Better still, it is Love in Action. “For Mary nothing is enough”.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 17, 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 19: April 14

Though in lockdown, I am by no means deprived of contact. Whattsapp must be at its busiest ever. I decided to pay more attention to the messages that were coming through. And by that I don’t mean just the content but also the kind or genre of the messages. Of course, the content plays a significant part, but so do the images. All of these are largely determined by the liturgical season of the year and the lockdown circumstances. I started to have a look and try to find out what I am learning.

Before I go further, let me reflect on this very unique situation we are facing. Had anyone told me just three or even two months ago that we would be going through this, I would have considered him insane. Yet, here I am, sitting isolated. (One has to admire the creativity of the wordsmiths who crafted such words as self-isolation, social distancing, lockdown.) I have to pinch myself to say this is the new reality. I think there are people who are nonetheless breaking the law because they find it still hard to believe. That is, of course, besides the fact that South African society does tend to break the law, even violently at times. But, here I am, still trying to internalise the experiences of celebrating Holy Mass with an empty Church. When I go out, I wear a mask. When on earth have I ever thought such a thing possible? At the mere sound of me just gently coughing, there is a nervous reaction around me so that I immediately leave the shop. Masked women and men! People being locked up at home and fined for not staying at home! Imagine, I would be punished for not being at home! In Kwazulu Natal police broke up a wedding as an illegal gathering, arrested all the guests and locked the wedding couple in a holding cell until they could appear in court on the Monday morning! Try and reach out to someone in need outside, and it could get you into trouble. You need a permit to do. Quite bizarre! Some suburbs are like ghost towns, while others erupt into violence over food deliveries. The Pope celebrated Easter in  the empty St Peter’s Basilica with no one on St Peter’s Square, which would normally have been filled with more than 100 000 people. Quite extraordinary!

Many images fit this situation – nightmare, surreal as someone told me, like a science-fiction movie that plays every day yet another episode. When and how is it going to end? I am reminded of the novel by George Orwell, 1984, where the government regiments every sphere of life. In our case, it is what we want because it makes sense! This makes it even more surreal. But how long will the people be able to sustain this situation? What kind of economy will we return to? This isn’t normal. For now, it is, and we are in total agreement. The work “corona” is such a beautiful word, which means crown. But I cannot for the life of me imagine that parents will name there newly born girl Corona. Just as it is impossible in Germany for parents to call their boy Adolf.

It is within this nutty time that messages are flowing backwards and forwards. All kinds of opinions are popping up everywhere: conspiracy theorists, futurists, prophets of gloom, religious fanatics and pseudo-historians who have seen it coming from the past. The main categories I discern in our messages are: Jesus, information about the Coronavirus, family situations, children, information about Holy Mass (youtube/Facebook) and devotions, humour, hymns, games, puzzles, fake news.  Most of these categories are heavily influenced by the lockdown situation. At the same time, their choice is quite revealing. Our young people demonstrate a very creative streak and organise very smartly to engage in games or motivational activities. Pope Francis features, but many times as fake news. As a whole, there is a strong concentration on helping to make the lockdown experience bearable. The sympathetic touches are children who sing most of the time in these messages. Some have astounding talent. There is a lot of repetition. “Forwarded” is very prominent. There are lots of hymns, and some really beautiful ones, from all over the world and from many cultures.

If I have to arrange them according to certain common denominators and then an order of prominence, they have to be faith, hope and love. (1 Corinthians 13: 13) Now that is very interesting because these are the three divine virtues. The Jesus images, the hymns and messages all mean to strengthen these virtues in us. Naturally, they are not mentioned as such but that is how I see and analyse them. Even the humorous ones encourage us not to give up hope. The Jesus ones and the messages about God spur us on to hold on to our faith and trust in God.  (Interestingly enough, there is nothing about the Holy Spirit and very few about Mary.) The hymns carry us with both beauty and wisdom through the dark moments. Significant is that the protagonists are very diverse: children, young people, single vocalists or groups or big choirs. Equally significant is that the messages and music are from all cultures.

There is a sense that we are in a battle against a great enemy, which is the Coronavirus. But more importantly, the real battle is against fear, despair, frustration, death, negativity. Because we know that we can win the battle against the virus if we just adhere to the strict requirements imposed by the government. The solution is simple: stay out of trouble, and you will be fine. In the meantime, however, we must cope with ourselves. But what about our jobs? Or the fragile condition of elderly parents who are very susceptible to the virus? Or the academic year for matrics? Or the loss of income? Many people can add their own list of very serious concerns.

Now Scripture itself likens life of a Christian as a battle. Ephesians 6: 11 admonishes us (the baptised Christian) to put on the armour of God to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. (In the Book of Wisdom 5: 18-22, God Himself is a warrior. In Isaiah 59: 17 we read, “He put on justice as his breastplate, salvation, as the helmet on his head.”) There is in other words, another battle out there, which challenges us to be strong. We are engaged in the military service of God and the military service of Christ until the end of time. But the demand to be recruited for such service comes with the challenge we must confront head-on. The armour described in Ephesians 6: 14-17 is different. I would rather derive my weaponry from the communication I observe in the messages on social media, which prove to be effective: be steadfast in faith, persevere in hope and grow in love. (Ephesians 6: 11 implies the same because it is not so much about the weaponry but rather the battle.) Faith – be steadfast, let us not stray, let us hold on to the Lord who is on our side. He has already conquered darkness and death. Hope – our hope is the Lord; I can lean on him, my hope in him is not in vain. Love – in so many ways we must try to express that love, which we receive from God. Even this time has so many advantages for me. His Spirit is working in me with graces upon graces. Woven into the messages of faith, hope and love are the virtues of solidarity, togetherness and mutual responsibility. And, like a warm blanket over all of them, is the community, which emerges ever stronger and provides security and a sense of “saamstaan en helpmekaar” (standing together and helping each other) in Christ. I feel a growing sense of community. Yes, an important ingredient in the entire mixture is humour. I imagine the triangle of faith, hope and love in the circle of community, with the warm glow of humour and the strength of solidarity covering it.

We must remain steadfast against the tactics of the devil. There are always those who are trying to exploit the unstable situation by disseminating fake news, which instil fear (bangmaak stories/horror stories) or fabricate conspiracy theories to sow confusion. The devil is the “prince of lies” and such circumstances as we find ourselves in are fertile ground for lies and deception. It is very easy to foster negativity as there is enough cause for gloom. But that would be against the spirit of faith, hope and love. We must remain steadfast in the battle.

It is just a timely reminder that as Christians we must remain alert and supportive in this battle. In this regard, I look forward to the messages. And so ended day 19.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 16 (Bothasig)

Day 18: April 13

Today I was excited to see what I was going to be shown. I am keenly aware of the families or persons who for the first time are confined all the time to the same space. I wonder how they are coping. I am alone. My challenge is different in that sometimes I could do with some company. This does happen, though not in person, when I receive a phone call. Or there is the parishioner who on the way from shopping drops by to bring me something. From my experience in community life, sometimes with more than 30 persons, the potential for friction is just around the next corner. But at least we could go out, move freely, avoid each other where necessary, were not hassled to explain on the street to anyone where we were going or produce a permit even to attend a funeral. In other words, we switch between staying and going. That is so different for our families now. The English idiom, is it going to be true, that familiarity breeds contempt? I remember when West and East Germany were reunified on October 3 1990. The end of the communist Democratic Republic of Germany (East Germany) meant a lot of changes, some of which involved family life. In the old East Germany, the state took care of life, from the cradle to adulthood. The children were under the state’s care from very young age. Now, suddenly under reunification, parents had to adjust to the new standards of West Germany. This meant that parents were responsible for their own children first, and only thereafter the state was there to assist. Many parents found this totally unbearable and bore the strain of having the children around them. The result was that many children were pushed on to the streets. That is what confinement can do. The other more disturbing incident today was a quote from a Cuban author Amando Lucas Correa who wrote a book called “The Daughter’s Tale”, as reported in the Cape Times. He is quoted as saying, “Part of the human DNA I think is not to accept the other – the other because of the colour of their skin or the language they speak or the religion they practise or whatever. It’s more than not being tolerant. It’s deep fear of something that is different and makes us turn away.” In short, we are more likely to dislike or hate otherness than to accept it. And that, so Correa asserts, is in our DNA. Whether we like it or not. But is that borne out by history? Is it not true that left alone without political manipulation or force, women and men marry across the otherness divide? Jews married Christians in Germany before World War II, Muslims and Christians married in Yugoslavia, Blacks, Coloureds, Indians, Chinese and Whites married in South Africa. While it is true that like attracts like, it does not necessarily follow from there that like and unlike are hostile. Not by nature, anyway. Other factors place a role such an injustice, suppression, power, greed, inequality, indoctrination and very often negative political interference. I would rather hold with Nelson Mandela who famously said, “Man is not born to hate; he learns to hate. Man is born to love.” And that, to me, is the real DNA. Yes, history seems to favour the former, but not as the consequence of an innate propensity to dislike or disfavour the other. That inclination comes later under much influence. Even our little children demonstrate daily that the more natural thing to do is to freely socialize. St John Paul II who grew up in communist Poland said that a culture of death (hatred) must be replaced by a culture of love. Fr Joseph Kentenich, the founder of Schoenstatt Movement, went as far as to say that a revolution of hatred must be replaced by a counter-revolution of love. And that is what set me off. Or should I rather say that my retreat master, the Holy Spirit, opened my mind to think more deeply and personally? It is not about them, but me. One person at a time makes the difference. What does it mean to love the other? This has to do with morality, with the way I relate to the other person, not just according to feeling but attitude leading to actions.

What do I mean? Imagine the following exercise. I take a sheet of paper and write my name in the middle. Next, I write the names of some persons who mean something to me. Using long and short arrows, I arrange them around me. They are either close or distant. There are some who are close, there is a short arrow between them and me. There are others, to whom I am close, but our relationship can at times be conflictive. That short arrow becomes one with a wave showing tension. There are others, to whom I am distant, but without conflict. The arrow is long. Whenever we meet, there is immediate joy and flowing conversation, like with old school friends. There are others, to whom I am distant but also conflictive. That arrow is long and with the wave that shows tension. And I go through these names and see every face, relive certain moments. But my reflection cannot end there. Did Jesus not remind us that also the pagans do that?  Matthew 5: 46-47: “If you love those who love you, what merit is there in that? Do not tax collectors do as much? And if you greet your brothers only, what is so praiseworthy about that? Do not the pagans do as much? And if we give to those who return us the favour, what merit is in it? He appeals to something different, which I call morality but facing God. Fr Joseph Kentenich says that to love the otherness of the other is what makes us moral beings, and a father or mother to them. I found the answer in Enda McDonagh, Doing the Truth. The Quest for Moral Theology, which I read some time ago and make a deep impact on me. How do I relate to the other, so that the love DNA can develop and barricade itself against the sentiment of hatred? Such morality does connect to something else in our DNA: the eagerness to be part of community. This is based on how I see the other and connect to her or him, and not just to the like-minded or to someone of the same social background. McDonagh mentions the three important aspects in interpersonal relationships: recognition, respect and responsibility. Recognition is the mutual acceptance of otherness; in relationship with the other, I recognize also my otherness. We are both a gift to each other. As a gift, I stand in awe of the other person.  Respect is about respecting the other and my self. Responsibility is about responding to the other person who has talents, needs and desires. I declare myself willing to be of assistance for the fulfillment of his or her life. And this also implies protection of body and reputation. This is morality and, in this sense, upholding that the other is person, image of God. Therefore, the first reaction is one of awe before the other and of adoration of the Creator-God. It is prayer.

