Category Archives: Laudato si’

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”.

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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.

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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)

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27 June. My vocation today XVII: Gwen John, artist.

Mere Marie Poussepin by Gwen John, 1876-1939.

Gwen John was from Pembrokeshire in West Wales. Her more famous brother, Augustus, was also an artist. Gwen studied art in London and in Paris, becoming the lover of the much older sculptor Rodin; hardly a woman with a vocation, you might feel. Yet as her passionate affair with him came to an end, she was received into the Catholic Church and lived a quite solitary life with her cats, which she often painted.

She began writing meditations and prayers; she wanted to be a saint and God’s little artist: ‘My religion and my art, they are my life’, she is quoted as saying by Tenby Museum and gallery.

About 1913, to oblige the Dominican Sisters of Charity at Meudon, she began a series of painted portraits of their founder Mere Marie Poussepin, based on a prayer card.

In Meudon she lived in solitude, except for her cats. In an undated letter she wrote, “I should like to go and live somewhere where I met nobody I know till I am so strong that people and things could not effect me beyond reason.” She wished also to avoid family ties (“I think the family has had its day. We don’t go to Heaven in families now but one by one”) and her decision to live in France after 1903 may have been partly to escape the overpowering personality of her famous brother.

Art was her vocation, and perhaps something of an obsession; or should we say she was single-minded? Previous generations would have revered her as a repentant sinner, a term most likely to be used of a woman who had abandoned promiscuous ways. It was not so cut and dried as that. Just look at this self portrait, and it appears that her vocation was to question, to seek. to record what she saw, and to go back and begin her search again.

‘My religion and my art, they are my life’.

self portrait.

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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.


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24 June: Pope Francis teaches about John the Baptist.

A second post about John the Baptist, whose feast we marked yesterday. This is from Pope Francis’s Audience, 13.12.2021.

Pope Francis reflected on John the Baptist responding to those asking how to change their lives for the better, since their hearts were touched by the Lord. It reflects an enthusiasm for the Lord’s coming and a desire to prepare themselves concretely for this joyous, life-changing experience. In the same way, we too should ask ourselves what we should do within our own lives, the Pope suggested, and reflect on what we are called to do and become.

The question of what we are to do reminds us that “life has a task for us”, the Pope said. It is not something left to chance, but rather, “It is a gift that the Lord grants us,” since He asks to discover ourselves and “to work hard to make the dream that is your life come true.” We all have a mission to accomplish, he explained, and we should not be afraid to ask the Lord this question often: What can we do for the Lord, and what can we for ourselves, our brothers and sisters and how can this be translated concretely into contributing to the good of the Church and society?

John the Baptist, in responding to those who ask him “what should we do?”, gives each person a very concrete reply to their life situation. And this offers a precious teaching, the Pope said, that “faith is incarnated in concrete life,” touching us personally and transforming our lives.

In conclusion, he encouraged everyone to think concretely about what we can do, small or big, in our own lives as we prepare for Christmas. This could mean visiting someone who is alone, helping the elderly or the ill, or serving the poor or someone in need. It may also mean asking for forgiveness for our mistakes, paying a debt, clarifying a misunderstanding, or praying more. We can all find something concrete to do, the Pope emphasised, adding, “May the Blessed Mother help us!”

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16 June: Traherne XLVI, God our enjoyment.

Newly hatched damselfly.

You can be awestruck by seeing the galaxies, infinite space. You can be awestruck, infinitely delighted, by a newly hatched damselfly. This one I only saw because I was on my knees, preparing to pull up stinging nettles to protect my workmates; how much do we miss day by day?

The Office begins with words from Psalm 51: Lord open my lips, and my mouth shall declare thy praise, but we could equally pray that all our senses be opened to perceive and declare the infinite love of God

From Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditations.

The Infinity of God is our enjoyment, 
because it is the region and extent of His dominion. 
Barely as it comprehends infinite space, it is infinitely delightful; 
because it is the room and the place of our treasures, 
the repository of joys, 
and the dwelling place, 
yea the seat and throne, and Kingdom of our souls.

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14 June: and yet …

Aberdaron Beach, below the church where RS Thomas was parish priest.

Yesterday, it seemed to me, the Anglican priest Thomas Traherne made the consolations of the spiritual life seem so readily available. Today, it seems as though those consolations can be very distant, beyond my grasp. My go-to bard for such moments of faithful doubt is another Anglican priest, the Welsh poet, RS Thomas. You could open his Collected Poems* almost at random and find the wrangled wisdom of a faithful doubter, a committed questioner. Faith, as to be fair Traherne said the other day, demands effort. Here is an extract from RS’s poem Inside.

... Inside me, 
stalactite and stalagmite,
ideas have formed and become
rigid. To the crowd 
I am all outside.
To the pot-holing few there is a way
in along passages that become
narrower and narrower,
that lead to the chamber
too low to stand up in,
where the breath condenses
to the cold and locationless
cloud we call truth. It 
is where I think.

Ideas have formed and become rigid: it’s the rigidity that stifles us. And then when RS Thomas reaches the chamber at the centre of his being he is forced to his knees. This is the ‘cloud we call truth’, and there will be times when we are given a glimpse of the light that lies beyond, sometimes through thought and meditation, sometimes as pure, unexpected, inexplicable gift.

The children building sand castles in the rain at Aberdaron were enjoying the moment together, despite the cold cloud raining over them. Let’s pray for the grace to live in the moment and to live in hope and truth.

*R.S. Thomas, Collected Poems, 1945-1990, London, Phoenix.

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12 June: Traherne XLIII: The Soul’s Treasures.

From L’Arche Ipswich.
Till we know the universal beauty of God’s Kingdom, 
and that all objects in the omnipresence are the treasures of the soul, 
to enquire into the sufficiency and extent of its powers is impertinent. 
But when we know this, 
nothing is more expedient than to consider whether a soul be able to enjoy them. 
Which if it be, its powers must extend as far as its objects. 
For no object without the sphere of its power, 
can be enjoyed by it. 
It cannot be so much as perceived, much less enjoyed. 

'All objects in the omnipresence are the treasures of the soul': that is a policy statement for Christian life on earth. Omnipresence is God's presence; Traherne once again comes close to Saint Francis here. I read him this way: nothing outside the range of the soul can be enjoyed by the soul, indeed if  it is outside the range of the soul, then the soul will be unaware of it. 

But if we reflect, or meditate, as Traherne encouraged us yesterday, we will become aware of more and more connections in creation, and aware that our part in Creation is both infinitesimal and infinite, insignificant and important, passing and eternal.

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11 June: Traherne XLII: Acquainted with celestial things.

To be acquainted with celestial things 
is not only to know them, 
but by frequent meditation to be familiar with them. 
The effects of which are admirable. 
For by this those things that at first seemed uncertain become evident, 
those things which seemed remote become near, 
those things which appeared like shady clouds become solid realities: 
finally, those things which seemed impertinent to us and of little concernment, 
appear to be our own, according to the strictest rules of propriety 
and of infinite moment.

I felt like adding, ‘Come Holy Spirit’, to this meditation by Thomas Traherne. He seems to be writing about the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. These are given to us at Baptism and Confirmation, and reinforced by frequent meditation – or as we at Agnellus’ Mirror would say, frequent reflection.

‘Impertinent’ here seems not to mean ‘cheeky’ but ‘irrelevant’; ‘little concernment’ is more like ‘nothing to do with me’. But the things and people that seem that way are connected to us; they are our brothers and sisters as Saint Francis would remind us. And of infinite moment – ‘moment’ meaning both ‘momentum’ and ‘importance’.

All is gift.

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