Category Archives: Christian Unity

4 July: Hope.

July 4 creeps in as fast as any other day of the year. What can an Englishman say about it and not appear ignorant or patronising?

I’ve been saving this poem by America’s Emily Dickinson for a suitable occasion. Perhaps we need hope on both sides of the Atlantic? It can be ours, if we listen for the tune without words; too many hasty, unreflective words have been spoken of late, threatening unity rather than building it up. Let us pray for unity as we listen to the Spirit within.

Hope is the thing with feathers 
That perches in the soul, 
And sings the tune without the words, 
And never stops at all, 

And sweetest in the gale is heard; 
And sore must be the storm 
That could abash the little bird 
That kept so many warm. 

I 've heard it in the chillest land, 
And on the strangest sea; 
Yet, never, in extremity, 
It asked a crumb of me.

From “Poems by Emily Dickinson, Series Two”.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, Laudato si', poetry

3 July: Leaf from leaf.

All Saints, Godshill, Isle of Wight.

This Lily Crucifix is striking. The figure of Christ is bleeding yet not broken; indeed he looks vigorous. The cross, too, is not dead wood but a lily of the field, full of sap and flowering. It’s not a canna – the one we usually call an Easter Lily – but an Easter Lily for all that. Christ, the wounded Christ, is risen! Immediately below the lily cross the church has placed the tabernacle or aumbry, housing the wafer that Christians recognise as the body of Christ.

Scattered across the wall are five-petalled pink flowers, surely wild roses like the one below. Or are they stars, their numbers counted by Him alone? Earth’s astronomers keep on counting more and more of them as their instruments look ever further, but they seem to have given up on names, instead allotting numbers to the innumerable golden grains they perceive and whose vastness they measure from light years away. They know they will never reach the end of the numbers but they trust that their work is valuable. It is valuable, for it is awe inspiring.

Here is Christina Rossetti, saying all this and more, with greater eloquence than your correspondent!

Leaf from leaf Christ knows; Himself the Lily and the Rose

Leaf from leaf Christ knows;
Himself the Lily and the Rose:

Sheep from sheep Christ tells;
Himself the Shepherd, no one else:

Star and star He names,
Himself outblazing all their flames:

Dove by dove, He calls
To set each on the golden walls:

Drop by drop, He counts
The flood of ocean as it mounts:

Grain by grain, His hand
Numbers the innumerable sand.

Lord, I lift to Thee
In peace what is and what shall be:

Lord, in peace I trust
To Thee all spirits and all dust.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, Easter, Laudato si', PLaces, poetry

30 June, My vocation today, XVIII: Learn your faith, love your faith, live your faith.

High behind a pillar in St Anselm’s chapel in Canterbury Cathedral is this fresco of St Paul, after his shipwreck on Malta. The viper that attacked him has faded to a pale streak below his hand.

Our third article celebrating Saints Peter and Paul is part of a reflection on his own lived-out vocation from Bishop Edward K Braxton, bishop emeritus of Belleville, Illinois. The whole reflection can be found here, on the National Catholic Reporter website. His book is available from on-line booksellers.

Bear in mind that Peter and Paul were leaders of the early church who took the Good News to all peoples, and who called people of every race to serve the church according to their gifts. See 1 Corinthians 12.

My primary goal was to serve the people of God as a good and faithful priest, and bishop, and to build up the church by helping people to grow in their Catholic identity and education. A phrase I use almost every time I visited a parish was the phrase: “Learn your faith, love your faith, live your faith.” And within that context, part of learning your faith is learning about the dignity and value of every human person, which within that addresses racial prejudice, racism, the dignity, the value of unborn life, the value of the life of a person on death row. If you are doing that, you will see that your faith impels you not to support bias and prejudice or racism.

If you want to invite people of colour into the world of the church, couldn’t some part of it look like them? Yet I am not advocating that you go into churches built by German immigrants and take black paint and spray it all over the saints and angels. I am not proposing anything as simple as that. But there is a reason I chose the cover of my book myself. I wanted to show an Afrocentric Jesus washing the feet of an Afrocentric Peter.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, Mission

29 June: Transfiguration and Peter’s eye-witness

Transfiguration by Gerard David, 1520.

 For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.