And now I go back to my arrows to gradually do the exercise of recognition, respect and responsibility. This is love in action. It is prayer and morality intermingled. It is concern for the greatest act of love, which is salvation. In other words, I want what is best for you. And that is that you be with God in Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit. From there I come back to be with you. This moral attitude does not happen from one day to the next. It takes a lot of humility, revision of wrongfulness and the willingness to unlearn bad habits. The Holy Spirit must do the work of inner transformation. But such morality is accessible and a must to everyone, believer or not. In this way, we can build up the new community. The other is the mountain to climb, the garden to till and cultivate. Faith anchors such morality in God. Today is going to be a long and hard day. It is going to entail honesty, forgiveness and reconciliation in my heart. Not just once, but over and over. It does not mean that all the arrows become close and free of friction. But it does mean that I may embark on a journey of love which binds. And it means that the most important person is not necessarily anyone who is one of the arrows. It is the person who is face to face with me, whether known or unknown. And that is the moral and daunting task. But it is only way to let the love DNA triumph. That is how I can truthfully say, “I love you.”

Now imagine we live in confined space during lockdown time. The moral task ahead is to rediscover and evaluate each other as magnificent persons – through recognition, respect and responsibility.

Day 17: April 12

Easter Sunday is full of wonderful memories. They are mainly from my time in the seminary. There is nothing better than being in a community for such feast days. The Easter Vigil was at 4.30am to coincide with sunrise as we finished Holy Mass. This was, of course, in Germany when Easter coincides with the most beautiful season of the year. Spring is strikingly noticeable after a long, harsh Winter when nature goes to sleep. In Spring nature bursts into life and is as such a real interpretation of the Easter event – re-birth, exuberant life, abundance of colours and promise of fruitfulness.

However, there are other fine memories. The Schoenstatt Sisters would bake Easter lambs, lemon cake the shape of a lamb, something really to look forward to when it is fresh. But Easter changed its meaning more and more as I began to ponder on its more personal meaning. It goes without saying that the joy of Easter was primarily centred on the Resurrection of Jesus, which very spontaneously made this day always a day to be remembered. Easter is the day of unchanging joy in the hearts of Christians because of newness of life. That newness is that Jesus, once dead, now lives.

It is stillness and solitude, which allows the Holy Spirit, who alone can plumb the hidden depths of the soul, to do its work. Sometimes I think of the deepest recesses of the soul as a locker room. In every locker there is something locked away, something from the past, which is significant. The art of the Holy Spirit is timing. At the right time, given the right circumstances, the Holy Spirit opens a locker for us to see its contents. And that is how it is with my reflections on Easter today. The locker is called Easter moments. 

 Easter happens all the time – every day and every moment when newness of life happens. And this newness occurs against the backdrop of old life, which was a barrier to good, green growth in the soul. These Easter moments I can also call lightbulb moments. It just so happened that suddenly, unexpectedly and unplanned a light goes on in my mind and soul. Something falls into place and stays there. One such lightbulb moment as an Easter experience in everyday life was the awareness that we, all of us, are an Easter people. Everyone is set free to live in the light of Easter, no matter who we are or where we come from. These Easter people have names and faces for me. They feature in my life as people who bring joy and hope to my life, regardless of social background, religious affiliation or ethnic origin. Ever since, I am on the lookout for Easter people. And they are many. They make a difference to other people’s lives and bring joy to them. This is what I believe Peter implies in his Letter when he says, “You, however, are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people he claims for his own to proclaim the glorious works of the One who called you from darkness into his marvelous light’”. (1 Peter 2: 9) And this is also today my Easter hope: that the new nation, the Easter nation under the banner of the Risen Lord will grow. Strange that such a simple and common truth should in an instance make such a deep and lasting impression. But then I remember that all the time we are playing catch-up with the truths of our faith, in the time of the Holy Spirit.

As I said, Easter moments are lightbulb moments. Light, which brings new understanding and life. I remember such a moment in faraway Germany. Without the hindering racial barriers of South Africa, I was struggling to find a real definition of identity. It was easier to say who and what I was not. But without the resistance mentality, then who am I? This question became pressing as I was surrounded by confidence-oozing Chileans, Argentinians, Paraguayans, Spaniards, Brazilians, Germans and Swiss. Especially the Latinos were patriotic to the extent of nationalistic. It was the time of dictatorship in Chile, Argentina and Paraguay. The South American students were highly politicised and were not afraid to show their feelings. They exhibited a national pride in their culture, especially their music. When it was my turn as South African to do “something typically South African” I was embarrassed. It needed some awkward explaining that we South Africans don’t do that sort of thing. We don’t have a common culture. They tried to understand the impossible. And every national day they hung their national flag and sang the national anthem. I found this impossible to do. After a while I did see their own social tensions. These entailed the inequality between rich and poor and the cultural discrimination between those of Hispanic origin and those of more Indio descent. And the discrimination was the same as ours, at times even more crude, which forced the one or the other student of Indio origin into leaving their priestly calling. As it was already, they had to overcome huge psychological hurdles to even apply for admission to a seminary. Seminarians, especially in Chile, were from the upper class. Then what was my lightbulb moment? It was the day when it just dawned on me that I am African! I am from the soil of Africa! This may sound odd, or even banal. But then it wasn’t. The distorted relationship with anything African fell away. It was a moment of discovery, which was joyful, and brought so much peace with it. That to be African for me did not automatically mean to be beating a drum or speaking an African language. It was the innate knowledge that this is where I belong. And it is in my soul. It is meant by God to be so, that the grace of His recognition of my value to Him is so real that it is geographical. And it does not bother me where there is an ancestor to vouch for my identity. It would take, by the way, a very fine chemist to separate the components of Khoikhoi from Khoisan, from Malay, from European in my melting pot and God knows who else to find out who is running in my blood. Why bother, my true ancestry has divine origin. It is so much more enjoyable to see me with the eyes of God. And all other biographical details can now be meaningfully arranged around it. What is more, I have a vantage point to see everyone else the same way. Though that has been a continuous struggle because my limitations and sinfulness came in the way. Important is that it remained as my truth about others. And look at the family tree of Jesus! It is theological, not biological.

Another lightbulb moment, or let me rather say Easter moment, was the day when it hit me like a thunderbolt. I was reading some Scripture text when a warm feeling and peace saturated me: it was the experience of being a child of God. So simple, so often heard, so often said, yet the most profound discovery. And it was anything but theoretical. It was being restored or rather reborn a child. There were many times that I neglected to remember it. But that doesn’t matter, because as an Easter moment it is there to stay and can be relived.

Easter moments abound when the light of Easter shone through to enkindle faith, hope and love. I remember a long time ago, just when I was about to enter the first stage of my formation called novitiate, I was at the 25th anniversary of the ordination of a priest. At the reception I sat next to his nephew, a young man. We chatted for a while when he passed me a note he had just written during our conversation. On it I read: “Have you experienced the Resurrection?” I just stared at it and said nothing. It came back to me again and again, then forgotten, then remembered. And just today I remembered it again. And now I am convinced that that was an Easter moment. The experience of the Resurrection is what makes all the difference.

Easter moments without nature would be impossible. The view of Table Mountain from anywhere on the Atlantic seaboard is breath-taking and always lift my spirit. Or the sight of hummingbird drawing nectar from a flower still stops me in my tracks. Or the sight of a waterfall on our mountain. Or the view of the languid ocean in St Helena Bay, which caresses me as I am at home there. A pelican elegantly floating. An onyx (gemsbok) in the desert. The blooming sugar proteas in Protea Ravine on the slopes of Table Mountain. These Easter moments include music (Ravel’s Bolero still does it for me) or movies (unforgettable in my memory is “Lean on me” with a young Morgan Freeman, and the signature tune “Lean on me”) or books (e.g. Emmanuel Mounier, Personalism; Legson Kayira, I will try.) All of them are Easter moments, which left an indelible impression on my soul. The joy of seeing nephews and nieces growing up, of watching a generation of children at Church changing into young women and men with so much potential for the future. The young woman or man who rises above the enormous obstacles of emotional and social deprivation to achieve a wonderful goal. The parish growing. The parishioner who volunteers or starts an initiative.

All these Easter moments are brush strokes of the Holy Spirit to create a work of art, though still with flaws, to conduct a symphony in the soul, though still with dissonances, to make a sculpture, though sometimes with hammer and chisel (Easter can also be an ouch moment). Imagine, if Jesus had not risen from the dead, what would I know to see myself? And now I know what I mean when I wish you “Happy Easter” – all of the above.

Life abounds with Easter joy and hope. Because the Risen Lord is moving among us. Easter happens here and now.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 14 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 16: April 11

Easter Saturday is usually a quiet day. There is a tinge of sadness because Jesus is resting in the grave. But it is also a moment of relief and respite from the emotionally charged Good Friday. I always have a sigh of relief when the Passion of Our Lord is over. Saturday is dedicated to getting the Church ready for Easter. After the holding back with decoration and music, there is now an atmosphere of anticipation to go all-out and celebrate with gusto. But how am I going to do it this time? How are the parishioners going to do it? I made up my mind to make the Church as beautiful as possible to have some kind of sense of normal life. Early Saturday morning I drove to PicknPay to find flowers. There were none. I just peeped into Woolworths. Nothing. My last chance was Checkers. They had flowers and told me that these were fresh. I was overjoyed to find enough yellow and white flowers in keeping with the colour tradition for Easter. It was going to be a very busy day. I tried my luck at making the arrangements and in two hours the work was done. I was satisfied and pleased to present to the parishioners a Church that looked ready and made-up for Easter. During the day my thoughts were also with the sermon and I looked for some inspiration. The State President was that inspiration as he mentioned in his address to the nation the message of Easter: hope, recovery and re-birth. And how much we are in need of these three things.

With my odd visit to the supermarket I could observe some interesting changes. I am not saying that these were everywhere but certainly in the confined radius of my movements I found some new habits. And this is what I observed. When standing in queues people were so patient. No one jostled or attempted to jump the queue. No one grumbled or complained. There was a hushed silence in the queues and a sense of urgency. But it was the patience, which impressed me. Patience is to be in the time of someone else. And, by necessity, means to wait and respect. We were all there for the same purpose under the same circumstances to get what we need as essentials. The next observation was the politeness. It was far from the social demonstration of aggression and pressure, which could so often be observed in other times. In the queues and in the shop politeness was wonderful. It is amazing how habits changed. Tolerance was the next observation when a cashier had to go and check a price because the tag with the bar code was missing. It was the kind of social behaviour, which made shopping a pleasurable moment of personal encounter with co-shoppers. And it just proved again the point: virtues are more easily visible where there is a certain crisis. And the virtues of patience, politeness and tolerance were being paraded in a crisis, which required them. I am not sure if I was just fortunate to be at the right place at the right time with the right people. I would like to believe that this time, which erased so many barriers to make us equal, helps us to unlearn those bad habits and start a process of cultivating new habits. And may they remain with us!

I had time to reflect again on Easter Saturday. In the Orthodox Church it is more celebrated than in our Latin tradition. There is a beautiful tradition that on Easter Saturday Jesus descended into the underworld, that is into the graves, to clean out the graves. He takes them by the hand, while in the other hand he has a Cross, like a processional cross. One by one he takes them out into the light, the first one Adam, then Even, then many others. I always found this tradition very meaningful. In our Creed we say, “He descended into hell”. It is to let the underworld feel the power of the Cross and the strength of the Father’s love, which is superior to hatred and darkness. I usually imagine that Jesus also takes my own deceased relatives with him into the light of new life. Just imagine on Easter Saturday the underworld is empty! In the time of the Church’s history known as the baroque age, churches used to have a grave of Jesus. His body is in a special place of the Church, frequently a side chapel. His chest is open. At the end of the Last Supper the Blessed Sacrament is placed into the open chest. This, however, was not always the case. Today still some Churches have this tradition and people visit the grave of Jesus on Easter Saturday.

