Category Archives: Lent

January 28, Review: Extreme Pilgrim

Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim: Reflections on Life, Love and the Soul

Does sitting in one place qualify as being a pilgrim? Perhaps it does if you are a Sussex vicar, and that sitting place is a grotto in the Egyptian desert, home to hermits, monks and nuns since the earliest days of the Church.

Peter Owen Jones borrowed the cave of Father Lazarus, forty-five minutes’ walk from the cell of Saint Anthony, first of the Desert Fathers, to ‘live a very strict life of prayer, eating only one full meal a day.’ (p. ix) And part of this life of prayer was the writing of letters to people who helped make him the man he is today.

These include our would-be master and prince of this world, Satan, who rules by fear. Owen Jones’s signing off with, ‘all my love, Peter’, suddenly makes sense if we remember that ‘perfect love casts out fear’ (1John4:19).

Many things seem to have made sense when seen from the perspective of the desert, though at times a sense beyond logical thought, a sense of wonder. What was it you went out to see? A memory of a hedge sparrow’s (or dunnock’s) nest, described in a letter to God.

As you know, for their nests they weave  grass and hair precisely into a small deep bowl, which they line with moss to the point where it shines. And there they were  four varnished blue eggs sitting in this deep smooth green … we were both in a state of wonder and whilst I was alone, I realised I wasn’t alone – you were there in that state of wonder, you were present.’  (p45)

To his adoptive father he writes, ‘It was only when your eldest granddaughter was about three years old that I realised that being a father was something separate: it is a love all of its own’ (p15)

What did you go out to see? A good deal of seeing, of realising, is recorded in this little book. Every chapter represents a challenge that Owen-Jones faced; a chance to realise how other people had influenced his life for better or worse, and to accept himself, his own mortality as well as the loss of family and friends.

My wife read Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim through and enjoyed it almost before I had brought it into the house. I know who I will pass it on to. She’ll have it in time for Lent, and so will you if you buy on line now.

WT

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9 January, Book Review: My book for Lent 2020, ‘It’s good to be here’.

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It’s Good To Be Here by Christina Chase

Review by Maurice Billingsley

Regular readers will remember the thought-provoking posts that our friend Christina Chase has allowed us to share from her own blog, which you can visit from the link. You will understand how I had been waiting to see this book, and I was by no means disappointed on reading it. Christina weaves autobiography and a profound incarnational theology with a love of language and clarity of expression. This will be my Lent book for 2020.

We were led, in my pre-Vatican II childhood, to look upon Jesus as the perfect human being: ‘Little children all must be / Mild, obedient, good as he.’ Our teachers apparently forgot that it was at his Transfiguration that the Apostles saw something more and Peter said, ‘It’s good to be here.’

There are those who would contradict Chase’s assertion that it is good for her to be here, since she is profoundly disabled – she readily uses the non-PC term ‘crippled’ – with a wasting disease that ought to have killed her years ago, and that renders her unable to feed, dress, or care for herself, depending on others for such needs.

But Christina has undergone her own transfiguration; this is her story. She had no need of a Franciscan stigmata, the wounded body was hers from birth, but she has had to come to terms with the human condition in her own self, with all the frustrations writ large. And so she can write: ‘The one astonishing fact of life is that suffering, like disease, war, murder, and abuse, cannot destroy the gift that God Almighty gives, because real love never fails.’ (p18) It’s good to be here; to be human here, as Christ was. After his Baptism, ‘He stood, rising to inhale deeply and shake the dripping wetness out of his hair and off of his drenched body.’ (p38)

And this from a woman who frequently finds breathing difficult, who cannot shake her head to dry her hair! This is not a book to buy out of pity for a ‘poor, disabled woman’, but for its deep insights into the divine light that wills to brighten our days. All our days. Christina’s vision is eternal: ‘What will life be like then?’ (p124) The glimmer of an answer is to be found in our earthly, earthy lives: it’s good to be here, breathing, getting wet, enjoying the sacrament of everyday in the wondrous life God has given us.

This will be my Lent book for 2020.

You can order it now from the publisher, Sophia Institute of New Hampshire, or  their UK agents, Gracewing, or via Amazon .

