Category Archives: Lent

11 April, Holy Saturday: The Passion of Mary

RoodEngMartyrsCamb (495x700)

On this Saturday as children we were invited to think of Mary. I for one could not get beyond an air of dull pain engendered by the stripped, silent church – an opportunity to get some deep cleaning and polishing done, it’s true, but all in a punishing silence. Francis Thompson knew pain more intimately than most people. We sang these verses during Lent.

VERSES IN PASSION-TIDE

O LADY Mary, thy bright crown
Is no mere crown of majesty;
For with the reflex of His own
Resplendent thorns Christ circled thee.

The red rose of this Passion-tide
Doth take a deeper hue from thee,
In the five wounds of Jesus dyed,
And in thy bleeding thoughts, Mary!

The soldier struck a triple stroke,
That smote thy Jesus on the tree:
He broke the Heart of Hearts, and broke
The Saint’s and Mother’s hearts in thee.

Thy Son went up the angels’ ways,
His passion ended; but, ah me!
Thou found’st the road of further days
A longer way of Calvary:

On the hard cross of hope deferred
Thou hung’st in loving agony,
Until the mortal-dreaded word
Which chills our mirth, spake mirth to thee.

The angel Death from this cold tomb
Of life did roll the stone away;
And He thou barest in thy womb
Caught thee at last into the day,
Before the living throne of Whom
The Lights of Heaven burning pray.

L’ENVOY

O thou who dwellest in the day!
Behold, I pace amidst the gloom:
Darkness is ever round my way
With little space for sunbeam-room.

Yet Christian sadness is divine
Even as thy patient sadness was:
The salt tears in our life’s dark wine
Fell in it from the saving cross.

Bitter the bread of our repast;
Yet doth a sweet the bitter leaven:
Our sorrow is the shadow cast
Around it by the light of Heaven.

O light in Light, shine down from Heaven!

Francis Thompson knew the bitterness of life; it was difficult, at times, for his friends to help him out of the shadows into the light in which he believed. Hoping against hope. he paced amid the gloom of 19th Century London streets, yet looking for mirth beyond death.

If you can ask a friend to pray for you, then in the communion of saints and life everlasting, you can ask Mary to pray for you too. If you are a poet, you can address her in poetry.

Much of the imagery of Thomson’s poem can be seen in the Rood from Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge; but this is a Risen Jesus, wearing a truly royal crown, not the resplendent thorns. Let us pray that Francis Thompson may be forever surrounded by the light of Heaven, and that we too may join him.

 

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Going Viral XIX: In the gloaming

A strange Good Friday but the L’Arche morning service, conducted through a Zoom gathering, made it specially memorable. It was good to see and hear so many friends, all pleased to see each other. The reflections on the traditional Stations of the Cross were personal and insightful, illustrated by photographs of each station enacted by Cana house. It was a privilege to be there; no more to be said about the day and its import.

In the evening we took our walk in the gloaming and saw our first bats of the year. Life goes on; Jupiter beams down as well as the Easter moon, waning now. The last stretch of the planned walk we deferred as it was getting too dark to see the potholes; home safely for all that. People taking care to distance themselves from each other.

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10 April, Good Friday. Desert XL: Love and woe interwound.

poperinge.1

No crown! the woe instead

Is heavy on his head,

Pressing inward on his brain

With a hot and clinging pain

Till all tears are prest away,

And clear and calm his vision may

Peruse the black abyss.

No rod, no sceptre is

Holden in his fingers pale;

They close instead upon the nail,

Concealing the sharp dole,

Never stirring to put by

The fair hair peaked with blood,

Drooping forward from the rood

Helplessly, heavily

On the cheek that waxeth colder,

Whiter ever, and the shoulder

Where the government was laid.

His glory made the heavens afraid;

Will he not unearth this cross from its hole?

His pity makes his piteous state;

Will he be uncompassionate

Alone to his proper soul?