But I know that the grave of Jesus is more real, more existential in my life than some tradition of the past in Europe, which I can’t relate to here. It is the fact that the real grave is my own heart, the house of darkness and pain. What makes my heart such a grave, I wondered? In the first instance it is fear. It is the fear of being hurt. I never factored this thought much into my life until I began to realise how common it is in our city and country. My fear is not just some kind of feeling based on the news but the real possibility that what happens to others can also happen to me. I have internalized accounts of people who have been kidnapped, hijacked, threatened at gunpoint in their homes, burgled at gunpoint umpteen times and beaten up. In certain times some of our priests were brutalized by burglars. The word goes around among us priests that we have become “soft targets”. This year within the space of three months several Churches have been broken into. This can happen to me, too. And it is scary. Fear can also be a trigger to think about life and its purpose. I have a very strong desire for a life without fear, for freedom and untroubled peace. Fear does make me more reliant upon Jesus Christ and his protection.  This fear is equally real when I think of loved ones, especially my female relatives. There is also the fear of dying alone. After a few very close encounters with death in recent years I know that most likely I will be alone when death suddenly strikes. That is almost normal with acute asthma, and no amount of measures can secure against it. Without astute care and caution death could be looking over the shoulder all the time. On Easter Saturday I appeal to Jesus to “roll the stone away” from my heart’s grave of fear. And I know he does as I feel more at ease. The answer to fear is the knowledge that I rest in the strong hands of God the Father. This knowledge is the gift of understanding of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the freedom of the children of God, in whom I learn to say “Abba, Father”. And I can mention other experiences or feelings, which cause my heart to tighten. I can only imagine how parents must feel when they think of the future of their children in an unsafe and uncertain world.

Easter Saturday! A day to surrender my inner grave to the power of the Risen Lord. Then I shall be free to celebrate Easter, the triumph over the grave.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 11 2020

Day 15: April 10

Good Friday. On the Afrikaans radio someone said, “Goeie Vrydag, God se Vrydag”. Good Friday, God’s Friday. Jesus died on the Cross, outside the city of Jerusalem, on the mountain called Golgotha. Only after his Resurrection will the full meaning of his Crucifixion be known to the disciples and to us. Had he not been raised from the dead, he would barely have been remembered. Josephus, the historian, is the only one who mentions the death of a certain Jesus outside of the Gospels. It was the Resurrection and the appearances of Jesus to his disciples and others, which put the whole meaning of the death of Jesus in its proper perspective. The message of the disciples was from then onwards always the same: “Jesus who was crucified, is risen from the dead” (Acts 4: 10). Paul who persecuted the Christians became an ardent apostle. He even tried with philosophy to convince the learned men of Athens. They heard him speak of Jesus and the resurrection and called him a magpie. “What is this magpie trying to say to us.” Acts 17: 18) They called him a magpie, a chatterbox. They must have found him funny. He would later go on to say that there is only one thing he can proclaim: the Cross of Christ: “Yes, Jews demand ‘signs’ and Greeks look for ‘wisdom’, but we preach Christ crucified – a stumbling block to Jews, and an absurdity to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks  alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s folly is wiser than men, and his weakness more powerful than men. (1 Corinthians 1: 22-25)

Good Friday draws people to Church. This time, of course, it was different. Last year we had about 1 200 people. I wonder what they were doing this time at home. As I often wonder what it is about Good Friday (and Ash Wednesday), which fills our Churches. It must have something to do with the suffering and death of Jesus, which is so close to our own experience. We somehow feel that this tragic moment is central to our own salvation. Or maybe it is the graphic display of pain and death, which touch us very deeply.

For one couple whom I married, Good Friday was the happiest day of their lives. The young man told me that on that particular Good Friday the Church was packed. People were standing outside, and so did he. Then he noticed a beautiful young lady and could not take his eyes off her. He slowly worked his way towards her, using some strong elbows, until he stood next to her. In this solemn celebration he asked her for the time! She kindly obliged. And that was the beginning of their romance. Jesus would have been very pleased. They are married now for about 30 years.

For most of us, though, Good Friday is associated with a sombre mood, serious, affected by the last impressions of the death of Jesus. The death of Jesus. It was anything but a beautiful sight. He died the death reserved for the hardened criminals and political enemies of the Roman Empire. Death by crucifixion served as a deterrent to anyone who dared to consider to take on the Roman oppression. It was a scandal. The apostles made no secret about it: they proclaimed Christ crucified and raised from the dead. Still, the stigma of the scandal would not go away. In art Jesus’ Cross didn’t feature in the beginning. The Cross would be the crux gemmata (Cross with gemstones or Jesus would be shown as the deer leading the lambs (his disciples). Or the Cross was being referred to as “the tree of life”. It was only after Constantine, when Christianity became official state religion that the Cross could be publicly displayed. During the time of the persecution of the early Christians they were mocked and killed. In one of the catacombs such a scene was found – a man kneeling in front of a crucified figure with the head of a donkey. The inscription read: Anaximander worships his god. Anaximander was martyred for being loyal to Christ crucified.

One of my dear stories of the Cross is an episode from the life of St Francis Xavier. St Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), sent him as a missionary to India. St Francis worked in Goa, Indian, and from there he went to Japan. However, he had a burning desire to go to China. He wanted to erect the Cross of Jesus there. Already very exhausted, he finally had the opportunity to do so. As he arrived on an island, overlooking the mainland, his body finally gave in. Tearful and in agony because he failed to achieve his aim, he had the deep insight. That Cross is firmly implanted in his own heart. And he died. Where else should we be looking for the Cross? All of us know it, we have seen and felt it in the depth of our hearts. Very painful, indeed. The Cross in our own hearts has many names: loss of dear ones, disappointments, sickness, loss of income, loss of home, addiction of a child, broken relationships. The list is sheer endless. We face pain and hurt – because of the Cross of Jesus. He assures us that from the Cross new life will come. His Cross is the guarantee for that. How many times I saw raw pain in the eyes of people. How many times I wished I could do something about it. The answer lay much deeper inside them – their hearts where the Holy Spirit works.

Today it is quite common to see the symbol of the cross as jewelry. I once wanted to buy a little Crucifix as a gift. I walked from one jewelry shop to another. I found many crosses but no crucifix. The salespersons didn’t even know what I was talking about. The cross without Jesus predates Christianity and is an ancient symbol. Our cross has Jesus Christ, our Saviour. Much thought is given to the pain and suffering of Jesus. Some movies go overboard to show the extent of his physical pain. The Gospels, the only accounts of the Passion of Jesus Christ, are silent. They give the bare minimum of description of the actual physical pain of Jesus. For them the important fact is that he suffered, died and rose from the dead. It is about the theology of the suffering and death of Jesus, not the quantity of his physical pain. Personally, I believe that the heart of Jesus is the more real seat of his suffering and pain. It was the pain of rejection again and again. It was the pain that in him God the Father was being rejected. That is why it became inevitable to Jesus that he had to die. First, he died from a broken heart; then followed his physical death. His heart was already broken when he cried out: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you slay the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I wanted to gather your children together as a mother hen collects her young under her wings, and you refused me!” (Luke 13: 34) How painful the words are in the Good Friday liturgy in the Reproaches: “My people, what have I done to you? Or how have I offended you? Answer me!” Or his pain is palpable at the end of the Reproaches: “I exalted you with great power, and you hung me on the scaffold of the Cross.” His heart was shattered.

I have a personal collection of Crucifixes. One is particularly hard to look at. It is by an African artist who shows in this lithograph the naked pain of Jesus. His arms are stretched wide. But it is the eyes which draw the attention – big, wide. Looking upwards, dull with pain. Yes, the Cross has many names and faces. I remember last year this time when I invited parishioners to bring a Cross from home, their personal family Cross. The space to the side of the altar was full. It remains a stark impression of how different and personal a Cross can be. It is implanted in my heart.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies Good Friday April 10 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 14: April 9

Holy Thursday is the introduction to the Holy Week. I never really celebrated it as a child but it did have some influence on me. On Holy Thursday, or during the Holy Week, some movies were a must. They were Ben Hur, King of Kings or The Ten Commandments. These movies set the tone and instilled in me the atmosphere for the Holy Week. Later, as young adult, I would not miss the Last Supper of Our Lord for anything in the world.

Holy Thursday emphasizes three aspects of Church, which Jesus started in the Upper Room and survived the centuries to this day. It is the washing of the feet, the celebration of the Eucharist and the priesthood. Somehow the first one never gets the attention of the other two, though taken together they sum up the message, which Jesus never got tired of teaching: that true worship is love of God (highlighted by Eucharist and priesthood) and love of neighbour (washing of the feet). His mission was the application of the mission of the Messiah, the Christ: the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and a year of grace for the poor. Holy Thursday was always seen as the day of the priesthood and the Eucharist, and such are my memories and following reflections. It was a message from a parishioner which set me off. “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchisedek.” I received a card on the day of my ordination with the same message, and I kept it for many years. It held some kind of fascination, which I find hard to explain.

I was ordained in December. And so my first Christmas is still vivid in my memory. I am from Stompneus Bay, hardly known for its Catholic population but nevertheless the cradle of my Catholic faith. I had asked Fr Frank Whyte to assist him over Christmas in the parish of St Jude, Vredenburg, which includes Laaiplek, St Helena Bay, Langebaan and Saldanha Bay. I celebrated midnight Holy Mass in Vredenburg and in Laingville (part of St Helena Bay) the following day. Holy Mass was, as expected, with a handful of people, and in a garage. It was so close to the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God, in humble abode and surroundings.

What followed was a brief appointment to Kuils River until a permanent priest was appointed. I was fresh, young and eager. All went well, as I moved between Kleinvlei and Kuils River (Kleinvlei later became a parish). The one experience, which was telling for me and became part of who and what I am today as a priest and believer was the following. I had on a Sunday the baptism of the child of a young couple. The husband worked away from home and returned on the Monday to his place of work. That very same day I received the news that he was killed in an accident on his way from the airport to Sasolburg. I was on my way to see his wife who lived with her parents. Nothing prepared me for such a moment – not my formation, not all the years of study. In fact, nothing could have prepared me. Life itself stepped in as teacher. On my way I was going through different possible scenarios that might be awaiting me. And I rehearsed my answers crafted from theology. The harder I tried, the more I saw how futile it was. There was nothing I could do or say. I just had to be there. I rang the bell, and the father of the wife opened. I knew the family by then. Before I could say anything, he said, “Father, who are we to judge God? He knows best.” I could not believe the words. Here was a man of faith. He wasn’t saying those words without pain. His heart was in them. That moment was a defining one for me. From Kuils River I was assigned to Maneberg, notorious for violence and gangsterism. And that’s how I was greeted. The first night I thought the roof was being dismantled. Rocks were flung on it as some guys were walking past. Next to the house was an open field. And just for the fun of it, so it seemed, they were entertaining themselves. Manenberg, a place of sinners and diabolical sinners, of the salt of the earth and the scum of the earth. I felt that driving a car separated me from the people. I decided to walk on my pastoral rounds. This paid off, because I interacted with people, and they approached me. However, when I attended a wake one evening, my parishioners, much to their horror, discovered this practice of mine. From then onwards I was to be escorted because it was simply too dangerous to walk. I rather drove. (Not much later, an elderly priest who was helping out in the parish was mugged in broad daylight). In Manenberg I celebrated my first Easter Triduum. All the services had to be at such a time that people could still safely walk home.