 

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13 September. Before the Cross XXIV: The Image Of Death

 

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Reading this poem by Saint Robert Southwell, I at once remembered my father’s rosary, with the skull below Christ’s feet. So although Southwell does not directly refer to the crucifixion, this is the image that comes to my mind. How Dad’s fingers have eroded the figure of Christ and the skull! May he pray for us still, as he prayed for his children every day. Reginald Billingsley would have been 100 years old last New Year’s Eve. A ‘hearse’ at Southwell’s time was a frame that held candles over a coffin. Robert Southwell was a Jesuit  missionary to his native England, and a martyr at Tyburn, London in 1595.

Upon The Image Of Death

Before my face the picture hangs
That daily should put me in mind
Of those cold names and bitter pangs
That shortly I am like to find;
But yet, alas, full little I
Do think hereon that I must die.

I often look upon a face
Most ugly, grisly, bare, and thin;
I often view the hollow place
Where eyes and nose had sometimes been;
I see the bones across that lie,
Yet little think that I must die.

I read the label underneath,
That telleth me whereto I must;
I see the sentence eke that saith
Remember, man, that thou art dust!
But yet, alas, but seldom I
Do think indeed that I must die.

Continually at my bed’s head
A hearse doth hang, which doth me tell
That I ere morning may be dead,
Though now I feel myself full well ;
But yet, alas, for all this, I
Have little mind that I must die.

The gown which I do use to wear,
The knife wherewith I cut my meat,
And eke that old and ancient chair
Which is my only usual seat,-
All these do tell me I must die,
And yet my life amend not I.

My ancestors are turned to clay,
And many of my mates are gone;
My youngers daily drop away,
And can I think to ‘scape alone?
No, no, I know that I must die,
And yet my life amend not I.

Not Solomon for all his wit,
Nor Samson, though he were so strong,
No king nor person ever yet
Could ‘scape but death laid him along;
Wherefore I know that I must die,
And yet my life amend not I.

Though all the East did quake to hear
Of Alexander’s dreadful name,
And all the West did likewise fear
To hear of Julius Caesar’s fame,
Yet both by death in dust now lie;
Who then can ‘scape but he must die?

If none can ‘scape death’s dreadful dart,
If rich and poor his beck obey,
If strong, if wise, if all do smart,
Then I to ‘scape shall have no way.
Oh, grant me grace, O God, that I
My life may mend, sith I must die.

Saint Robert Southwell

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10 August, Saint Lawrence the Deacon

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Banner of St Lawrence with his barbecue, St Lawrence, Ludlow, Shropshire.

Two years ago in June we recounted how Pope Benedict XV  praised today’s saint, Lawrence the Deacon of Pope Sixtus II, as a champion of the poor people of Rome. The story was that when the government called him to bring the Church’s treasure before the authorities he turned up with crowds of poor people instead of the gold, silver and jewels they had hoped to confiscate. (In Valencia they tell that he managed to smuggle the Holy Grail, the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper, to fellow deacon Saint Vincent who brought it to Spain; but that is much less important, even if it is true.)

Part of Lawrence’s mission was to feed the poor, and Pope Benedict was speaking at a dinner he held for poor people of Rome, restoring a link with his diocese as well as blowing away a protocol that said the pope should not be seen eating.

When David, our parish deacon in Canterbury, marked his 25 years of ministry, the children of the parish gave him a card with pictures from the life and death of Saint Lawrence.

Thankfully, Deacon David is still with us and has not been barbecued to death like his illustrious predecessor. We thank God for his ministry!

