Category Archives: Daily Reflections

Reflections from friends and associates of the Franciscan International Study Centre.

May 25: Pilgrimage to Canterbury MMXIX. V: a canine perspective.

upperroom tomdog

I wonder what Tyndale the Terrier will make of it all. He’s named after a great Christian communicator, the translator of the Bible into English, but our Tyndale has rather less intellectual enthusiasms. He’s the one who greets Anne by wagging his tail, but also sniffing around for the dog biscuit she sometimes has about her person. Dogs never miss a chance of a snack: it’s as if they don’t believe they will ever be fed again.

There are, of course, many chances of a morsel falling a dog’s way when a group of people pause to eat together (Matthew 15:26). Tyndale will be busy clearing up crumbs until his master calls a halt.

Each of us has our own gluttony, but I hope and trust that we will find food for all the senses on this walk; food that will build up our souls and our friendships. Even aches and pains, weariness and blisters tell us that we are alive!

Our prayers on the march will include a ‘dog lead’ – reflections on Tobit and Matthew 15. A good dog is not one spelt backwards, but  can lead or shepherd us to where we ought to be.

Follow the link to the story of the disciples’ dog on Easter Sunday.

 

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24 May. Pilgrimage to Canterbury MMXIX, IV. Walking around Wales: a book review. (Relics XVI)

Before any planning for our walk, I read a book about pilgrimage. Anne Hayward’s A Pilgrimage Around Wales is subtitled in search of a significant conversation.1 Mrs Hayward set herself to have a significant conversation each day of her walk. In his foreword the Archbishop of Wales points out that the significant conversation can be a silent exchange with the people who made the place holy. He recalls a visit to Saint Peter’s in Rome, and being taken down to the niche holding the relics – beyond reasonable doubt those of the fisherman himself. ‘The presence of the Apostle, the witness of the Apostle, the courage of the Apostle, the love of the Apostle for the Lord, and much, much more were all around in an unspoken conversation.’(p7)

Measuring the significance of a conversation is surely impossible. Significant to me, or to the Other? At the end of her three months’ tramp, Mrs Hayward counted up more than 150 names of people she had such conversations with. That is not counting the conversations Archbishop Davies points us to, in the stones and windows of the churches she visited. (I wish she had identified some of the places, to let others find them.) She travelled alone, camping most nights; we will be in a group, with maybe 60 or 70 people walking anything from 100 metres to the full distance. A few people may camp out once or twice.

Tyndale the terrier will walk rather more than the rest of us. He may hold significant conversations with other dogs who leave messages for him, or who pick up his trail marks. We will hold conversations with each other, in words, in linked arms, or held hands, or a shared mint.

Mrs Hayward had conversations with bereaved people, worried mothers, campsite wardens, young hikers and churchwardens, among many others. We can expect significant conversations with the Lord that Peter loved, in song, in silence, in weariness, in landscape and seascape, in sky, tree, river and road. Even a ‘thank you’ to a bus driver may feel very significant at the end of a long walk!

She had but herself to consider when planning her walks, her rests, her meals, we must bear in mind the needs of all our walkers and riders in wheelchairs, buses, cars or trains. Different pilgrimages. Whether you want to walk around Wales or make for Rome or Canterbury, God speed! And any day’s journey can be a pilgrimage, if you remember to pray, ‘Stay with us, Lord.’ Anne Hayward’s book could help a would-be pilgrim to be clearer about the journey. A very human book, and a book for the armchair pilgrim as well as the footsore one. More about ours soon.

1Anne Hayward, A Pilgrimage Around Wales: in search of a significant conversation, Y Lolfa, Talybont, 2018.

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23 May. Pilgrimage to Canterbury MMXIX. III.

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St Thomas of Canterbury, plaque at St Thomas’ church.

I seem to remember parish pilgrimages from my youth, where some people sat on the bus and said the Rosary very loud and very fast. Of course prayer is part of our journey too. Indeed, just putting one foot in front of the other is prayer, just as walking hand in hand, silently, is love and prayer.

Hand in hand: we have agreed a theme of ‘Stay with us, Lord’, Luke 24:29, from the story of the two disciples going to Emmaus on the first Easter Day. Charlotte and Colin have found a Taizé chant we might be able to sing, so I can begin to plan out the prayers.