The life of a priest, a frequent topic of song, poetry and movies. Sometimes heroic, sometimes romanticized, sometimes tragic. Nevertheless, one topic that will always captivate the imagination. And I mean the Catholic priesthood. Reality is most of times far removed from it. Only the priest can put his life into perspective. My experience is that the priest is respected, loved and looked after. This changes from place to place. In Germany, for example, if you wear your priest garb, you were automatically regarded as conservative. In Australia the priest wants to be called by his first name, no matter the age. For me that was strange. In Nigeria, by contrast, the priest was always addressed as “Reverend Father”. I had to get used to that. It is there that I saw that the priest is on such a high pedestal. People take pride in looking after him. On the day of his ordination he doesn’t get any of the insignia of priesthood (stole, chasuble, chalice). He gets an expensive car. In Nigeria I liked to walk, which always took me through the markets. Parishioners very seriously came to me one day and begged me not to walk. The reason? “People from other churches might think we can’t look after our priests.” What a mind-boggling argument. I half-heartedly obliged, most of the times I ignored it because the young people were on my side and often liked to join me.

So what can I say about being a priest, other than what is already said? It is a calling. Yes, that is often said, but that is, in my view, the only way to put it. As a calling it is divine intervention with divine love so real that is implicitly and undeniably there. It takes hold of you. Yes, it made me question, not wanting it to be true, wrestling with it, testing it against my own future plans. But it wouldn’t go away. Until finally I had to succumb to it. There is no other way to explain it: it was love at first sight – from God. I will never know what He found in me. It is so. And many times, I had to return to that moment, with all the experiences of my limitations and sins. That is one (existential) experience, which turned my whole life upside down. And from then onwards the new life began – most frequently it was a real struggle. Only God knows what a hard time He had with me. I guess He would say that He would not have accomplished much, if it wasn’t for the Mother of His Son, Mary of Nazareth whom I came to revere in Schoenstatt as Mother Thrice Admirable. Her love for me forms the unshakable foundation of me as a person and priest. A calling it is. According to my spiritual father, Fr Joseph Kentenich, (and I found him to be right), the calling means that God leaves freedom to say yes or no. It is not in the realm of sin to say no. He did add, however, that if someone is called and says no, he did not believe that that person could ever be happy. And that I found out one day. A man who was observing from a distance at a pilgrimage where people were milling came to me. Out of nowhere he said, “You know, I made the wrong decision when I said no. I have never been a happy person ever since.” I was just a young student and had no answer for him. It wasn’t God doing it to him. It was his conscience. He should simply have accepted that he could serve God in another way. But how do you come to terms with that experience of first love which you let go of it? I felt for him because I know that it isn’t just one decision on my part. I had to repeat it again and again. I also know that more often than not the credit for my staying in the priesthood goes to God, to Jesus, to the Holy Spirit, to my Mother Mary, and to kind and helpful people. It takes a formidable rescue team to get a young man to the priesthood and then to keep him in the priesthood. At least, that is what I found out. There are moments of questioning and doubt when facing hurt, pain and failure, both my own and those of people. I want to but don’t know how to help them. It takes time to understand that people generally want a good listener. Referring them in prayer to Christ, that is my priestly function.  I must have a social conscience, but I am not a social worker. With humility and trepidation (because it is scary) I must know that I am a man of God, weaknesses and all. There were moments, and they come and go, which St John of the Cross calls the dark night of the soul. It’s a different kind of loneliness. It is the feeling that God the Divine Lover is nowhere to be found. In such times, there is still the dear Mother. These are hard experiences, and the life and work have to go on. They are meant for growth.

If someone had to ask me what I consider the essence of priesthood, I would say: It is knowing and practicing the art of loving. The priest is meant to be a full person. What form of love, though? Fr Joseph Kentenich said of the priest: he must be a father. In fact, he went on to say, that if he can’t be a father, then he should not be ordained. Naturally, he wasn’t referring to the biological father. The father is someone who accepts the other person, who then assists and nurtures that person’s life to reach fulfilment. The medium is fatherly love. That is the basic ethos. The art of loving is never plain sailing. It is never just one form of love – it is love as friendship, love as a sibling, love as a child, love as a mother’s or a father’s, love as compassion with the poor, the sick, aged, the children and the lonely. So many times I find myself with someone and instinctively feel that person’s motherly or fatherly love for me. That also goes for friendship. (There is a saying among priests that your first parish is your first love. Atlantis has a special place in my heart.} It is also the ability to be aware of love and accept it. I am blessed with different forms of love and I try to extend them to others. Life, so I believe, is just one enormous concert. We have one thing in common on the stage of life: we want a little bit of love, and then more. And such a concert can be tragic, it can be humorous, it can be sorrowful, it can be painful. It can also be exhilarating. The celebration of Holy Eucharist is the commemoration of love. It is, therefore, teaching us what true live is, as Jesus said: To lay down your life. He teaches, and the Holy Spirit transforms.

There is a Biblical verse, which stayed with me throughout the years: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15: 10)

Fr Ivanhoe Allies, Holy Thursday, April 9 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 13: April 8

Some songs just seem to do it to me. I love any kind of music as long as it appeals to me. And, therefore, my range of music has no limits. But certain songs always come back to echo in me. One of these is “Lean on me”. Another, which I re-discovered now, has to do with the theme of the day: See these hands. I was always under the impression that it was an African-American spiritual. No, a friend said, it is from Elvis Presley, “One pair of hands”. It is a tribute to the hands of God the Creator. These hands create the beauty of nature – mountains, valleys, ocean, sea and moon. These hands then become the hands of Jesus. His hands continue the creative work of the Creator – he heals, calms the storm, feed the people. These hands then are nailed to the Cross. But it is the chorus that has done it for me: “Those hands are so strong, so when life goes wrong, put your faith into one pair of hands.”

Hands, as I reflect on them today, bring back great memories. My first awareness of hands is those hands of the fishermen. And I mean the line fishermen. They caught snoek, hake, and many other kinds of line fish. Especially snoek can be very brutal on the hands. Even with gloves, the line strained by the snoek on the hook could cut deeply into the flesh of the hands. At times it was almost a matter of pride that these fishermen showed off their scars of the battle with these strong fish. Other hands, also from the fishing industry, were the hands of the women who cleaned the snoek or the crayfish. Full of callouses, hands of women who worked hard. Those were my first impressions, to which gradually the soft, gentle hands of others were added.

Hands are like the heart – somehow mystical. They show the combination of direct practical life and, at the same time, they have forms of energy beyond comprehension. They are so real in what they do, but at the same time they transcend reality. All hands show something deeper and more meaningful. I remember a wonderful lady whose hands had healing qualities. She could very humbly lay her hands on someone with a headache, which would disappear. She healed the tummy aches of children and released stress in the body of tired workers. What made her unique was the aura of purity, which could be felt when she touched one. That purity transmitted the healing energy to the body. People intuitively understand the mystical quality of hands. At the ordination of a priest many people kiss the hands of the priest because these hands will consecrate the bread and the wine to become the Body and Blood of Christ. People who are in love hold hands. It is much more than just being connected. It is a sign of affection and the interaction of their souls. Their souls are running through their hands into each other. At a wedding the couple are asked to join their hands before they exchange their marriage vows. The priest at his ordination has his hands anointed by the bishop. When the priest anoints the sick person, he lays his hands on the person. Then he anoints the head and the palms of the hands. Who can forget the Praying Hands of Albrecht Duerer? They are so expressive, so strong, so full of mystery through prayer.

Our hands are the tools of our heart and mind. What we feel and think is directed into the hands. Some people are very expressive when they talk. There is a little joke, which I am forgiven to tell here. It begins with the question: “How do you stop an Italian from talking.” The answer: “You cut off his hands.” Italians are famous for great conversations. Hands can be welcoming. They can also be dismissive. They can be loving. They can also be cruel. They can be healing. They can also be hurting. It all depends on what is in the heart and mind. I had a blind friend in Germany. He lost both eyes in World War II when he was just 19 years old. Quite often, on a Sunday afternoon, he, his wife and I went for a drive to do some sight seeing or visit a church. I shall never forget how he “saw” the statues and would discuss them with us. It was possible because his wife ran his hands over the statue. It occurred to me that his awareness of the statue was far deeper than mine.

Some people simply have what I call hand intelligence. Give them anything, and immediately they will either fix it or make something new. I admire these practical people, whether electricians, plumbers, carpenters, mechanics, bricklayers and technicians, artists and sculptors. Their hands are intelligent. My hands are not. I struggle to make them do what I think or imagine. But I know that they do instil confidence and trust; they share strength and love. For me hands are part of the heart. Take my hands, Lord, and make them instruments of your peace. Let them bless rather than hurt. Let them heal rather than wound. Let them steady the weak rather than push down. May your heart direct my hands.

Certainly, the most amazing hands we can think of are those of Jesus. He touched all the time; he took by the hand. He blessed the bread and multiplied them. Finally, he stretched out his hands to be tied to the Cross. It is so true: “Those hands are so strong, so when life goes wrong, put your faith into one pair of hands.”

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 8 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 12: April 7

The theme I chose for the day captured my attention for reflection: Only God makes stars. I just suddenly remember it as the title of a song years ago, written by Inge Rumpf, a German musician. I found it so original that it crosses my mind all the time. Very spontaneously it came to my mind: Only God makes stars. I thought, how true that is. Other persons have played a decisive role to help me experience them as stars or, in turn, have made my star rise. And I do believe, unerringly, that God sends the right stars into our lives to raise our spirits to greater heights.

Stars always fascinate us. It is such a beautiful sight to drive out at night or in the early morning, away from the city. Once the city lights no longer interfere, the stars in the sky are at their brightest. This is so awe-inspiring in Namaqualand where it appears as if the stars are right on top of you. Stars are symbols. Many countries have stars or a star on their national flag. There the stars are symbols of hope, unity and striving. For example, on the flag of the USA, the 50 stars symbolize the 50 states. Very interesting is the flag of the European Union. Read up its meaning, and you won’t find any convincing explanation – because it is not generally known. After World War II the Europeans sought to achieve a solemn pledge: never war again, at least on the soil of Western Europe. The three founders were Konrad Adenauer from Germany, Alcide de Gasperi from Italy and Robert Schuman from France. All three of them were devout Catholics. All three died with the reputation of saintliness. But why the flag? It is a blue flag with a circle of 12 golden stars. The common explanation is that the colour and the stars have no particular meaning other than unity and harmony. The number 12 does not refer to the number of members. So why 12? Maybe the interpreters miss something. And, indeed, they do. The Catholic faith of the founders played a major role in their endeavor to unite Europe. All three of them had a deep devotion to Mary. The colour blue symbolizes Mary. The number 12 is the number of stars from the Book of Revelation: “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Revelation 12: 1) These stars form a crown. The woman is seen as Mary, the one who overcomes the powers of Satan, the father of division, war and chaos. The founding fathers of the European Union placed Europe under the protection and intercession of Mary.

Nevertheless, let me return to the original theme. In these days of the Coronavirus lockdown in the world so many stars paled into insignificance. No football, no rugby, no music festivals, no basketball, no baseball. All our stars are gone into hiding like all of us. Once stars, now we are their equals, courtesy of the virus. Suddenly other meaningful stars rise in the sky: primarily nurses, doctors, leaders of nations and ambulance workers. In some countries people go onto their balconies at a certain hour to clap their hands in appreciation of these persons who are working on the frontline. After the pandemic, for a while at least, we will have new stars, people who inspire us, who now sacrifice themselves and give us hope. We urgel them on to be successful.

What about other stars? Did Jesus have stars in his life? One star emerges all the time as the greatest in his life – his Father in heaven. He has come to glorify the Father. John 12: 28) In his personal life, there is no person greater than his Mother, Mary. She could remind him that at his birth in Bethlehem a star stood over the place of his birth – a star for all nations to see – Jesus, the King of Kings. What made her his star was that she was with him in doing the will of his Father. He could look to her as a star who would refer him back to his mission, as she did at the wedding feast of Cana. Yes, there are smaller stars like his friends and the disciples whom he called. But they became his stars much later, only after his Resurrection. Jesus himself became a bright star for so many people: the blind, the deaf, the hungry, the poor, the women, the children, the tax-collectors, the adulteress woman, those possessed with demons. All of them went away knowing that his star shone in their lives. Jesus does surprise us when he gives us the list of his stars, of those people whom he admires because they show the kingdom of heaven. These stars are listed in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5: 1-12): the poor in spirit; those who mourn; the gentle; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; the merciful; the pure in heart; the peacemakers; those persecuted for justice; those persecuted for Jesus. Do I want to be a star for Jesus? I have my choice from the Beatitudes.