Yea, will he not lift up

His lips from the bitter cup,

His brows from the dreary weight,

His hand from the clenching cross,

Crying, “My Father, give to me

Again the joy I had with thee

Or ere this earth was made for loss?”

No stir, no sound.

The love and woe being interwound

He cleaveth to the woe;

And putteth forth heaven’s strength below,

To bear.

And that creates his anguish now,

Which made his glory there.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

This is the introduction to the first volume of EBB’s Poetical Works. It sees Christ as a second Adam, atoning for the sins of the first Adam and Eve, ‘fallen humanity, as it went forth from Paradise into the wilderness’. And here is Christ in the wilderness, the desert, of the Cross.

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9 April: Maundy Thursday, into the desert, XXXIX

I thought I would start today’s reflection from a picture.

Usually the last Supper seems to be shown as an all-male affair, though I find it hard to imagine Jesus excluding such strong supporters as Joanna, Mary Magdalene, Mrs Zebedee or his own Mother. So here we have the Pentecost window at Saint Aloysius, near Euston Station in London. No apologies for the street scene visible behind it: the message of this window is not just for us, bu for the world outside the church building, where we spend most of our time.

The next picture shows another momentous moment, one from our own days. Here is Pope Benedict sitting down to eat a festive meal with poor people from his diocese of Rome: an unprecedented and prophetic event. It was not so long ago that Gormenghast style protocol decreed that nobody should see the pope eating. It was, perhaps, a useful excuse to avoid dining with political leaders who might capitalise on the photo opportunity, and claim papal approval of their policies rather than their cuisine.

The poor of Rome could not gain influence or anything other than a good meal in good company to celebrate Christmas; Benedict saw to it that they were not left out in the desert of their poverty.

The rules for the Passover that Jesus celebrated with his disciples make clear that all Israelites are invited to the feast, and that their neighbours should make sure none are excluded.

The people of Israel could trace their birthday back to the Passover and the crossing of the Red Sea into the desert of Sinai: as Christians we can look to the events of Holy Week and also to Pentecost as our foundation days, or birthdays. So it is appropriate to show Pentecost today, a gathering where Mary is prominent and one or two more female faces can be seen. The Spirit was poured out n them too; as it has been on all baptised men and women. Let us be as missionary as they were, accepting the paradox of passion and pain, of desert and defeat as essential to our story; and being at one with the people on the far side (which is merely centimetres away) of the church’s stained glass windows.

I give you a new commandment: that you love one another.

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8 April, Desert XXXVIII: Enforced exile.

Adam, the first exile.

In 1943, Archbishop Spellman, a former colleague of Pius XII at the Vatican Secretariat of State, visited Ethiopia, which with allied help had defeated the Italian invaders who had overrun the country some years before and planted the beginnings of a colony there. People were sent to create a new Roman Empire in this ‘open country’.

Spellman discovered that many colonists were unhappy with their part in Mussolini’s venture. He met a family who had been exiled from their own home when they were taken as colonisers to Africa.

‘The father of this family told me that the grief he suffered in being taken from his home was renewed and redoubled, when he watched the officers drive another family from their home, to make room for him in a strange land’. And now he and his family were returning to an uncertain future.1

Who knows what became of that family, returning to a famished Italy? Their story is not so far from those of so many displaced people today, exiled even if living in a land flowing with milk and honey and all good things. ‘If I forget you Jerusalem … let my right hand wither.’ Yet who can survive, consumed with bitterness?

1 Francis J. Spellman: Action This Day. Letters from the Fighting Fronts. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1943. p169.

Image from West window, Canterbury, thanks to SJC.

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Going viral XIX: Where is God?

It was a headline in another website: ‘Where is God in a pandemic?’ followed by ‘We don’t know, but can you believe in a God that you don’t understand?’

