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Latest Space #17

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

As Editor of Sacred Space and its newsletter, Latest Space, and on behalf of all of us at the Jesuit Communications Centre in Dublin, I greet you, members of the Sacred Space community, with best wishes and prayers that the coming season of Christmas may be a time of many blessings for each and every one of you.

As you read the contents of this issue of Latest Space, I’m sure you will come to a deeper realisation of the ways in which God continues to bless us and our work in Sacred Space. You may also be interested in the newsletter of the Irish Jesuits, AMDG (, also edited by one of our team, Dermot Roantree, and produced by the Irish Jesuit Communication Centre. The current issue is a bumper Christmas issue! Special coverage is given to the inauguration of the coming Jubilee Year for the first Jesuit priests, St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Francis Xavier and Bl. Peter Fabre, including the Mass to begin the Jubilee Year on December 3, the feast of St. Francis Xavier, in Gardiner Street, Dublin. There is plenty of other good reading too. May the Lord continue to bless all of our efforts as we enter into this coming year. God bless you and yours.

– Fr. Gerry

Sections within this issue of Latest Space:

  • A Christmas Message from our Manager
  • Sartre’s Christmas Play – a Message from Fr. Paul Andrews
  • Our Advent Retreat
  • November in Sacred Space
  • Sacred Space – The Prayer Book 2006
  • Continuing to Spread the Word about Sacred Space
  • Have Faith in Him

  • A Christmas Message from our Manager

    Christmas Greetings! I can hardly believe I’m writing those words. How the time has flown since I last wrote you all in early summer. Then the sun was shining and my window open, looking out on to the beautiful garden, festooned with summer flowers, at the back of our residence here in Leeson Street, Dublin. Now my fire is lit and my desk lamp on, as the evening closes in and the winter solstice beckons.

    I always find this an unsettling time of the year. Perhaps that’s not surprising, as it is a time of waiting, uncertainty and encroaching darkness. The almost existential unease I feel reminds me of one Advent when I was a post-graduate student at University College, Dublin. I was experiencing that same uneasy sadness, loneliness, even a vague anxiety that I couldn’t pin on anything in particular. I was in the habit of going to Mass regularly in a small Carmelite chapel near the University and a very old lady used to sit two seats ahead of me. She kept herself very well, and the Carmelite fathers called her ‘Hats‘, as she always wore the most lovely elaborate hats to church. Anyway, this particular evening at Mass, I sat nursing my anxiety and praying to Jesus for the gift of peace. I heard the readings which did mention how the Prince of peace would come, “healing in his wings” and things like that, but I was too caught up in my own preoccupations to pay attention to the Word of God!! Suddenly, as the priest finished the gospel and went to the altar, Hats swung round in her seat and spoke to me in a very loud voice. “Did you hear that?” she demanded. “Yes,” I replied shakily. “Every very word of it?” she insisted. “Yes, every word,” I replied, my mind racing, thinking she had read my innermost thoughts and knew God had answered my prayers through the readings, which I had heard but ignored. Just as I was about to say sorry to her for my lack of faith, she said, “Well, you’re the lucky one – I can’t hear a thing. I’m going stone deaf!” I almost burst out laughing in relief, but the message wasn’t lost on me, who had ears but did not hear, or heard but did not listen.

    And since I’m on the topic of hearing, its always lovely to hear from you who are the Sacred Space community. We read all the e- mails and letters – and a special word of thanks to those of you who have given us financial assistance. Every little does help and means we can continue to grow, via the net, and develop an even wider community of prayer.

    So, on behalf of the Jesuit Communication Centre here in Dublin, may I wish you all a Christmas full of love and joy, and, if you’re troubled or anxious, may you not only hear, but listen to, the Words of God going forth this Advent, to bring you healing and peace.