Now we are reminded during this time to re-arrange our galaxy of stars, starting with Jesus whom we miss so much in the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist. Then going to Mary, the faithful woman and disciple of Jesus whom Christians called the Morning Star who gives direction to us as pilgrims on the way. It is time to go back to those inspiring women and men who were once stars in our lives. Their example, in so many different ways, guided us to where and how we are today. For me, these women and men were confidence boosters, who managed to ignite a spark in me. Every human star has a certain trajectory until it reaches its summit. It begins from the bottom and rises to its brightness. I remember how this trajectory started for me at school. Overly shy and withdrawn, it needed the motherly skills of my teacher to make me feel at home at school, which I disliked at first. In fact, this condition persisted so long that in grade 4 the teacher wanted to fail me because I refused to do an oral exam. I was too shy to speak in front of others. (In fact, this condition continued until well after my ordination. Public appearances? Not for me! Rather the small group or the one on one conversation.) This teacher threatened to fail me in order to force me into speaking, but to no avail. She did not fail me but made me experience that I had not done well enough to be first in class. After that I vividly remember something my father said to me, which evoked in me an intense willingness to compete and achieve. He obviously knew what chord to strike in my soul to awaken a passion. Other stars featured very prominently and became role models of kindness, hard work and care. Such a star, never to be erased from my personal development, was Mr Daan Julius. Originally from Goedverwacht, he was my Mathematics teacher. Since both of us were plaasjapies, he had a soft spot for me. No other person in my years at high school had such an influence on me. In many conversations he made me desire to reach higher and higher. He himself was the inspiring star. Just the memory of him was enough to ignite new brightness into my star. Undoubtedly, in my formative years as young man, the star who rises highest is Fr Joseph Kentenich, the founder of the Schoenstatt Movement. He embraced for me forward-thinking, deep natural spirituality, love of Mary and Jesus, the Church, the yeaning for a new social order and the importance of forming “the new person in the new community” for the “Church on the new shore.” He so accurately said: A noble person is irresistible. Nobility is the embodiment of the most beautiful and inspiring personal qualities. A noble person rises above race, religion and social class. Important stars in my life are two nuns who were simply supportive. They were there an encouraging interest. They were just there – prayerful and caring, loving and anchoring in Jesus and Mary. Countless are the stars who made me yearn for true love and made me share in it.

Today I could see it again: only God makes stars. And I am thankful that He has sent those stars on the path of my life. Whenever my star grows dim, they shine on me. All stars are in heaven. Because only God makes stars. He gives us the graces and talents, which are frequently hidden. We need those stars to wake us up and reach out for the star inside ourselves.

Fr ivanhoe Allies April 7 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 11: April 6

Quite unbelievable, today is halfway mark of the lockdown time. How long will the instinct to move and associate freely be contained? It is a wonderful lesson of life and how it can be influenced and changed. It is about the idea, the idea as a value, the value accepted, the execution of the value, the support system around it. Lastly, the evaluation if the value is being upheld and to what extent. The idea is the containing of the spread of the Coronavirus. The value is the protection of life. Everyone must accept it, or it won’t work; for this there must be motivation as much as possible. The State President, the Premier, actors, actresses, sportsmen and sportswomen, commercials. Video clips, and so much more. It’s all about motivation to embrace the value. Then the execution is easier with structures and measures (stay at home, hand hygiene, social distancing, medical treatment, help to people and businesses in need, etc) put into place to make the value effective. The support system around it is necessary – essential services, law enforcement, testing and treatment. Every news channel covers the same topic: Coronavirus and Covid 19.

If we apply this method to our Christian life during this week, what will happen? We tried it with our Pastoral Plan Love in Action. We have banners, a prayer, different groups with initiatives to implement the Plan. And it takes hard work to start over and over, trying new things out, working through disappointments and celebrating achievements.

The idea for Holy Week is “Come, let us go with him.” (Check our Facebook and website) The value is to become part of the life of Jesus and prepare for a personal encounter with him as we remain with him on his way to Jerusalem. The motivation is to meditate, pray and talk every day about this idea. We further motivate ourselves by reaching out to others with the same idea and value: Come, let us go with him. The structures and measures are equally important: the time set aside for the spiritual exercise, the discipline to do it, the renewal of intention of being with Jesus. Then also the evaluation: are we doing it? What are we achieving?

In a very short span of time we were taught to change our habits. We unlearned old habits to exchange them for new ones. We think twice before we hop into the car to do shopping. We are conscious of someone else and offer our services to do shopping for that person while we do ours. We practise social distancing and keep our hands clean. We wear masks when we go out. In a short span of time we are doing things we have never done before. We learned new habits very quickly. We even appreciate so much more what we used to take for granted. Yes, on the other hand, we would love just to pay the quick visit to someone. But no, the prospect of arrest is looming and the awareness that we must all cooperate holds us back. It is a great time for solidarity.

In a short space of time, we learned to embrace the word sacrifice. A word, which appeared antiquated and reserved for religion has become one of the most meaningful words. Too often preoccupied with us has made us selfish. To sacrifice is to let go, to share, to think of the next person, to see to the needs of others – and that to our own disadvantage. And we found it is right.

On the Church front, similar things have happened. The restriction of freedom of movement and association was at first most unsettling. Some were even eager to take matters into their own hands to secure some form of Church normality. But no, common sense set in. And then we started all over again, doing things we have never done before. We started communicating on our different chat groups; we are making phone calls to find out how others are. We send motivational messages and funny ones to cheer us up. We create our own moments of conversation, play and prayer. Many are becoming entertainers in their own right. Modern technology and social media are being put to good use to unite us in prayer. And the list goes on. Old habits die hard. But we are longing to go out and savour the moment when this will be possible. We desire to receive Holy Communion and will cherish that first moment when it will happen. Perhaps we will still be cautious in the way we make physical contact but we would love to give bear hugs when we are allowed to do it again without fear of infection.

Now we are forced by circumstances to make the most of the time at home. Life is all about relationships. When last did we really take the time to see their importance? Today I did the first exercise I sent out to our parishioners. Monday “Love one another”. Part of the exercise is to draw a big heart and write in it the names of person whom I (we) love. I did it. Very quickly it filled up. Spontaneously, the first name I wrote was “Mamma”, followed by “Dera”, my parents. I write Mother Mary, and Jesus, and God the Father and the great warm Holy Spirit. My spiritual father Fr Joseph Kentenich. Then the heart took over and so many names surfaced, some from the distant past. Many persons came and went. But their impact and memories lived on. Some have passed on, yet they live in me. They have one thing in common: they filled my heart with love. It is a kaleidoscope with the most different forms of love. There are love scars and love pains. Love disappointments and love hurts. Nevertheless, love. To my own amusement I wrote the names of the dogs who loved me.  I always said that if ever I would have a dog again, it would have to be a ridgeback mongrel. Chinky was the most amazing protector I have ever seen. Even at night I could hear him running around the house as if on his rounds to secure the property. And, not to be forgotten, the beautiful, welcoming Pointsettia trees in front of our house. There were also the neighbour’s fig trees whose branches just happened to be hanging over our fence, making it easy to climb to his side. There are the names of little places and trees where I felt at peace and inspired. So enriching and inspiring. Contained in every name is so much sacrifice, trust and care. I go through every name and pray: Lord Jesus, love him/her as you love me.

As I go in the silence of the day through all these names, forming a litany of love, I come to the same conclusion over and over: there are two things in life we want most: love and trust. If things go wrong, look there. If things go right, you know why. And to heal, go there. Let’s make it a habit of making love the central value in our lives. The reverse side of love and trust is sacrifice, as a natural response. People who loved me, sacrificed for me. Most times the diversity of love is the diversity of sacrifice. That is the message for me of Holy Week.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 6 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 10: April 5

I don’t have too many recollections of Palm Sunday celebrations. In fact, not a single one sticks out for me. Not from my childhood, youth, as student or as priest. Holy Thursday, I wouldn’t miss it for anything in the world. The melancholic, somber atmosphere of Good Friday drew my like a magnet. The Easter Vigil, sometimes at 4.30 in the morning to coincide with the rising sun, remains etched in my memory, not matter how long the liturgy was. But Palm Sunday? Never the same way. I do know that I always enjoyed it. But nothing special really. And I am not sure why. (Only one memory is vivid. It was in Atlantis when I rode a real donkey during the procession to the Church. The docile beast was called Kaptein. The brute had a convex curved back and not a hollow one like that of a horse. I thought its bony spine was going to cut my backside in half. I had to lay almost over its ears to prevent this.) But I am aware now that today will remain as a special piece of gold in my life. It is, of course, due to the unusual circumstances of the lockdown. But, much more than that, it was the experience of the past week, today and yesterday, which make Palm Sunday so special for me. All the time I was aware how my parishioners were eager for the liturgy. And even more than that, they were doing their own “thing” at home to make be active. No where was this more obvious than in the lead up to Palm Sunday. I am so grateful to all those who made palm branches, palm crosses and decorations of all sorts. It made me so much part of what was going on at home. Given the scope and the pressing urge, people can become wonderfully creative. I have to go through the pictures again, with leisure and prayerfully, to absorb the spirit of what I have been privileged to be part of.

That set me off to spend a lot of time thinking about a topic central to my heart. It is about the Church. I have spent so much time reading about, discuss it, argue about it and preach about it. What kind of Church does Jesus want us to be? It is not a question for a single person to answer. The answer is in dialogue inspired by prayer and awareness of the signs of the time. Yes, I found answers in the teachings of Fr Kentenich who saw Church as Family of God, as a Church, in which people can find their desire for freedom, democracy and participation. And, all of this under the authority of the Bishop and his priests. I am worried about the Church because the pace of change is so slow, well behind the Church’s own teachings. I see the old Church, the Church of bishops and priests not making place for the new Church of the members of the Body of Christ, equal in dignity but different in functions. And I don’t blame the bishops and priests. All of us are guilty of the Church not being able to shake off the dust or, as Pope St John XXIII, said, to open the windows to let the fresh air come in. It is all there in the documents known as the Documents of Vatican II. And it is this Church, which is losing its members in droves in Europe. Somehow, we have not been able to create the Church, which Fr Kentenich called “the Church on the new shore”.

And right at the heart of this topic, of the Church we should be, or as I believe it should be, is the Church like the pot with three legs, like the one we use for potjiekos: the Church of Jesus Christ in the sacraments, the Church at home, and the Church in society. All three are intrinsically linked. The one without the other distorts the Church Jesus wants us to be. And my passion for this Church has to do with people. People who want to belong to a spiritual family, whose love is to be interested in salvation in every sense of the word, because there can be no greater desire for another person. As I am thinking about this topic today, I remember how much wrong I have done. In meetings, I never failed to attack views I firmly disagreed with, I appeared to be arrogant because I fought for my point, I could be obsessed with my own views of the Church. I could get very angry if I see someone refusing the grace-filled changes the Church has gone through. I owe many a heartfelt apology. But I shall never lose the passion of the Church I love. And I, too, got it wrong many times.

Sunday after Sunday my chief concern is: how can we be Church once we leave the Church grounds? And the experiences of this day gave me so much hope. But it happened, interestingly enough, when the Church as we know it was forced to retreat. It created the space for people to become creative instead of being served at Church. They did their own creations, which proved to be a wonderful expression of the miniature Church, Church at home, the domestic Church. Church is only going to be fruitful and have a future if it is embraced and lived at home. Then also our liturgy, especially Holy Mass, will be meaningful and relevant to life. There is nothing more disturbing to Church life and growth than seeing it as a Church providing a service like a supermarket  – baptism, see you at First Holy Communion, see you at Confirmation, see you at your wedding.