2Peter1.16-18

What a deliciously little hill for Jesus’ Transfiguration! But Gerard David worked in Bruges in the flattest part of what is now Belgium, so no need to depict a mountain. What he does show is the eyewitnesses of the majesty of Our Lord Jesus Christ, namely Peter, James and John. Oh, and what looks like a pious local family of 1520, five hundred years ago to us, and 1500 years after the event.

These people are witnesses as well, though not illuminated, as the Apostles are, by the light from the bright cloud and Jesus’ majesty. They are among those blessed ones who have not seen but yet believe, and so they have commissioned this painting, inviting their fellow-citizens and us, the 21st Century viewers, to share their faith. There would have to be many extra panels to this work of art to accommodate even a few of the faithful who did not see but believed over the years since the family ordered the picture.

We can, instead, stand back to reflect upon the different parts of the painting. The storm which threatens the family’s composure is rolled away from the holy mount by the impressive bright cloud. The focus of their attention is just below it: Jesus in his white garment, blessing his apostles, blessing us who have not seen for ourselves, but have learnt about his majesty and glory through listening to the Apostles who told what they saw that day.

High in the cloud God the Father is blessing Jesus: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Slightly above Jesus – for they are in heaven while he is still on earth, it is not yet time for the cloud to take him up to the Father – Moses and Elijah. Moses seems to be in active conversation with God, as he often was in the Old Testament – while Elijah seems to be at peace in the presence of the just king, no longer in fear for his life: he is in heaven before Jesus’ death and resurrection.

In the background, stark against the wide horizon, one tree, a reminder of those saving events.

Let us pray for the grace to listen to the Lord’s messengers, in the books of the Bible, and among all the witnesses to the faith since then. And let us pray to be true witnesses ourselves, proclaiming the Gospel by our lives.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, Mission, PLaces

28 June: In Vinculis

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt was an English poet who was imprisoned for taking part in independence meetings and demonstrations in Ireland. This poem was praised by the Irish critic, Oscar Wilde. In Vinculis means ‘in chains’ as both Peter and Paul were, more than once. Their joint feast falls tomorrow. Let us pray for all prisoners, that in the Lord’s light their spirits may see light, in this world and the next.


Naked I came into the world of pleasure,
   And naked come I to this house of pain.
Here at the gate I lay down my life’s treasure,
   My pride, my garments and my name with men.
   The world and I henceforth shall be as twain,
No sound of me shall pierce for good or ill
   These walls of grief.  Nor shall I hear the vain
Laughter and tears of those who love me still.

Within, what new life waits me!  Little ease,
   Cold lying, hunger, nights of wakefulness,
Harsh orders given, no voice to soothe or please,
   Poor thieves for friends, for books rules meaningless;
This is the grave—nay, hell.  Yet, Lord of Might,
Still in Thy light my spirit shall see light.”

(from “A Critic in Pall Mall Being Extracts from Reviews and Miscellanies” by Oscar Wilde, E. V. (Edward Verrall) Lucas)

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, Laudato si', poetry

25 June: What is your name?

This was Rev Jo Richards’ Sermon at the Canterbury benefice of Saints Dunstan, Mildred and Peter, for the first Sunday after Trinity 19 June 2022. We share it with her permission. Thank you, Jo! 19 June was the start of Refugee Week, it closes today. Recently we must all have become more aware of the allied challenges of Exile and Homelessness, which Jo addresses here; the picture shows a camp of homeless people beside Saint Mildred’s church. Rev Jo’s text is Luke 8: 26-39.

May I speak in the name of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit.

Welcome! Young people who are here today, welcome, old people, also those who may be students, welcome, married people and divorced people, welcome; gay people, trans people, welcome; happy people and sad people welcome, every kind of family, welcome. Welcome to those of all faiths and those without, welcome and welcome to agnostics, saints & pilgrims.

Those are the words on our welcome board that you would have passed as you came in today. It says that we seek to be an inclusive community and we care about issues including homelessness, poverty, disability, mental health, the environment, racial justice and lgbtqia+ issues. Those on-line and here in person, welcome; this church is for you.

As this is also refugee Sunday, marking the beginning of refugee week, welcome to all refugees past and present. As Jesus himself was once a refugee fleeing persecution to a safe country.

As we set our sights on Jesus and follow his example, today’s gospel reading gives us insight of Jesus’ inclusive welcome to all.