    – Pat Coyle

    Sartre’s Christmas Play – a Message from Fr. Paul Andrews

    Here is a piece of spiritual writing that has meant a lot to me; it is from Barjona by Jean-Paul Sartre, the existentialist philosopher and playwright. In the autumn of 1940 the Nazis captured and deported Sartre, to a concentration camp in Germany. Before Christmas, a Jesuit fellow- prisoner, Paul Feller, persuaded Jean-Paul to write a nativity play for the French Christians who shared his captivity. Sartre, baptised a Catholic, was by this time a declared atheist. Writing a Christmas play ran against the grain. But as a gesture of solidarity with his French fellow-prisoners, he wrote Barjona, Jeu scénique en six tableaux.

    To my knowledge the play was never published in Sartre’s lifetime. He presumably saw it as a jeu d’esprit, like a piece written for a Christmas party among friends. As an atheist and existentialist, he would not appreciate its location in a spiritual setting. However, the play is of such searing beauty that whenever I have quoted it, people have looked for the text and marvelled.

    Barjona is the headman of a village near Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth. He is a Sartre-like figure, a strong man consumed by existentialist despair. The villagers are starving and powerless under the yoke of Rome, and he cannot help them. In the play he has just persuaded his fellow villagers into a joint pact that they will bring no more children into the world, in protest against the oppression of Rome and the silence of God. Then the Magi enter, following a star. Barjona abuses them as doting, deluded old men, and points to the misery of the crowd who had gathered, torn between despair and hope.

    However, the villagers follow the Magi to Bethlehem in search of the new-born King. Barjona, determined to eliminate this illusion before it catches the imagination of his friends, takes a short cut over the mountains to Bethlehem, where he plans to kill the baby. There is a gap in the text – Sartre’s note reads: Il manque trois pages – and when it resumes Barjona is on his knees, watching from the shadows as the villagers gather in the stable. Sartre will not describe a conversion, but he leaves the door open for hope. Barjona, his fellow-villagers and the Magi kneel round the manger, and a narrator describes what they see.

    (The translation below is by the author.)
    The Virgin is pale, and she looks at the baby. What I would paint on her face is an anxious wonderment, such as has never before been seen on a human face. For Christ is her baby, flesh of her flesh, and the fruit of her womb. She has carried him for nine months, and she will give him her breast, and her milk will become the blood of God. There are moments when the temptation is so strong that she forgets that he is God. She folds him in her arms and says: My little one.

    But at other moments she feels a stranger, and she thinks: God is there – and she finds herself caught by a religious awe before this speechless God, this terrifying infant. All mothers at times are brought up sharp in this way before this fragment of themselves, their baby. They feel themselves in exile at two paces from this new life that they have created from their life, and which is now peopled by another’s thoughts. But no other baby has been so cruelly and suddenly snatched from his mother, for he is God, and he surpasses in every way anything that she can imagine. It is a hard trial for a mother to be ashamed of herself and her human condition before her son.

    But I think that there are other rapid, fleeting moments when she realises at once that Christ is her son, her very own baby, and that he is God. She looks at him and thinks: “This God is my baby. This divine flesh is my flesh. He is made from me. He has my eyes, and the curve of his mouth is the curve of mine. He is like me. He is God and he is like me.”

    No other woman has been lucky enough to have a God for herself alone, a tiny little God whom she can take in her arms and cover with kisses, a warm-bodied God who smiles and breathes, a God that she can touch, who is alive. And it is in these moments that I would paint Mary, if I was a painter, and I would try to capture the air of radiant tenderness and timidity with which she lifts her finger to touch the sweet skin of her baby-God, whose warm weight she feels on her knees, and who smiles.

    So much for Jesus and for the Virgin Mary.

    And Joseph? I would not paint Joseph. I would show no more than a shadow at the back of the stable, and two shining eyes. For I do not know what to say about Joseph, and Joseph does not know what to say about himself. He adores, and is happy to adore, and he feels himself slightly out of it. I believe he suffers without admitting it. He suffers because he sees how much this woman whom he loves resembles God; how she is already at the side of God. For God has burst like a bomb into the intimacy of this family. Joseph and Mary are separated for ever by this explosion of light. And I imagine that all through his life Joseph will be learning to accept this.