I wonder, can I believe in a God that I do understand? S/He would hardly be a God – or a god – if I could understand him or her! Faith seeks understanding, says Saint Anselm, faith does not depend on understanding.

The Passion – that is, the life and death of Jesus – tells us that God is here in our suffering as he is in our joys. We pray for all suffering from illness, those caring for them in any way, and those who have been bereaved, and all who have died.

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7 April, Desert XXXVII: Fear 6, the watches of the night.

Church and graveyard of St Mary, Nonnington, Kent.

My brother has a small business with just a few employees. One of them, a smoker with compromised lungs, phoned him in the early hours of the morning. This man had developed a cough which he was worried might be the Corona Virus and he was self-isolating at home.

What struck my brother most was the palpable fear in the man’s voice and his words: at 2.00 a.m. What thoughts went through his head? There are times when Faith is challenged in the face of death. Here is Sir John Betjeman among the mourners at Aldershot Crematorium.

But no-one seems to know quite what to say

   (Friends are so altered by the passing years):

“Well, anyhow, it’s not so cold today”—

   And thus we try to dissipate our fears.

‘I am the Resurrection and the Life’:

Strong, deep and painful, doubt inserts the knife.

Betjeman knew doubt and fear: so did Jesus in the Garden:

And they came to a farm called Gethsemane. And he saith to his disciples: Sit you here, while I pray. And he taketh Peter and James and John with him; and he began to fear and to be heavy. And he saith to them: My soul is sorrowful even unto death; stay you here, and watch. Mark 14:32-34.

Let us pray that all facing an unlooked-for death may face their end with due courage and may the Angels welcome them into Paradise.

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Going viral XVIII: this is the place

St Michael and All Angels, Harbledown

We have a right to a sacrosanct place set aside for encountering God … Jesus teaches that we must ensure that the temple is always conducive to prayer – silent, reverent, empty of all other kinds of pursuits. We need this place – perhaps much more than we realise. And Jesus defends this need. He is IN this place. This is the place where Jesus can be found.

Sister Johanna Caton OSB: Hanging on. See this morning’s posting.

Thank you Sister Johanna for a second taste of your wisdom today; and thank you to Harbledown church for this visual reminder that this is the place where Jesus can be found. Not the only place, of course.

Will T.

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6 April: Hanging On

heart.of.pebbles

He taught in the temple every day 

(Luke. 19:47)

More wisdom from Sister Johanna, who today looks at what Jesus was doing in Holy Week.

I am often amazed at how much insight can be derived from a very few words of scripture. I sometimes take a short sentence and explore the words one by one to see what comes. The Holy Spirit never disappoints. Here we have a mere seven words from the Gospel of Luke (19:47). Let’s see what treasures can be found in He taught in the temple every day.

  • He. Who is he? We are dealing with Jesus, the Lord, here, and not just anyone. He is not a news broadcaster, an entertainer, a politician canvassing for votes and whose promises are dubious. He is not someone who should be tuned out and only half-heard while we do other things. He is not someone whose agenda is self-serving. He is the one – the only one – who deserves our full and undivided attention. He is the only one whose words are directed toward fulfilling our deepest needs, and not to furthering his own ambition; his words and deeds feed our most profound hungers – our hunger for truth, our thirst for love, our desire for eternal life. That is who ‘He’ is.

  • Taught. For all these reasons, and more, he is the teacher par excellence. Jesus’ mind is clear, beautiful, and deep – much deeper than we can imagine. He always lives on a deeper level of reality than we do, and every word of his teaching, his every observation or comment comes from the place of wisdom and deepest truth. He is never someone who just talks to fill in an awkward silence, or whose words are coming from nervousness, who is babbling. Every word he utters is full of meaning. Nor is he on the level of our peers, that we should critically examine his words for flaws, prejudices, hang-ups. We may need to study his words closely, in order to make them our own. This is the task of a good student. But he is greater than we are; we are not his equal, and in debate he will always win. The Pharisees soon discovered this when they tried to trip him up in discourse. They could never trick him, or catch him out.

