De La Mennais Brothers: Weaving A Tapestry Of Relationships Like Jesus

De La Mennais Brothers: Weaving A Tapestry Of Relationships Like Jesus

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Vocations Sunday - Pope Francis

Here’s the beginning of Pope Francis' letter for Vocations Sunday (last weekend). For the whole letter, click here.



Theme: Exodus, a fundamental experience of vocation

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Fourth Sunday of Easter offers us the figure of the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep: he calls them, he feeds them and he guides them. For over fifty years the universal Church has celebrated this Sunday as the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. In this way she reminds us of our need to pray, as Jesus himself told his disciples, so that “the Lord of the harvest may send out labourers into his harvest” (Lk 10:2). Jesus command came in the context of his sending out missionaries. He called not only the twelve Apostles, but another seventy-two disciples whom he then sent out, two by two, for the mission (cf. Lk 10:1-6). Since the Church “is by her very nature missionary” (Ad Gentes, 2), the Christian vocation is necessarily born of the experience of mission. Hearing and following the voice of Christ the Good Shepherd, means letting ourselves be attracted and guided by him, in consecration to him; it means allowing the Holy Spirit to draw us into this missionary dynamism, awakening within us the desire, the joy and the courage to offer our own lives in the service of the Kingdom of God.

To offer one’s life in mission is possible only if we are able to leave ourselves behind. On this 52nd World Day of Prayer for Vocations, I would like reflect on that particular “exodus” which is the heart of vocation, or better yet, of our response to the vocation God gives us. When we hear the word “exodus”, we immediately think of the origins of the amazing love story between God and his people, a history which passes through the dramatic period of slavery in Egypt, the calling of Moses, the experience of liberation and the journey toward the Promised Land. The Book of Exodus, the second book of the Bible, which recounts these events is a parable of the entire history of salvation, but also of the inner workings of Christian faith. Passing from the slavery of the old Adam to new life in Christ is a event of redemption which takes place through faith (Eph 4:22-24). This passover is a genuine “exodus”; it is the journey of each Christian soul and the entire Church, the decisive turning of our lives towards the Father...

Monday, April 27, 2015

Sponsored cycle + swim for Haiti

Last Sunday week I undertook another of my crazy sponsored sporting exploits, this time to raise money to buy sports and audio-visual equipment to take out to Haiti when I take a group of pupils there in July. This time the context was a bit special given I’d not been well the previous few days (see below for details). Here are the Facebook comments and photos that I posted as the day progressed, plus a couple of photos from the swim that I’ve kept private till now. If anyone would like to donate to our fund for equipment to take out to Haiti and give to the schools we will be visiting I’m prepared to pick up from anyone in the Merseyside area. If you are further afield a cheque would be simplest, made out to “Brothers Of Christian Instruction”.

Address =
Bro. James Hayes, St. Francis Xavier’s College, Beaconsfield Road, Liverpool, England L25 6EG.
Here are the Facebook posts:


It's 9.40am in the morning and I am halfway through my 100 mile cycle from Parkgate (Wirral) to Market Drayton and back followed by a 5 km (3.1 mile) swim at Neston Recreation Centre starting at 5.15pm as part of the national Swimathon event later today.

I've not pushed the fundraising in preparation for today as I was unsure about whether I'd be physically up to it having had a few issues these past few weeks. I was actually in bed with a fever and suspected tonsillitis on Weds. of this week. Indeed, last night I spent much of the first few hours in bed coughing. To try and relax I took to reading: Sir Robin Knox-Johnston's (a hero of mine) account of how in 1968-69 he became the first person to sail around the world solo and nonstop. After a particularly bad battering during a storm in the Southern Ocean that lead to leaks all over the boat and making him consider getting his life raft ready a poem by Robert Service called "The Quitter" came to mind (just looked up the exact passage):

"When you're lost in the wild And you're scared as a child
And death looks you bang in the eye
When you're sore as a boil
It's according to Hoyle
To cock your revolver- and die.
But the Code of a Man says "fight all you can"
And self dissolution is barred
In hunger and woe,
oh it's easy to blow
It's the Hell-served-for-breakfast that's hard."