The same hopeful experience emerges now that I see the attempts that are being made to sort out our problems with our live streaming. I owe so much to the team (mother and daughter) who spent hours to teach a tech cave man like me. And now the persons who want to lend the practical hand. There was something I tried to instill into the minds and hearts of the parishioners of my former parish. And we prayed it every week: I am proud to say: This is my parish! It happened there. It is happening here.

I am grateful for Palm Sunday. Jesus the Victor. And the battle goes on for the Church I believe Jesus wants us to be.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 5 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 9: April 4

I got up rather disoriented this morning. Was it Friday or Saturday? Anyway, I solved that one quite easily. It is, however, sometimes as if the sense of time is getting lost. The atmosphere so peculiar to each day has changed dramatically. I am reminded of God creating the universe in six days, and every day was very specific. Then I remembered an elderly German lady, a friend, who had her own way of giving each day of the week a special meaning. Apparently, this used to be an old Catholic custom. She was the only one who I ever saw practise it. But she told me she had made up her own. Monday was St Joseph when she prayed for the Church and the calling of men. Tuesday was for the souls in purgatory. Wednesday was for the family. Thursday was for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Friday was dedicated to the Crucifixion of Jesus and his Sacred Heart. And Saturday was for Our Lady, Mother Mary. Sunday, of course, is the Day of the Lord. I could never quite relate to this way of devotion and filed it in my head as something old pious ladies do. But it was her own creative way of looking at the week. I do recall that she did it in a very natural way. And now, waking up this morning, I see so much wisdom in it. By the way, a man said to me today, “You know Father, I couldn’t remember what day of the week it is.” When I went to the pharmacy today, there wasn’t the usual buzz at the centre, which characterises the atmosphere of Saturday. Nor was it so at the service station. And that won’t go away. Monday will always have it’s own atmosphere, which is more like a mood. And Tuesday we are up and running for the week. Wednesday is already a sigh of relief because we are halfway through the week. And Thursday is the great anticipation of the weekend. Before you know it, it’s Thank God, it’s Friday. But my old friend teaches me a different lesson: take time and day as your choice to live!

Now I imagine how I would divide the week to get that personal sense of time, a different time which is embedded in purpose, value and faith. Let me take Monday: perhaps it can still be the day of St Joseph because we go back to work. Tuesday: the day of St Christopher to protect us on the roads; Wednesday: the day of St Anne to pray for parents and grandparents. Thursday: I follow my friend and dedicate the day to Jesus the Good Shepherd for vocations. Friday: the Passion and death of our Lord. Saturday: Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Sunday: the Holy Trinity. Such a division of the week could also be according to personal values. Monday for peace; Tuesday for joy; Wednesday for hope; Thursday for loyalty; Friday for sacrifice; Saturday for love; Sunday for life. Each day could have a symbol, which would then be displayed somewhere. Monday, a dove with the olive branch; Tuesday, the scales of justice; Wednesday, an anchor; Thursday, a chain with links; Friday, hands; Saturday, a heart; Sunday, the sun. And I see the wisdom of the old friend who lived the time and day of the week in her chosen, personal way. I am sure there are umpteen possibilities. Had I done it, I would not have wondered what day of the week it was because I would have given the atmosphere and meaning to the day. I must try it out. It is so Judeo-Christian to have a sense of time as celebration of purpose and faith. That is the idea of our whole liturgical year, e.g. Advent, Christmas, Lent, Eastertide, Pentecost. It is the year divided into moments of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) for our salvation.

But today was dominated by palms. What a joy it was to see the many original creations of palms on the chat group of the catechism children. I dreaded to see the Church without decoration. However, a parishioner came to the rescue and brought a beautiful palm decoration. I was tipped off by another parishioner to ask our neighbour opposite for palm branches from the trees in front of his house. This turned into an interesting little encounter. First, he was more than willing for me to cut the branches. Then he hopped out to see how I was doing and helped me carry the branches to the Church. In our conversation it turned out that Mister is a Catholic and he remembered me very well when I first arrived in Bothasig. I had interred the ashes of his mother in the Garden of Remembrance. That was the last time we met and spoke. Now he opened up and we chatted for a while. He offered further assistance. That encounter was the palm of victory of Jesus. There were other palms which happened to me. As I approached the ATM to draw money, a man was coming from the other side to the same ATM. He smiled and showed me to go first. It was a little lightbulb moment, better still a palm for what could change the way we see and treat each other. Simply say, “After you.” Or, “You first”, with a warm smile. That could change the world. Our Facebook Admin made the comment what a lovely lady she had just added to our Facebook. The palm is to see something good and say something beautiful about someone. When I repeated this later when the said lady called to thank me, she said she was still blushing. To make someone blush, now isn’t that a wonderful palm! As I was driving to the service station De Grendel Rd, I passed three men sitting under a tree. It struck me that despite the lockdown, they were there to look for work. Afterwards I returned to see them but there was only one who thankfully received some help. They left a deep impression on me. The palm comes at the cost of suffering and sacrifice. And then someone appeared at the door with supper. It was the thought. The palm is concern and love. Then most of the time went into getting the Church ready for Palm Sunday. A parishioner came with her beautiful arrangement and I, puffing and panting, started snipping off sharp and brown points. Now it is all set for Palm Sunday. I could feel the excitement welling up in me. This anticipation is enhanced by the flood of palm creations by parishioners I see on different chat groups. Palm Sunday is as alive as never before. It all began and culminates in the victory palm moments of care, concern, love – the victory of the spirit and the heart. I don’t need reminding what day of the week it is tomorrow: the symbol is the Victory Palm, Jesus Christ.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies, April 4 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 8: April 3

By all appearances nothing seems to be happening. At least nothing spectacular. And yet, at the end of the day, I feel quite exhausted and wonder what the cause is. This time is like extended silent retreat, the kind of which I had in the novitiate way back in 1979 for four weeks with my 20 course brothers before we took the next step towards a decision for the priesthood. It was Winter in Germany, dark, the ground frozen, the sun setting at 4pm and rising around 9am. Nothing for a boytjie from warm climate South Africa. The first week is most vivid in my memory, for all of us. By the end of the first week the novice master must have thought that we were close to biting the head of the next person of, or about to scratch the paint off the walls. And so he promptly ordered a football match on a Sunday afternoon when we were allowed to talk. We cleared the tarred surface of the basketball court and got stuck into each other. The novice master joined us and I took the dubious honour of giving him a beauty of a shiner on his right eye. It’s all relative: I kicked the ball; he stuck his head out. After that match, it was back to silence. Now I find myself in the same kind of silence, with time for reflection, meditating, prayers, reading, and doing some work. It is so important to give some structure to the day, like a certain activity or reading. It is filled silence, solitude, not loneliness. The Holy Spirit is the spiritual guide, acting as stimulant, awakening memories, pointing out work areas, evoking sentiments of repentance, thanksgiving and praise. I even find myself going back to journals I started more than 40 years ago. So much happened, so much changed. I found a prayer which I wrote before the beginning of the novitiate when I consecrated myself to the Mother Thrice Admirable. I made the solemn promise to crown her should I reach my ordination. And this I did on the day of my ordination, in the evening in the presence of four priests. Interesting how such a most meaningful moment commands my attention today. Which rather brings me to a topic so close to me, the older I get. The persons in my life whom I owe so much as I owe the Mother of God.

Without doubt there is God, Who as Divine Providence was also there. I always think of God as Father, which is not a cliché, but a very real experience. By the way, not a grandfather, a real Father, Who could be tough. But always, it was Father, interested and educating. All God’s doing is motivated to form me into the image of His Son. And that is hard work for Him! There is the spiritual world of Fr Kentenich, the founder of the Schoenstatt Movement. I shall never forget the day when I read a text of his, which remains to this day THE text, which changed my life. It made me see all the social and political problems of South Africa at the time in a completely different light. The words, among others, “under the protection of Mary we want to educate ourselves to be firm, free, priestly characters” caused a storm in my soul, which left me restless. It was a turning point.

There is my grandfather. We were close. My siblings say he favoured me. Silent, wise, storytelling, a mystery. No one knows anything about him. A total mystery. My family tree is buried in Maitland cemetery. And if I asked aunts and uncles about him, I got the answer, which children of my generation invariable were dealt out: “Moenie vir jou ougat hou nie.” it meant it’s none of your business. In any case, they, too, knew nothing. There are my parents, mother and father. Not perfect by all means, just ordinary hardworking family persons, committed to us. Both instilled in me a hunger for education. Coming from a small fishing village, it was clear to me that they wanted an education for their children. And I wholeheartedly embraced that desire. I thank them that I could grow up with such curiosity and hunger for knowledge. ( For that reason, I had school friends who still are friends today. And teachers who inspired me to reach always higher.) In addition, there was their devotedness to the Church – Roman Catholic Church. It was an instinct in our family – never a moment of doubt about going to Holy Mass, the anchor of our Christian practice. No matter how long, boring or interesting Holy Mass was, that’s where I belonged on Sunday. Their prayerfulness in later years stands out as a shining example to me. The early hours, around 4 am was my mom’s favourite time for prayer. My dad was daily Mass goer. They had a hard life, which brought them closer to God. I always saw it as a very kind gesture of Divine Providence that my dad died on the same day as Fr Kentenich, my spiritual father, and on the feast day of Our Lady of Sorrows, on the September 15. One father joined another in the presence of the loving Mother of Jesus, joined in joyful sacrifice. It was a kind gesture of Divine Providence that I could bury my mother. Their sacrifice and work ethic were phenomenal. The care for less privileged is in our family culture. That was my Catholic instinct. That gave me the love of Jesus the Sacrament in the sacraments and in people today.

My sisters and brothers have taught me one thing: when everything is said and done, all the disagreements voiced, we love each other. Coming together is such a joy and relaxation. Let the problems be problems, we remain for each other. I add to them a dear and fiercely dedicated cousin. Above all, there is this boy who calls me daddy. What a blessing in my life! To have the love of a son that makes me a father in the truest sense of the word. And that through no doing of my own. He adopted me. And I say yes.

I owe much to the priests who accompanied me during my time of formation and encouraged me to mould my talents. There are my course brothers from Argentina, Chile, USA, Germany, Switzerland, Mexico, South Africa (three of us initially), and Czechoslovakia. In my most formative years, I experienced an international culture and exchange, which was of tremendous value for my future work as priest. I am eternally grateful to good theologians who were more than willing to assist me and led me to a broader understanding of Church and world.

I take a huge leap, over so many cities, continents, villages and people (their turn will be tomorrow) to arrive where I am today – Good Shepherd Catholic Church. From Atlantis to Bothasisg. Atlantis has a dear place in my priestly life. It has names of persons whom I will never forget. To this day, when I mention in the Eucharistic Prayer St John the Baptist, it is to fulfil a promise I made to pray for that parish every day. I always believed that I am best guided by God. God places me where I should be. And it is here as shepherd of Bothasig. It gives me inner peace and deep joy to believe that it is God’s plan to have me here. (As I am rambling, I just remember that the oven has been preheating for 35 minutes. Time to stick the pizza in and hopefully don’t eat crunchy charcoal). Of all the impressions, I highlighted one today: I owe so many people so much. Wherever I turn, I find someone next to me. Those who are there like a mother, father, brother, sister, child and friend to me. I can never  begin to count. Every time I realise that it is not just help that I receive from them. God is love, and He gives me persons who show that to me: that He is Father, Mother, Sister, Brother, Friend Educator. These forms of love come through countless experiences of assistance, respect and recognition.