Starting on the beach: I think ‘Stay with us Lord’ will be a good response to our prayers, one we can all remember. On a clear day you can see the White Cliffs from our nearest L’Arche neighbours, Les Trois Fontaines at Ambleteuse on the French Coast. May the Lord be with them too. Abbot Peter of Canterbury was shipwrecked and washed up dead on the shore there, his body glowing with light when it was found. Another link between our two communities.

I digress, wandering some 30km across the seaway from our Kentish path. Each day we will begin with prayer, pause for prayer, end with prayer. We can thank the Lord for food, for friends and family, for feet carrying us on. Let’s see what comes to heart and mind! We can try to make the prayers relevant to the sites we visit. A few possible churches and halls have been noted down. We’ll see what the final route takes us.

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22 May: Pilgrimage to Canterbury MMXIX. 2 Out of earshot.

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I left you at the top of Dover, only too glad to get out of the sight and sound of the main roads.

Singledge Lane is part of the North Downs Way. Asphalt all the way these days but in the years before the Great War, it was often impassible in winter. This was disappointing for the owners of Guildford Colliery. They had to suspend operations every winter, and never succeeded in digging down to the coal that awaited them.

Our friend George,1 a L’Arche community member and ex-miner, told me that a truck load of coal was brought to the surface when some potential investors inspected, but that truck had been sent down the shaft full of coal from another nearby mine. The investors lost out, the mine was closed, and what remains is now a private house and farm buildings beside the Lane. The story reminds me of the man wanting to build a tower, and making sound plans. A mine is a much more complicated venture, and a pilgrimage much less so, but we need to anticipate, if you’ll forgive me, the pitfalls, before we gather the walkers on Dover Beach. Hence my ride past the mine that never was.

Which of you having a mind to build a tower, doth not first sit down, and reckon the charges that are necessary, whether he have wherewithal to finish it: lest, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that see it begin to mock him, saying: This man began to build, and was not able to finish.                                                                                                                 Luke 14:28-30

We’ve barely started reckoning our wherewithals.

My Brompton and I bowled along to Coldred church, where I sat in the porch with sandwiches and coffee before turning right towards Eythorne. Here the L’Arche house called Cana made me welcome and plied me with a welcome cup of tea.

Cana was the planned end point for Day 1. Some of the community members seemed to be looking forward to the pilgrimage, but could they manage The Hill? They would be able to walk the first section of Day 2 – to Barfrestone, where L’Arche Kent began.

Coldred Church of St Pancras

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May 21. Pilgrims walking to Canterbury MMXIX, 1.

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Pilgrims to Canterbury MMXIX

I

Every year the L’Arche Kent community walks a pilgrimage back towards Canterbury from somewhere not too nearby. Last year the walk was largely along the North Kent coast from Margate due west; the year before that was across country, using ancient footpaths through fields and woods. This year, I discovered that Michael proposed to walk from Dover to Canterbury.

No doubt you’ve heard of the White Cliffs of Dover? They are real, tall, and almost solid. Lumps of chalk large and small tend to drop off into the sea. On the beach is a monument to the Channel Swimmers which is counted as the start or finish of the North Downs Way, a long distance path that goes west towards Guildford. Across the water, it becomes one of those roads that lead to Rome.

A little way inland the Way is a footpath that climbs up the side of the valley, very steeply, even in the town. As part of planning this year’s hike, I followed this through the town, across the railway towards Thanet and then met a notice that said the path was closed. There was some hefty civil engineering going on, with mud and ruts and men in yellow suits. No way for us.

The map showed a sensible detour (sensible if the hill-climb itself was sensible!) which brought me to a supermarket with a café and respite from the cold wet weather. From there, I crossed the main roads safely, with traffic lights and a subway, and out of suburbia into the countryside on my bike. No need for pushing and pathfinding for a bit.

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But this pathway will not do! There was a meeting a few days later which suggested a different way. Let’s see how this looks. We would leave Dover more gently, along the banks of the little River Dour. But we’ll still have to get up the valley side; paradoxically, we must climb up the Downs. And not all of us are very fit.