We have a lot of people spewing words at us through the media nowadays. So many words that we can’t, and don’t even need to, take them all in. We can entertain ourselves and others by mocking these media people, because they have little of value to say, or if they do say something important, the program has run and re-run so many times that we are sick of it. But that is emphatically not the case with Jesus. His words are life. They are living words, always revelatory, always fresh, even if we have heard them many times before. He always has something new to teach us.

  • In the temple. Jesus is IN the temple – he is in this most sacred of places. Jesus is everywhere, granted, and teaches everywhere. But the temple is a privileged place of encounter, set aside to honour God. It is a place over which, as God and Lord, Jesus rightly has ownership, it is a place where he is entitled to preside – even to reign. He claims this pre-eminent role in the absolute sense when he cleanses the temple of the vendors who had set up their booths in it. The temple is not to be turned into a profit-making venue for business people, he teaches. But the act of temple-cleansing is not merely about him. It is about us, too. In cleansing the temple Jesus is defending our right to use it as a place, above all, for prayer, against those whose avarice and insensitivity would make it noisy, irreverent, chaotic – make it a place where they make a profit for themselves rather than offer themselves lovingly to God. We have a right to a sacrosanct place set aside for encountering God. The temple is so important that Jesus is famously fierce about this and demonstrates a violence in cleansing the temple that he does not show at any other time. In this way he teaches that we must ensure that the temple is always conducive to prayer – silent, reverent, empty of all other kinds of pursuits. We need this place – perhaps much more than we realise. And Jesus defends this need. He is IN this place. This is the place where Jesus can be found.

  • Every day. This is something reliable. Jesus is there every day. He does not skip any days, or take a holiday. Jesus does not need a day off. Moreover, every day the truth is truth. Jesus, as teacher, does not have good days and bad days – perhaps like an athlete whose game is just off sometimes. Jesus is never shallow, silly or foolish. Jesus is always there, every moment of every day, ready to teach us. He never leaves us alone, never leaves us without his help.

And now, what is my response to these assertions? It is easy. St Luke shows me in the following sentence: ‘…the whole people hung on his words (19:48) [emphasis mine]. To ‘hang on’ Jesus’ words. This is the only appropriate response.

SJC

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5 April, Palm Sunday

Today we’d put out the flags, as Caernarfon did to welcome us (and thousands more tourists) a few years ago. 2,000 years ago it was palms and cloaks that were actively waved – not just left out in all weathers – as Jesus came to town. But by the following Friday nobody would have wanted the Romans to see the national flags and emblems on their buildings. Jesus had become dangerous to know.

The Plantagenet Kings whose castle commands this view would have looked askance at the scene, and their spies would have filled the castle governor’s ear with more or less factual accounts of the latest prince to arise to rally the Welsh. Pilate would have heard about Jesus before Palm Sunday but the parade of the King of the Jews did not lead to his immediate arrest. Pilate thought he could contain this uprising before it got very far.

By Friday festival fever was worrying a hypersensitive elite who valued the shaky Pax Romana as it applied in Judea, offering them status and privilege and allowing the Temple worship to continue according to the Law. Verses from the Psalms and the Prophets that challenged the idea of sacrifice were dismissed in their turn by the priests of the Temple.

For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Ps 51: 16-17

 

Jesus’s heart was broken, his body too, though not his spirit. His death completed his lifelong passion. It is all of a piece, as the Pieta tells us – the baby we saw Mary cuddling at Christmas is the One she cradles briefly before his burial. But today, knowing he is riding into difficult times, he is the King the crowd were waiting for.

Image from Missionaries of Africa
Strasbourg Cathedral

So let’s put out the flags in our hearts, and wave our palms for our King! And let’s hope we can distribute palms from the backs of our churches should we be banned from gathering to celebrate Holy Week and Easter.

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