There is a lot that is unclean in this story; first the man himself. People with mental illness in pre-scientific days, were considered to be demon-possessed. They were condemned and cast out from society and had to take refuge. As they were considered dead and useless to society they were banished as outcasts to live amongst the dead in tombs. This man was homeless, and had no friends not wanted or loved; he was lonely and pitiful. He was surrounded by the pigs, caked in mud, who were also considered to be unclean by Jewish society.

But this man recognises who Jesus is, recognising him as the son of God. Jesus saw this man for who he was; he stops and asks that very natural question. What is your name? He may have been unclothed, alone, tied up and beaten like a mad dog, but once he would have had a name, and Jesus wants to know.

Jesus identifies this person as a human being and by asking him that basic question, what is your name, he is restoring this man’s humanity, this is the beginning of his healing.

Consider the homeless of our cities, who are often outcast with no homes to go to; those who also have issues concerning their mental health; those who live in the tombs of our city, amongst the rubbish; those we pass by who might live in the door way of Poundland, or outside Wilko’s, those who live in the tents at St Mildred’s; those who sleep outside VegBox every night, and those who sit at Westgate Towers, picture them for a moment.

These people are our parishioners, for they live in our Benefice, albeit on the streets, often through no fault of their own. When I was licenced to the Benefice, I was given the cure of souls of all those who live in our Benefice, including the homeless, so I often stop and chat, and ask them their name.

It is often through stopping and listening that you get to hear the back story. To give someone the time of day is the biggest gift we can give, sometimes I buy a coffee, rarely money, but time and conversation doesn’t cost a penny. What is your name?

The other day I was chatting to a chap, someone who wanted to know when St Mildred’s was open as he wanted some quiet time, so I said it was unfortunately shut, but St Dunstan’s was open for prayer. He had with him a beautiful leather holdall. I asked him about it, his mum had given it to him for his tools. He had done his BA in art, then his masters and woodwork was his passion and in it he carried his precious tools and all his worldly goods.

What is your name asks Jesus? Jesus recognises this person as a human being and can see beyond the squalor in which the man in our reading lives. He sees beyond his mental health, he sees a human being with a name, a human being that was once loved, and Jesus heals him.

Consider the bystanders who witnessed this event, who saw this miracle. I wonder why they are afraid, and they beg Jesus to go and the healed man wants to go too with Jesus; but no, instead Jesus commissions this man, who was this homeless down and out, as an evangelist. He tells him to go home and tell others how much God has done for him. Jesus expects him to be a messenger of the good news. I wonder who would listen to him; those who had known him before and their preconceived ideas of what this homeless man can offer, but Jesus knows, sees him for who he really is and commissions him.

On my prayer walk the other day I met this man who was homeless, and he was lying on the wall, so I stopped and had a chat. I asked him his name; he replied, I can’t remember the last time someone stopped me and asked me my name, and said see me as a human being – my name he said is Matthew, as in Matthew Mark, Luke and John.

Paul reminds us there is no longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus .

So going back to our welcome poster. This church is for you, with our inclusive welcome for all. So perhaps a challenge for us all this refugee week, is to perhaps stop and ask that life changing question, what is your name. Be it to someone over coffee in the hall or someone who sits in the tombs of our city. Amen.


Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, Laudato si', Mission

3 June: Pope Francis sends greetings on Queen Elizabeth’s jubilee.

File photo showing Pope Francis greeting Queen Elisabeth and her late husband the Duke of Edinburgh in the Vatican

A thoughtful greeting from Pope Francis to Queen Elizabeth.

Yesterday saw the start of a weekend of celebrations across the United Kingdom on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s 70 years on the throne.

Marking this milestone, Pope Francis has sent a telegram to the Queen offering his prayers and good wishes. In it, he says: “On this joyful occasion of your Majesty’s birthday, and as you celebrate this Platinum Jubilee year, I send cordial greetings and good wishes, together with the renewed assurance of my prayers that Almighty God will bestow upon you, the members of the Royal Family and all the people of the nation blessings of unity, prosperity and peace.”

In recognition of the monarch’s commitment to the care of God’s creation, Pope Francis is donating a Cedar of Lebanon to the Queen’s Green Canopy project.  He expressed the hope that this tree, “which in the Bible symbolises the flourishing of fortitude, justice and prosperity, would be a pledge of abundant divine blessings” upon her realm.