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May 19. What is Theology Saying? LVI: Salvation outside the Church V.

feedig 5000.ethiopia.rome

When Christians begin to realise the nature of symbolism as used in religious thought, we become more cautious of speaking about false gods. The more we appreciate symbolism, the more we realise how all religions tend to worship the one God.

austinIt was this that prompted Rahner to ask: are all nations saved through Jesus Christ; or whether Jesus is not the universal saviour. His answer is simple. If only those are saved who acknowledge him by name, he cannot be the universal saviour. Yet we believe his is the focus for everyone. He says without acclaiming Jesus by name, many are in fact his followers, because they are doing the will of the Father – working towards universal reconciliation. He points to Jesus saying in the Gospel it is not those who hail him as Lord who enter the kingdom – but those who do the will of the Father.

Matthew 25 presents the Last Judgement, in which those who have cared for the sick, the hungry and imprisoned are called to the kingdom – and those who do none of these things are not – whether they recognise Jesus as Saviour or not. Not only the Hindus and Buddhists but lapsed Catholics and Communists – are called forward before Church-goers.

Salvation is not a reward for reciting the creed correctly – it is the inner fruit of life, love and welcome to all without exclusion.

AMcC

Feeding the 5,000, from Ethiopia, Missionaries of Africa, Rome.

Afterword:

Thank you, Austin, for this and all your contributions to Agnellus’ Mirror and for keeping alive the connection between the Franciscans, the blog, and the City of Canterbury. Peace and all blessings!

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May 18. What is Theology Saying? LV: Salvation outside the Church IV.

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We know that Christian missionary saints believed God would commit to the flames of hell those not baptised into the Church, even when living in good faith. They were saints – but they were austinmistaken. Christian missionaries forced converts to renounce all their previous ways of striving after God, making them adopt Western ways that had nothing to do with religion. Much cruelty was inflicted through the inability to distinguish between cultural and social customs, and religious convictions.

Modern Social Sciences make it easier for us to accept this as missionaries sought to try to understand the different cultures and ways of thought of non-Christian folk, and they began to understand non-Christian religious convictions from the way the people saw them. Like being less than impressed looking at stained glass windows from outside – so different when seen from inside.

The patristic scholar Jean Daniélou proposed seeing the great Eastern Religions as being pre-Christian but leading to Christ. Their followers are saved by their commitment, the hope that seeks a future fulfilment. The fact that these people live after Christ [today] is not important, because their experience is before Christ as long as they have not heard the Gospel in a form that makes sense to them. While there is one Hindu living the Hindu tradition in good faith and with conviction, we cannot speak of the Hindu religion as false.

It is not only through their sincerity in striving after God as best they know how, that God comes to meet them; it is also because their striving is true. Our religious language is symbolic in a special way. It describes realities we have hardly glimpsed, and cannot comprehend. In the Jewish tradition it was important not to make images of God – because all images are false, the only image of God is the human person. So they speak as though God is a human person – masculine gender, a father-figure, who can get angry and change his mind. These characteristics are not literally true of God – but are true in another sense – they are true of our experience of God.

Other faith communities also know that language about God cannot be literally true. They express their experience of God. Asian faiths tend to be more contemplative than those of the Western world; they leave symbols in their symbolic form rather than seek explanations. Hindus say when you have images you understand you are making only a remote comparison, but when you have explanations you might be misled into thinking you understand much more than you do. God cannot be understood.

AMcC

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May. What is Theology Saying? LIV: Salvation outside the Church III.

holydoor.doug (373x640)

If there is to be no distinction between Jew and Gentile, this means more than the emancipation of Christians from Jewish ritual laws. There can be no prejudice exercised against Jews, no persecution on account of religion or race. If we see any of this we know that the signs of the Messianic times are not being realised, and the Gospel is not being lived. The Nazi holocaust and austinthe silence of Christian nations in the face of it proclaimed to the Jews that Messianic times are not yet. Because the Jewish community continues to be faithful, God is faithful to them.

Because the case of Judaism is unique, theologians have had to ask what about other religions? What should be the Christian reaction? From the beginning it was always seen as apostasy for Christians to take part in worship of pagan gods, to offer incense before idols, even before the statue of the Emperor. No distinction was made between the use of incense in a ceremony that symbolised civil obedience and loyalty, and the use of incense in what is strictly worship. On account of such a lack, many Christians died.

Anthropology came to our aid by distinguishing between what is actually religious ritual, and what is merely a civic ritual. In modern times this distinction was made in China and Japan so that Christians could take part in honouring ancestors.