    That is how Joan-Paul Sartre, a male, an ex-Christian, a prisoner in a labour camp, saw the Holy Family. Is it surprising that at the end he returned to his baptismal faith?

    The typescript came my way in 1951 – from a French fellow-student in Munich. Paul Feller had given him a copy. Our life in Munich was Spartan. I was cold, hungry (the basic diet was still potatoes and turnips), and, as an isolated Irishman, lonely. I needed hope, not as a theological virtue, but as an existential experience, to help me trust that there was something beyond this stark and loveless existence.

    We put on Barjona as a radio play that Christmas. It was not like spiritual books which spoke from a faith too comfortable and unquestioning. I responded to Sartre when he described the Incarnation: a god who would submit to learning this taste of salt at the bottom of our mouths when the whole world abandons us. This was philosophy from the guts, not the head. It gave me spiritual sustenance when I needed it most. It has stood to me in bad times since then. Thank you for the excuse to recall it.

    – Paul Andrews

    Our Advent Retreat
    Fr. Paul Andrews, who regularly submits the weekly “thought for the week” and the “inspiration points” for the daily meditations, also prepared an online retreat for Advent, which is now available. He already contributed material for our Lenten Retreat this year; it was available online until we put up the present material.

    The number of visitors to Sacred Space who made the Lenten retreat, until it was taken down at the beginning of Advent, was 4,431. The greatest number were from the USA (2,288), followed by the UK (466), Canada (321), Ireland (215), the Philippines (190), Australia (185) and India (72). The numbers who signed up from the other 120 countries were in numbers from 45 to 1 person from each country.

    We trust that this Advent retreat, too, will respond equally well to the spiritual needs of many of our Sacred Space community from all over the world.

    November in Sacred Space
    Once again this year, in the month of November, our Chapel of Remembrance, offered members of the Sacred Space community an opportunity to remember their beloved dead. Many visited daily to pray for loved ones. More than 1,000 people from 65 countries submitted 5229 names of people, who were remembered and prayed for during the month. Almost half of that number came from the United States. Another 35% came from the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and the Philippines, while the remaining 15% were from the other 60 countries.

    On Nov. 23, 2005, our counter noted 16 million visits to the site since Feb. 1999.
    In Nov. 2005, on weekdays, we averaged 14,703; in 2004, 12,558; in 2003, 9,904.
    On weekends (Saturdays and Sundays): 9,557; in 2004: 8,155; in 2003: 6,408.

    In the first week of Advent (Nov. 27 – Dec. 3) the average number of vistors on weekdays rose to 15,731, and on weekend days (Sun. and Sat.), to 10,149. It is interesting to note the much larger numbers on working days. People at work seem to find it helpul to take a “prayer break”. And also there is a significant increase in numbers during a season like Advent. When Sacred Space was launched on Ash Wednesay, 1999, it was promoted at the time as “something to do for Lent”.

    Sacred Space – The Prayer Book 2006

    The cover of the Ave Maria Press edition describes the book 2006 as follows:

    Sacred Space: The Prayer Book 2006 is a prayer guide inspired by the popular website, . Both offer a way to reflect and pray each day of the liturgical year; both present a time to quietly connect with God and a space to be spiritually nourished, healed, challenged, and transformed.

    Inaugurated in 1999 by Alan McGuckian, S.J. and Peter Scally, S.J., of the Jesuit Communication Centre in Ireland, the site has logged over fifteen million visits. The site has been translated into 19 languages and people pray there at the rate of one every 10 seconds.

    Now you can pray and reflect with Sacred Space any time, any place, and in only ten minutes a day. Sacred Space: The Prayer Book 2006 offers a daily Scripture selection, points of inspiration to help you reflect on the Scripture passage, and weekly themes that encourage you to reflect every day on the stages of prayer that have been specially created to enhance your prayer experience.