The project invites people from across the United Kingdom to “Plant a Tree for the Jubilee”. As well as inviting the planting of new trees, The Queen’s Green Canopy will dedicate a network of 70 Ancient Woodlands across the United Kingdom and identify 70 Ancient Trees to celebrate Her Majesty’s 70 years of service. 

Vatican News.

We invite readers to pray for the Queen and the people of her realm, and especially for unity, prosperity and peace. Let us pray, too, for the people of Lebanon to recover these same gifts.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Unity, Interruptions, Justice and Peace, Laudato si', Mission

29 May: On the receiving end.

Christina Rossetti reminded us that we do not always know leaf from leaf; there are often stinging nettles and prickly brambles behind the pretty flowers. A careless hand could be stung or scratched if it reached in to pick a pink campion or a head of Queen Anne’s Lace.

Saint Augustine, as we heard the other day, was insensitive to the dignity of the Welsh bishops who came to visit him. This was hurtful. I imagine this set back Christian unity in these Islands when mutual respect would have healed many rifts. And Augustine was a saint; we lesser mortals need to be vigilant not to be careless in dealing with each other.

Nationality and race are not the only stumbling blocks to the unity of Christians or the unity of all people, but they matter. If they are not respected, especially by those in authority or power, people will feel hurt and insulted and will be disinclined to co-operate. Here is an eloquent example from 19th Century India. Tagore was by no means intemperate, unlike the man he describes.

Let us pray for the grace to see other people as fellow-children of God, brothers and sisters to be respected and loved as equals.

CUTTACK, 10th February 1893. He was a fully developed John Bull of the outrageous type—with a huge beak of a nose, cunning eyes, and a yard-long chin.

The curtailment of our right to be tried by jury is now under consideration by the Government. The fellow dragged in the subject by the ears and insisted on arguing it out with our host, poor B—— Babu. He said the moral standard of the people of this country was low; that they had no real belief in the sacredness of life; so that they were unfit to serve on juries. The utter contempt with which we are regarded by these people was brought home to me when I saw how they can accept a Bengali’s hospitality and talk thus, seated at his table, without a quiver of compunction.

As I sat in a corner of the drawing-room after dinner, everything round me looked blurred to my eyes. I seemed to be seated by the head of my great, insulted Motherland, who lay there in the dust before me, disconsolate, shorn of her glory. I cannot tell what a profound distress overpowered my heart. How incongruous seemed the mem-sahibs there, in their evening-dresses, the hum of English conversation, and the ripples of laughter! How richly true for us is our India of the ages; how cheap and false the hollow courtesies of an English dinner-party!”

From Glimpses of Bengal, Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore“.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, PLaces

27 May: Saint Augustine of Canterbury.

There was a time when I felt in two minds about Augustine: Saint Augustine? Saint? Hmm. He was a most reluctant Missionary, delaying his departure from Rome to make his way across Europe in 596-597, and indeed, dilly-dallying on the way. But he did get here and began work with his community. He established the dioceses of Canterbury, Rochester and London, which exist to this day in the Church of England.

And then there was the incident when he remained seated to greet the British bishops who went to visit him. They saw this as grossly insulting. For all that, he founded a Church that has lasted.

Let us pray that we may become the missionaries that Gregory’s successor, Francis, calls us to be, and that, like Augustine, we may co-operate with God’s grace, thriving in our weakness.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, Mission, PLaces

25 May: Up-hill, a dialogue for pilgrims

Or should I say, an encouragement for pilgrims? This particular stretch of Wales’s Pembrokeshire Coast Path winds down only to go almost straight uphill, or up 121 stairs – I counted them. At the end of the day you can discover how many metres you have climbed overall. If you began at sea-level you will have descended a similar amount. We were not counting.

Fellowship is one of the gifts of pilgrimage, as yesterday’s picture showed us. Christina Rossetti reminds us that in our life-long pilgrimage we have also the support of the Church Triumphant, the saints who have gone before.

And “Yea, beds for all who come”, though “travel-sore and weak.” She does not specifically mention blisters!

Up-hill

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.

 But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.

 Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.

 Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come." 

Christina Rossetti

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, Easter, Mission, Pentecost, poetry, Spring