I owe so much to so many people. I am overjoyed and overwhelmed to see myself as God’s beggar. And I am thankful to the Holy Spirit doing its meticulous work in me now during the lockdown. Looking at the dire situation today, I pray: Come Holy Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 3 2020 (Bothasig)

Day 7: April 2

The intriguing “Corona”

What an intriguing word! One single word, Corona, dominates the news channels and conversations. Governments introduced measures of such proportions that under normal circumstances would have been impossible and deemed dictatorial. Human rights of freedom of association and movement are put on hold. The right and obligation of care of aged parents is heavily curtailed, if not made impossible. One single word sends police, the army and other law enforcement agencies to patrol the streets and force residents to stay at home. One single word causes fear and panic, changes the way we practise hygiene, how, when and what we shop. It changes the lives of our pets who can’t go out and restricts us with them indoors. It closes all public spaces, from schools, theatres, restaurants and so many others. It cancelled world sports events and churches. It is the major cause for the disruption and total change of life. It pits people against one another in their views on it. We will never be the same again, and no one will ever forget this time – never ever. Life will be different even when the virus is gone. In the USA 10 million people lost their jobs in the past two weeks. Your favourite restaurant might not open. Some small businesses will close. It will take time to recover from the shock waves of the virus. Corona has the same impact on our psyche as the word “war” on past generations. We now have the worst associations connected to this word. It’s a killer! More like an assassin – under cover, silent, invisible. More like a terrorist, lurking unnoticed with a stranger, a relative, a friend or a visitor, ready to wreak havoc and sow hysteria. More like a toxic element in social life – everyone is a suspect. So, don’t greet by shaking hands, stand far away, clean your hands before you touch anything. It shows no mercy. It is at war, making no distinction between a six weeks old baby and an 87 years old princess, between a worker and a prince, a cleaner and a prime minister, a gardener and a health worker. It shows no mercy, spares no one if the right opportunity arises. It is breaking the back of powerful nations with sophisticated health services. We are left vulnerable, helpless, dependent. Even with the best of precautionary measures, just one moment in the wrong place at the wrong time, and we could be its victim. And, therefore, it is synonymous with “lockdown”. The best way to deal with it is to get out of its way. This pattern of behaviour is clear acknowledgement that we are the weaker party in the combat. Seeking head-on contact puts us at a disadvantage. It has the better strike power. Our immune system is not prepared to fight it because it doesn’t have the right weaponry.

It is rather odd that this word was given to name the virus, which apparently has the shape of a crown. In my opinion, it reminds me of the shape of the sea mines used during World War I and II. It is definitely not doing what its name says: crowning life. On the contrary, it is a direct contradiction – it uncrowns us by taking things away that are our joy and pride (education, health, jobs, freedom, self-assurance, independence) and it takes life. It has given the word Corona very ambivalent meaning. Unlike war, which splits nations into camps of allies and enemies, the Coronavirus has made all of us allies. We are friends in this war against a common enemy.

But, really is it only that – negative? No, it has done wonders. The crown is the reward for the best of human achievement. There is a time for everything; and this time there is a time for crowning. The crown is called humility; the crown is unity; the crown is solidarity; the crown is family life; the crown is love; the crown is desire for Jesus Christ; the crown is refuge to Mary; the crown is sharing; the crown is being a global citizen; the crown is appreciation of life; the crown is shift to values that really count; the crown is desire for the Church.

“Corona”. I imagine that it might even have been a nice name parents might have given their baby girl, much the same way as the name “Regina” (Queen). Who would now dare do it? A name which disappeared in Germany is Adolf. How could one possibly give one’s child the name of one of the worst men history has ever seen? On a positive note, is there something, no matter how small, which crowned me today? Something, which lifted my spirit? Something, which made me feel special? Something, which again instilled in me that sense of pride in my dignity? Indeed, there were such moments: The phone call that made me feel very special. The words of appreciation. The concern for my health. Words of praise. The beauty of the sun and the flowers. The conversation seeking advice for the garden. The memories of special moments of blessings. These are just a few. What is remarkable is that the word “corona” set me off to think about the happenings of the day in this particular way. God does nothing all day but crown me and us. Because He is with us and loves us. He made me see me, people and things around me in a more noble way. To be truly human is to be noble; to be noble is to receive the crown of God’s glory in my life and the lives of all of us. Let us find our crowning God in our lives. Let us crown each other!

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 2 2020

Day 6: April 1

As my sparrow choir assembled in the tree for their evening song, with here and there a weaver bird in the mix, I went again through some of the WhattsApp messages. It’s amazing to see how much activity there is in these chat groups. I tried to work my way through those, which made the best and deepest impression on me. I divide them into three categories: humour, motivation and faith. Yes, there is some fake news, some misunderstanding and some nonsense. But by and large, there is an honest and concerned effort to remain in touch and cheer others up.

Therefore, for me it is humour, motivation and faith. The motivational ones can be quite powerful. They are mainly ones about persons who overcame adversity and became examples of turning obstacles into advantage. Quite often they were chosen for their close link to faith. In other words, persons who gained a new insight into their dreadful circumstances and through conversion found their lives to be purposeful. There is the tremendous story of a man who fought for his life hanging on machines in the ICU. A cleaner came along and the conversation went in the direction of Jesus and his love. The patient subsequently had such a deep experience of God Who even yielded to his request to satisfy his craving for potato chips and Coke, which the cleaner brought the next day without knowing of the man’s wish. “A gift from the Lord”, he said. Such was the patient’s experience of God, personal and caring. That sits well with me – faith in Divine Providence.

But humour? Humour plays such a key role in our lives. Somewhere in India some guru developed not humour but laughter as therapy. People gather in the early morning to laugh. Nothing is said. They just laugh. When I visited Casey Callaghan in hospital, a friend was visiting who had recovered from cancer years ago. Casey then told us about a man who, upon hearing that the doctors gave him two weeks to live, hired a room in a hotel for two months. He then went and borrowed all the comedy videos he could find to laugh all day. After the first month he started writing his book. Humour is very prevalent in times of crisis. And, let us not forget political crisis. I think if Jacob Zuma were to be asked who his worst enemy was, he would say Shapiro due to his cartoons. Who can ever forget the shower head? P.W. Botha hated Helen Suzman who could get under his skin with her sharp, humorous (ridiculing) tongue. He once told her he was going to get her (“Ek gaan jou kry.”) The bully, for which he was known to be, called her a “spinnekop”. Yes, she was poison to him. But coming from someone who was nicknamed “Crocodile”, shedding crocodile tears like a “tjankbalie”? Dictators and dictatorial governments loathed humour and jokes about them. Besides making them look foolish and absurd, humour has an uncanny wisdom to tell that the “emperor is naked”, while everyone else is sycophanting (Afrikaans: gatkruipers). For such humour one could pay with one’s life. One of the endearing things about Archbishop Tutu was that he could laugh at impersonations. I found some humorous messages. Yes, some are stereotyping certain groups of our population, e.g. it still beats why a comedian, when impersonating an angry Coloured, must switch from perfect English to the vilest Afrikaans. “Is jy bevxxxk…! “, as though words like “insane, nuts, crazy, mad, fruit cake, loony, etc” don’t exist in his vocabulary and are regarded as wholly inadequate to express utter dismay. Nothing like a juicy swear word from the Cape Flats. Yes, some of the jokes were about Paddy, the epitome of Irish humour, and Van der Merwe. All stereotypes. I remember having conversations with East Germans and Poles during the time of their suppression at the hands of Communists. They had the funniest jokes to tell.

There are many jokes about humour in heaven and in the Church. I have elderly German friends whose English is rather basic. However, when they buy the Southern Cross, the item they go to is the “Chuckle” on the back page. When they returned to Cape Town recently, one of their first outings was to the office of the Southern Cross to buy the chuckles book. All the chuckles have a religious flavour. I love jokes and, with time on hand now, began to reflect how good humour was and is to me. I very vividly recall something from the day of my ordination to the priesthood. I don’t remember much of the event itself. But something remains indelibly etched in my memory. To remove me before the ordination from all the chatter and hype, I was taken to a small room where also Cardinal McCann was waiting for the ceremony to begin. I came prepared. I vested, sat down and took out my book with jokes. The Cardinal was not interested in conversation. So I read my jokes. He looked rather strangely at me because I was laughing all the time. Those jokes relaxed me. Maybe the Cardinal thought I should have been sunken in prayer and meditation. I also maintained that there must be humour in heaven. Otherwise, it must be utterly boring.

And I became interested in the question: how much humour is there in the Bible? There is so much blood and gore in the Old Testament. And the New Testament isn’t exactly a laughing matter either. It reads more like the life of a dysfunctional family – no matter what is done or said, no matter how good the intentions, no matter how good the deed (like healing someone or forgiving sins or restoring sight to the blind) it always comes out the wrong way. Suspicion, accusation, insult, resentment, bitterness, rejection, conspiracy. Jesus and his adversaries were more likely to get stuck into each other, the one (Jesus) calling them a “brood of vipers”, the others (Pharisees and scribes} calling Jesus in cohoots with Satan (Beelzebul). No, the Bible isn’t fun if that’s what I am looking for. I went through my Dictionaries of Biblical Theology. In vain. Under “h”, they all end with “humility”. I did further research and found weak attempts to show where there is humour in the Bible. I went to my “Concordance of the New American Bible”, which lists every word in the Bible. Not much to be found either, but two verses somehow salvaged the moment: Job 8: 21 “Once more will he fill your mouth with laughter.” This was from a speech made by one of Job’s friends after he had lost everything in life. But then just a little further we read straight from Job’s own mouth: “He (God) laughs at the despair of the innocent.” (Job 9:23) Jeremiah, the lamenter and sufferer, says something very meaningful, amidst all his pain: “Songs of praise, the laughter of men.” (Jeremiah 20: 7) I can live with that one. But that does not tip the scales of humour in favour of the Bible. What about this: “It is better to go the house of mourning, than to the house of feasting.” And: “Sorrow is better than laughter because when the face is sad the heart grows wiser”. (Ecclesiastes 7: 2-3) Very hard to swallow. And in the New Testament, one simple direct entry from James 4: 9 “Let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into sorrow.” (Laughter and joy are seen as false pride.) Yes, once, way back in Genesis 17: 17, Sarah (90 years) and Abraham (100 years) had a good belly laugh when God promised them a child. And He didn’t like it. It was scornful laughter. Yet, when the boy was born, they named him “Isaac”, “he laughs”. But how much laughter is there in our Church services? Fun maybe, but spontaneous laughter? I’ll have to work on that one. The freedom of the children of God is that they regained their pure, innocent sense of humour because of God’s presence. One theologian so aptly describes man/woman as “homo ludens” (man playing). Playing and laughing as children is to be carefree – the ultimate expression of being a child of God. Where this play, there is always laughter.

And I read up further and found what I wanted. There is a close connection between humour and faith. “Humour” comes from Latin “humor”, meaning “liquid or fluid”. Depending on the liquid (blood) in the body, you were given a certain temperament (sanguine, melancholic, phlegmatic or choleric). Later it became the word to describe someone’s mood. Humour is a way of observing reality and putting a spin on it. It changes the perspective and shows distance and contrast to something which would otherwise be hard to put up with. Humour makes it bearable and can even give the impression of rising above the problem or pain. (When an audience laughs while something politically abhorrent is being told, the mood in the show changes, becomes more relaxed.) And faith does exactly the same: it gives a different perspective to an event. It makes a huge difference to say, “I trust in God”, or “God is telling me something”, or “With my God I can scale any barrier” as in Psalm 17, or as Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” Both humour and faith are sources of strength to face reality and deal with it. Both humour and faith give distance to a crisis, but they also give the strength to face it and deal with it. I often find in consultations that there is a turning point when the other person suddenly begins to laugh while in actual fact also narrating something very tragic. There is a therapeutic (healing) moment. Pain paralyses; humour sets free and it opens space to be creative and proactive. Combine that with faith, and the healing is on the way. The vantage point is different, higher and remedial.