    It then adds in smaller print:

    After the success of Sacred Space: The Prayer Book book 2005 we are pleased to bring you Sacred Space: The Prayer Book 2006. Place your order today so you don’t miss a day of prayer and reflection! And next August be sure to reserve your copy of Sacred Space: The prayer Book 2007!

    The reason for that final sentence may be the fact that Ave Maria Press ran out of copies of the 2005 edition in early Autumn of that year! The same blurb concludes with some short quotes from the feedback it has received:

    “SACRED SPACE has helped me to reconnect with God.”
    “SACRED SPACE has given me a way, ‘a space’, to have time where I can bring my thoughts together and find a positive way to move forward.”
    “If it wasn’t for Sacred Space, my prayer-life would practically be non-existent. As it is, I pray with Sacred Space most days, becoming closer to God and His love.”
    “It is one of the best ways to begin the day I have found to date.”
    “This ten-minute format invites us to grow in the practice of daily prayer, which has nourished Christians from the first days of the church.”

    Continuing to Spread the Word about Sacred Space
    When considering Christmas gifts or New Year resolutions, here are some ways you might wish to help in the ministry of Sacred Space.

    • Check the website of your local diocese, parish, or other similar organization – do they have a link to Sacred Space? If not, why not recommend a link?
    • Do your friends have homepages? Ask them to include a link to Sacred Space.
    • Has your local newspaper (diocesan or otherwise) ever featured an article on Sacred Space? If you think they might be interested, do not hesitate to suggest one. You may even put them in touch with us, and we will be happy to supply them with helpful material.
    • Have you shared your enthusiasm with others? You might consider a gift for Christmas of SACRED SPACE – The Prayer Book 2006.
    • Have you considered a financial contribution to Sacred Space so that in 2006 we may continue to respond as effectively as possible to the spiritual needs of the international community?
    • A regular visitor and contributor from Oxnard, Californian, USA, sent us these reflections to encourage all to Share Sacred Space

    We at Sacred Space have made many friends in the last few years.

    We started with an idea; God gave us the faith and the tools; we knew no fear.

    He also sent us the people that would help us along the way.
    People with vision; they helped us march forward as we prayed.

    And as we look back as to how we have grown,
    it’s amazing what God has done – who would have known?

    He used the world of technology to open many doors.
    We could only imagine what was out there, one click and it all just pours.

    God helped created a haven where anybody could visit – a special place.
    Prayer after prayer, it’s no wonder He gave us the name Sacred Space.

    So as we celebrate Christmas and give credit where credit is due,
    we want to wish you love, peace and joy. Know that we are praying for you.

    So join us every day, and see where God takes us, with Him there is no end.
    You can help us through your prayers and sharing Sacred Space with a friend.

    – Frances Berumen (25.11.05)

    Have Faith in Him – a poem sent by a visitor from Australia
    Love protects the preacher who cries himself to sleep.
    Love projects the architect whose house is out of reach.
    Love becomes the woman who holds her child so small.
    Everyone has soul.

    Love becomes the builder who never seems to rest,
    Motivating students who strive to do their best.
    Nourishes the poor man who finds no work at all.
    Everyone has soul.

    Love becomes the teacher, the keeper of the flame.
    Holds the key to freedom for those who live in chains.
    Love’s the only doctor to make that midnight call.
    Everyone has soul.

    Everyone has soul, oh, faithful friend.
    Everyone has soul, and we depend
    On your glory, joy and honour too,
    Bringing life to all, because of you.

    – Veronica Cressey, Perth, Western Australia    

    With best wishes from the Sacred Space ( team –
    – Pat, Dermot, Jae-Hong, Paul, Frank, John and Gerry

    Jesuit Communication Centre, 36 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin 2, Ireland

    Sacred Space Daily online prayer Sacred Heart Novena Podcast feed for Novena