It is interesting to see that Christians did not see these things as so terrible when done by pagans, as when done by those enlightened by Christ. Saint Justin Martyr (died 165 AD) saw pagan philosophies and religions as ways that were leading people forward and would eventually converge on Christ, bringing everyone to worship the Father. This understanding faded in time due to a general distrust of foreign people and cultures – which led to Western Crusaders even killing Eastern Christians! With such a background we can see how the view of non-Christian religion as inherently evil arose.

AMcC

Door of Mercy from Doug in San Antonio

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May 16. What is Theology Saying? LIII: Salvation outside the Church II.

 

archway.amsterdam. (2)

austinWhen the first Christians claimed a new covenant, they were aware of how the word new had been interpreted in the prophetic writings. Later generations spoke of old and new covenants – with the presumption the old was past its sell-by date. This is mistaken, the facts of history contradict it. The Jews have been faithful to Covenant in large numbers, even to the point of martyrdom; and Scripture tells us that God does not desert those who are faithful.

Some believe the issue is simple. If the Jews had really been faithful they would have recognised Jesus as Messiah, and have been part of the new covenant. But since they do not recognise Jesus as Messiah, we can assume they are unfaithful to the covenant. For this reason history left them behind as forever lost.

Such a view leaves all kinds of questions unaddressed. Even if it was perfectly clear that Jesus is the Messiah, we must remember that the Jews of the dispersion had never had the gospel preached to them. For example, exactly when did the covenant go out of date? Was it at Pentecost or at the death of the last Apostle? Also, does the Jewish participation in the covenant not remain in date until the end of time?

The only contact many Jews through the centuries had with Christians and the Gospel was that of persecution and victimisation in various forms of anti-Semitism. And many were told to renounce Judaism in favour of Christianity – if you are persecuted on account of your Christian faith and told to recant, would you see this as an act of God? We must accept the possibility that Jews cannot accept Jesus as the expected Messiah because he is not yet Messiah. We who are the presence of Jesus have not yet produced the promised signs of the Messianic presence. We know what these signs are – the Prophets are full of them, and the Gospels have Jesus quoting them.

The signs of Messianic times are: peace among nations and all people; perfect fraternity; justice for the poor and the powerless; no more violence and enmity; and all coming together to praise the one God in their own ways in peace, without hindrance. When Paul writes of these signs he says there is no discrimination in Christ between Jew and Gentile, between cultured Greeks and primitive Barbarians, between men who had all kinds of rights and women who had none. Today we might add: no discrimination between white or black, gay or straight, rich nations and poor – no annexation of the poor by the powerful.

AMcC

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May 15: What is Theology Saying? LII: Salvation outside the Church I.

amsterdam.door.artist.plaque

austinThe Christian has to ask how to evaluate other religions. We are all engaged in the work of transforming the world alongside people who are striving for the same goal and contributing equally as much for its realisation. Yet many belong to another religion or faith community.

The question: do these people participate in the work and fruits of salvation in spite of their own religious commitment or because of it? Christianity has answered this variously through the ages, but with answers heavily influenced by cultural experiences and national belongings. It is not easy to disentangle Christian tradition from social and cultural theories.

Before reflecting on these, it must be remembered that the Christian understanding of Judaism must be discussed separately; the relationship between Judaism and Christianity is unique, and in fairly recent times the French Biblical scholar Paul Démann has undertaken this in various articles to do with the relationship between Judaism in Christianity. He makes many suggestions, but many questions remain unsolved and a full theology of Christian understanding of Judaism has yet to appear.

It is abundantly clear that there is salvation in Judaism and the coming of Jesus in history did not take this salvation away. Scripture asserts that God made an everlasting covenant with Israel – you shall be my people and I will be your God; and through them all nations on the earth will be blessed. God kept promising a new covenant – not that the old one would pass away to be replaced by another, rather would the old one become new again as each generation made it its own; and written, not on stone, but on hearts of flesh.

All these promises were verified again and again in Judaism. Although Christians have not always been aware of it, Jews have continued to live passionately in fidelity to the covenant. Under tough conditions – exile, dispersion, persecution and holocaust – they continued to make the covenant ever fresh and new in succeeding generations.

AMcC

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