I am grateful for all the jokes, all the humour that makes life spicy and bearable, especially those that, as I am laughing, I am also praying. Tell clever jokes (wit)! Strangely enough, no one mentioned that today is April Fools’ Day. Heaven is compared to a wedding feast. Can you imagine it without lots of laughter! I am sure every time that a crock crows everyone looks at Peter and bursts out laughing. And he, stealthily looking at a heartily laughing Jesus, laughs with them.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies April 1 2020

 Day 4: March 31

It was going to be the day when the small things mattered. What a glorious sunrise over the Tygerberg Hills. But then, o dear, my lungs would simply not allow me to get going. Every move was slow and preventing the next step. Will-power and determination don’t help. Where there is no oxygen, the body can’t move. Finally, I allowed sanity to prevail and with tortoise pace and patience I packed a bag to go to hospital. First, I would have to call my pulmonologist who would have no qualms to let me come in for a few days. Anyway, the small things mattered, just one step at a time, one inhalation at a time. Well, I thought what my pulmonologist would say and did exactly that: increase the dosage and took all 17 tablets. By the afternoon, not even the slightest wheeze. And that is not just from medication. Usually, I would be wheezing for a few days, even with noticeable improvement. I was overjoyed. So it’s always true: The Lord helps those who can’t help themselves.

The small things mattered today. I sat outside enjoying the sun, a first! And saw all the trees in the garden. Eucalypt, two species of banana trees and a Yuca. The banana species were strong and powerful. But what impressed me was the way they were swaying in the wind. They reminded of the legend of the Palm tree of Port Said. I went to read it up again:

“In Port Said exists a royal palm, it lifts its leaves all over the earth, as tall as a tower. A legend is intertwined among its green leaves. With hundreds of palms it grew rapidly into its youth, until in its first Spring the gardener planned against it. While the others grew peacefully, the first fright quickly came upon the tree: with sharp chops the gardener cut off all its new branches.

Spring returned and healed all its wounds, new sap ran through its trunk and the royal palm rose upwards with renewed and impetuous energy of life.

With the gardener depriving it year after year, all of its foliage was scorned by the rest. Its trunk lacked the crown, the proud head to stand out. Thus it went for a whole generation: the palm grew so rapidly and agilely that neither the axe nor the ladder could reach it.

Then the palm spread its branches to form a roof with its leaves, higher than all the rest. The old gardener came and said to it:

‘Of all, you are the most loved, and I have only caused you so much pain so that in the end you could raise yourself above all the rest. Only pain pushed you to the heights. Look your sisters and your brothers remained below.’

So then, proudly the royal palm bent in the afternoon breeze in gratitude. Whispering and singing among its branches, spreading across the lands towards us; like a comfort on dismal days, the palm clamoured over the sea.

You meek of heart, don’t give up. The axe wounds you deeply; Spring will heal your wounds and the sunlight will shine again. Even when storms rage around you, don’t give up because of your pain: think of the wise gardener and the palm tree there in Port Said.”

And I thought, how true. God in His wisdom and patience had to do much on me. But it was all for the good.

I am reminded of Jesus who said something very similar: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He prunes away every branch, but the fruitful ones he trims clean. (…) I am the vine, you are the branches. He who lives in me and I in him, will produce abundantly, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15: 1-2;5)

Among all these trees, there stands the yuca tree. We have them in pots in front of the Church, like dwarfs. But here, growing feely among the others, it was in severe competition for the sun. Scrawny and tall, with just a crop of branches at the top it made its way to the top. Yuca – so much to learn from your perseverance and determination for a place in the sun.

In the late afternoon the guava tree of the neighbour was full of sparrows. They formed their own choir and chirped for all that they were worth. They came to entertain me. And they came with Jesus’ message: “Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns; yet your heavenly Father fees them. Are you not more important than they? Which of you by worrying can add a moment to his life-span? (…) Your heavenly Father knows all you need. Seek first his kingship over you, his way of holiness, and all these things will be given you besides. Enough, then, of worrying abut tomorrow. Let tomorrow take care of itself. Today has troubles enough of its own.” (Matthew 6:26-27;33-34)

Well, completely out of nowhere ward councillor Carstens called to ask about our outreach to people at Bothasig Gardens. According to her, some were struggling to survive and the Catholics were receiving food parcels. I explained that we make no distinction between Catholics and non-Catholics. Secondly, all those who received food parcels, received for two months. Thirdly, I checked two weeks ago already with Billy Abrahamse, chairperson of St Vincent de Paul Society and coordinator of Helping Hands Task Team if our receivers would be able to see the month through. As they are well known and regulars, he assured me that they were ok. Otherwise we would have made funds available. I called her back after I had spoken again with Billy and he confirmed what I had told her. I guess we would have to follow it up as soon as free movement is possible again. The poor remain our priority.

After Holy Mass I spent time in front of the Blessed Sacrament and to bless the parishioners.

Quite incredible, that I still end up tired. The small things mattered.

Fr Ivanhoe March 30 2020 Bothasig

Day 2: March 28

There was a unique atmosphere around the Church this morning. No sounds whatsoever. I find myself looking through the window ever so often as I am accustomed to do on a Saturday morning when I sit at my desk. Every time when I hear the metallic sound of the gate of the Chapel, I know someone is arriving for Adoration. And from where I am sitting, I bless the one who arrives and the one who leaves. I just have to get used to it that this is going to be normal for the next 20 days. Nothing is quite normal. Our State President in army fatigues! Now really, Mr President. How are you going to lead your army in battle against a virus that strikes anywhere, any time and any person. Your army won’t be there to defend, and you don’t have a defence or attack strategy against such an enemy. Your strategy is “Stay at home, wash your hands, stay away from each other.” That is the only plan that works. So, we are your real army against this invisible enemy. The other army, the SANDF, is there to make sure that we don’t leave our positions in the trenches – at home. The images on TV are equally bizarre. Army and police coercing people to observe the rules of the lockdown. Why wouldn’t they? Can’t they see what is happening in Italy and Spain?

Stillness has its own way of directing mind, memory, fantasy and emotions. There is so much fear, and rightly so. This Coronavirus, so unpredictable if caution is not taken, makes me aware of our mortality. People are dying and we are helpless. Awareness of mortality reminds me of the traditional spiritual exercise in the evening called “ars moriendi” (the Art of Dying well). This devotion was developed about 60 years after the Black Death (the Great Bubonic Plague), which peaked between 1347 and 1351, killing between 30 – 60 % of Europe’s population. Ars moriendi took seriously human mortality. I prefer the much gentler version of the old man Simeon upon seeing Jesus in the Temple with Mary and Joseph:

“At last, all-powerful Master, you give leave to your servant to go in peace, according to your promise, for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared for all nations, the light to enlighten the Gentiles and give glory to Israel, your people.” (Luke 2: 29-32)

Nevertheless, isn’t that what is so scary this time around? Death, lurking everywhere. Ars moriendi! Let us place ourselves in the hands of the Divine Master, Jesus Christ. Let us renew our trust in the Father Who cares for us. Let us surrender totally to God!

A lone phone call on the landline asking if there will be Confessions today! No! And no, I won’t be opening the Church. That one hurt both ways. Strange, I am thinking. Not even in war times are the Churches locked. Now they must be locked as part of our exercise of “social distancing”. Meanwhile the messages are streaming in of parishioners and other persons who are praying the Rosary. Such a powerful prayer, but guess what? It owes its popularity and relevance to the times of the plagues. The instinctive reaction to turn to the Sorrowful Mother, someone who knows and understands pain.

Fear! Am I afraid? If I let all my thoughts go, which have been so cleverly crafted by years of theology and spiritual life, and allow the raw emotions to surface from deep within, then the answer is yes. And not just now, many times. And I fear above all for dear ones. Their mortality places them beyond my control. How do I deal with it? The pendulum! My life is like the swing of the pendulum – backwards and forwards, between uncertainty and certainty, trust and doubt, faith and lack of faith, security and insecurity. That is not just me. It is human nature. Ambivalent. Yet, there is something about the pendulum that is so hopeful. It is fixed. And that’s why it can swing. Not aimlessly but secured at the top. In the hands of a loving God Who is Father, in Whose strong hands the pendulum is.

And, once again, the vagaries of modern social media. Struggling to get the internet and Facebook going. Tomorrow is another day.

“Visit this house, we pray, Lord: drive far away from it all the snares of the enemy. May your holy angels stay here and guard us in peace, and let your blessing be always upon us. Through Christ our Lord.”

Day 1: March 27

Nothing just happens. Everything has a purpose, enshrined in the daily moments. And so this journal will chronicle the lockdown experiences. I remember the last time I had such an experience – way back in 1989. I had contracted hepatitis A, living at the time with another priest in Claremont who also had hepatitis. For six weeks we were cut off from everyone, in strict quarantine, and very weak. We celebrated the Easter Triduum alone, the whole of it, holding on to the altar to steady ourselves.

Now this time it is so different. It was almost as if there was a countdown to midnight. We said our last goodbyes because we were not going to see each other for 21 long days. Yesterday the rehearsal for the live streaming of Holy Mass just didn’t work. From 4pm until 8.30pm my parishioners toiled with the laptops until finally – bingo. Even a technology cave man like me now knows what to do.

Meanwhile the doorbell rang a few times. Worried people who wanted to know how I was and brought all kinds of gestures of kindness. Communion of a different kind, but very much the same that Jesus would have approved of – love one another.

Finally, Friday morning, and eerie silence. I don’t have to rush. Take time. The morning prayers of the Church, long and drawn out, could get their due. It dawns on me. It’s good to live in the moment. For the time being the watch will play no role. Tomorrow it will be different. I waited for the national anthem at 1pm. But it never came, or I somehow missed it. And the whole day updates on the different Whattsapp groups, messages of inspiration and prayers. We have come closer as global community. Today I have become an Italian, a Spaniard, and everyone else. And a phone call from Germany to enquire about my health – I must be German, too.

A last glance through my diary: cancelled, cancelled – weddings, baptisms, reception into the Church, interment of ashes, home visits, home blessings, meetings and more meetings, assistance at two weekend retreats in Schoenstatt – all cancelled. Only a funeral yesterday – of Tony Joseph with few in attendance. Farewell to a wonderful man and Christian.

Then the unthinkable. I decided to tidy up my desk! Is it true that only the genius finds his way through chaos? Then there is hope for me. I transferred everything from my desk and spread it out on seven tables in the hall. I like the colour of my desk. And found some interesting things, thought long lost. Like a story I wrote before our pilgrimage to the Holy Land in May 2018. It is about Joseph, the father of Jesus. This man always fascinated me. I was trying to see the life of Jesus through his eyes, his quiet, thinking heart, his keen observation of things happening around his son as he was growing up. That story can be completed now.

I got ready for Holy Mass and decided to make it festive. All the vestments, and lots of time to meditate during the celebration. My mind wandered to my homebound parishioners. I must call them. I prayed for our people in the informal settlements. Lord, if the virus breaks out there! And my family, here at Good Shepherd Catholic Church, and my relatives.

After a long nap of over four hours, the silence is gentle and soft. The news that is coming in is rough and devastating. On my cell phone screen: Young father, fit and healthy, 27 years, succumb to Covid 19. His son born just 10 days ago. A Reggae song to lift the spirit.

I find a coloured in picture of a boy, which was his special surprise for me. Just the remedy to end the day – keep it childlike, make it simple, clear the mind and the heart. Live in the moment, for the Holy Spirit to come.

Everything is in that beautiful prayer written for the child’s heart:

Angel of God, my Guardian dear. To whom God’s love commits me here; ever this day, be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.

And the good night blessing to my parish.

Fr Ivanhoe Allies March 27 2020 Bothasig