This, together with the memory of what Knox-Johnston endured without giving up, put things into perspective for me (+ made me feel a bit ashamed for having considered not even giving it a go), so I decided to brace the below zero early morning temperature outside and set off for Parkgate on the Wirral (with the bike in the car) as planned at 4.30am in readiness for a 5.30-ish start on the bike.

Having now got to Market Drayton (50 miles, halfway) I'm feeling pretty good all things considered, but am wary of the dreaded cramp setting in towards the end of the swim, having not done anywhere near as much cycling as I'd hoped to do these past few weeks, though my swimming training has been going well.


Ride done. 100.5 mls. Now for some pasta courtesy of Lionel Harvey (cycling friend of mine), a nap, then down to the pool... GAME ON!!!


Swim done!!! 5km in just over 2hrs. Very happy with how it went. Finished strongly with barely any cramp.

After having completed my double sporting challenge (see my Facebook Wall for further details) if anyone would like to donate to our fund for equipment to take out to Haiti and give to the schools we will be visiting I’m prepared to pick up from anyone in the Merseyside area. If you are further afield a cheque would be simplest, made out to “Brothers Of Christian Instruction”.

Address = Bro. James Hayes, St. Francis Xavier’s College, Beaconsfield Road, Liverpool, England L25 6EG.

Many thanks.

A meeting for the Province's youngest Brothers…

… at our Mother House in Ploërmel, Brittany. A chance for us to share experiences, offer each other support and plan for the future. We are very much "living joyfully" and haven't given up the fight.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Called + chosen - Vocation Sunday

In honour of Vocation Sunday tomorrow here's an excellent post from DVO app.

March 1
He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace... 2 Tim 1:9 (NIV)
Vocation - Part 1
What's your calling?

Growing up in church this question was bandied about almost as much as "how are you today?" The urgency of the way in which it was always asked made me nervous.

What IS my calling? Am I called? Am I one of the few chosen? Are we all chosen? What if I'm not chosen? What if I'm just normal? I want to change the world? How will I do it? What will I do? Will I succeed? Will I fail? Am I the ONE?

These are the questions/thoughts/fears that would flood my mind and heart at the very mention of 'calling.' The pressure was paralysing and I made many of my choices more in accordance with what the perceived outcome of my life should be rather than what I felt in my bones. There was a sense of sacrifice attached to the feeling of what my calling would be. Not the normal, good kind of sacrifice when you think of things like exercise, practice, devotion, study etc... but a kind of 'self minimising sacrifice' that stemmed from things like my misunderstanding of Johns quote "more of Him, less of me" (that devotion will be coming in a day or two).

We've overdone, over-spiritualized and overcomplicated "calling" for a long time.

So for the purposes of this series, we are going to redefine calling - and to start off we're going to talk about it in terms of "vocation."

Vocation: "A particular occupation or profession; calling. A strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activity or career. A divine call to God's service or to the Christian life. A function or station in life to which one is called by God."

It's the essence of our existence - what am I here FOR? What will I leave behind, and how will my days impact the world? It is the divine woven into our function. You, my friend, are here on purpose. You are not random, you are not an anomaly or a mistake... You ARE deliberate.

Your vocation shouldn't fill you with dread. It is yours. What you do with your life is up to YOU. From the outset of this little discussion, know that when it comes to your purpose, you need to OWN it. And to own it, you need to find it.

And it's not as hidden away as you might think... It's in your bones, in your blood, in your heart.

Have a look inside. What makes you tick? What makes your body feel fluid? What makes your heart leap out of your chest? What makes you angry, what gives you hope, what captures your attention? These are all clues to help you discover the "why" to your life.

"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." Howard Thurman.


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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Summer reading

Yesterday I received in the post 2 recently published books, one by my sister, Mona Villarrubia (née Hayes) and one by my film mentor, Jean Collet, whose inspiration, influence and friendship lead to me teaching Film Studies after I came back from my 4 years study in Paris from 1995-99. I look forward to reading both in the coming weeks /months.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Vulnerability + growing up

Mont Aigoual, Les Cévennes, France, 1997

An unforgettable day back in 1997 with my good friend Frère Henri in the Cevennes (S. France, where we were staying for hiking and cycling in the area) on top of Mont Aigoual after a long hike to the top. During the climb he'd put me in front to lead the way for the first time in our 7 years of summer hiking since my Noviciate where he was the Assistant Novice Master. Sounds banal but this gesture had a profound effect on me during the climb and I got very emotional. Someone was putting their trust in me in a way that no one else had done before. On top of this the views around me were so beautiful. A couple of times in the climb I had to stop and sit down as a wave of emotion broke over me.

One such break, with Mont Aigoual itself in the distance.

Then when we arrived at the top I could have sat there for hours with the view you can see in the photo below. I feel now that it was a key experience for me in the process of growing up. I was 28 going on 16 and despite 6 years of teaching I was someone who felt more comfortable in the company of people older than myself (I still do). I was happier following the guidance of others, following older brother/father figures with whom I felt safe and loved. But this day, through my dear friend God was now calling me to become a leader, a guide, an older brother-type figure for others… As I had written in a poem during my 6th form days I did not want to "let go" of that safety that comes from being able to depend on and look up to another. God was gentle in his prompting, however, and gradually over the years I have taken on more and more responsibility and allowed myself to become that kind of person for others. But I think it will always be a struggle for me.

I have, for example, organised and lead trips to Africa (4 times), World Youth Days in Germany and Spain and numerous De La Mennais Brothers youth gatherings in Brittany. During this time I have learned to put my trust in someone I cannot see, the God who is Father and Son/Brother.
Ultimately, I am still that insecure 16 year old longing for a father with whom I would feel safe and loved. But I've embraced this vulnerability, my inner child, asking God in his love to work through me so that through my weakness his love may be shared with others, so that in my weakness I may be strong in his love.

As is said in the spoken intro to the wonderful '80s song by Liverpool band The Icicle Works "Birds Fly (Whisper To A Scream)"…

"Some things take forever, But with the building bricks of trust and love, Mountains can be moved."

And in the chorus…

"We are, we are, we are but your children,
Finding our way around indecision.
We are, we are, we are ever helpless,
Take us forever, a whisper to a scream."

Take me forever, Lord.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

The seed + vulnerability (Mona Villarrubia)

Just found the below article about the need to be vulnerable on one of my sister’s blogs (Mona Villarrubia - Christianity in the 21st Century) and I think it’s quite wonderful.

Today’s Gospel was from John chapter 12. One verse caught my attention.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”


In the homily we were reminded of the process whereby a seed grows. It has to be in the right temperature and level of moisture. Then its protective shell has to soften and crack open. Only then can the seed send out a root and a shoot and make food and grow. The hard shell has to be broken.

Two things came to mind as I listened. The first is the obvious prophecy of Jesus’ death and the beginning of the church. Without Jesus’ death would his words have taken root? Without his death would others have been willing to die for their faith? Secondly, I reflected on what happened to bring about his death? He became vulnerable, he let down his defenses, he opened up and spoke the truth that was within his heart.

I recently re-watched a TED talk by Sociologist Brene Brown. She spoke about her discovery that vulnerability is the basis for living a whole life, for being what she calls a whole-hearted person.

“And I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”

According to Brown in order to be whole-hearted people we have to live with authenticity, “we have to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee, to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love this much? Can I believe in this this passionately?”

Let us hope that as we learn to become more vulnerable, more open, more whole-hearted, we will not be asked to die for the truth the way that Jesus of Nazareth, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, Oscar Romero and so many other martyrs did. But in this season of Lent let us at least stretch enough, and soften our shells enough, to allow growth to happen.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Bono: Who Is Jesus?

Bono has always been an easy target for critics ("self-important", "pretentious", "do-gooder"...) although I've always had more time for him than that. The clarity and conviction with which he defends his faith in this interview with Gay Byrne for RTE (Irish TV) confirms what I have always thought: that there is more to him and to his lyrics than meets the eye through his public persona. Fair play to ya!