 

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May 4: The Signpost

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THE SIGN-POST by Edward Thomas
THE dim sea glints chill. The white sun is shy.
And the skeleton weeds and the never-dry,
Rough, long grasses keep white with frost
At the hilltop by the finger-post;
The smoke of the traveller’s-joy is puffed
Over hawthorn berry and hazel tuft.
I read the sign. Which way shall I go?
A voice says: You would not have doubted so
At twenty. Another voice gentle with scorn
Says: At twenty you wished you had never been born.
One hazel lost a leaf of gold
From a tuft at the tip, when the first voice told
The other he wished to know what ‘twould be
To be sixty by this same post. “You shall see,”
He laughed—and I had to join his laughter—
“You shall see; but either before or after,
Whatever happens, it must befall,
A mouthful of earth to remedy all
Regrets and wishes shall freely be given;
And if there be a flaw in that heaven
‘Twill be freedom to wish, and your wish may be
To be here or anywhere talking to me,
No matter what the weather, on earth,
At any age between death and birth,—
To see what day or night can be,
The sun and the frost, the land and the sea,
Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring,—
With a poor man of any sort, down to a king,
Standing upright out in the air
Wondering where he shall journey, O where?
Edward Thomas was another who suffered from depression – At twenty you wished you had never been born. He would walk it off for hours.
Here he has been walking, walking, facing the mouthful of earth that awaits him in death, but now acknowledges the wish to be anywhere talking to … maybe his wife Helen? ‘And with a poor man of any sort, down to a king.’ Whatever Thomas meant by that, the words ‘down to a king’ put me in mind of Philippians which we touched on yesterday. Continuing chapter 2:6-8:
Christ Jesus who, existing in the form of God, counted not the being on an equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the  form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men.
And then there is the story of the walkers to Emmaus being overtaken by one they should have recognised. (Luke  24:13-35) He is there at the crossroads, knowing all too well how each of us has our own cross to bring to the hilltop. And death shall be freely given – Sister Death as Francis put it. Not to be snatched before time! Had Thomas killed himself at twenty, we would have been the poorer without his word painting: The smoke of the traveller’s-joy is puffed Over hawthorn berry and hazel tuft. 
Sometimes it is good to stop, stand upright and look around us, even at a falling leaf. After all, Christ himself told us to consider the lilies of the field. And then walk on in his company.

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21 April. Stations of the Cross for Saint Peter: XV, Easter Sunday.

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Easter tomb, Canterbury Cathedral, MMB.

Scripture references: Empty Tomb: John 20: 1-19; Barbecue by the lake and Jesus’ questions to Peter: John 21: 1-23.

That first Easter morning, Peter did not believe Mary and the other women who said Jesus had risen. And so:

I ran to the tomb, I saw the cloths that his body had been wrapped in. I believed! 

Then Jesus came to find us. He cooked a barbecue by the lake – as normal as anything.

He fed us.

He asked me: Do you love me?

Do you love me?

Do you love me?

Yes Lord, you know I love you! 

Feed my sheep!

Let us pray for the courage that comes when we know God loves us, and we dare to believe that we love him. May we know the good food to give his sheep.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.

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20 April. Stations of the Cross for saint Peter: 14, Jesus is buried.

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His own people did not accept Jesus. Peter left Joseph to bury the Lord’s body; the disciples met together afterwards, but Judas did not come back.

Scripture references: Peter’s betrayal: Matthew 26: 69-75; Waiting: Luke 23:56; 24: 9-11; Judas: John 13: 21-30; Matthew 27: 3-10.

I was in total shock. My world had crumbled into pieces. I had said that I didn’t know my Lord. And my Lord was taken away; my Lord was killed. I was helpless. At least Joseph made sure that the practical things that had to be done, were done. I blundered off to our guest house with the others. no-one could speak. No-one wanted to eat: the bridegroom had gone. Still, we waited together. But Judas never came back.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.

Let us pray that we may have the courage to persevere from day to day when life seems difficult or unbearable.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.

 

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19 April, Good Friday. Stations of the Cross for Peter: XIII, Jesus’ Body is taken down for burial

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Peter remembers the Olive Garden on Maundy Thursday when he has sliced off Malchus’s ear, and the heavily guarded garden around the tomb the next night.

Scripture references: Malchus: John 18: 10-11; Luke 22: 47-53; Joseph of Arimathea: John 19: 38-42; Mary Magdalene: Luke 23: 55-56.

Joseph had enough influence to get hold of the body and bury it. He had to be quick though. If he had been found still moving it when the Passover feast started there there would have been even more trouble.

The guards were watching. They had taken over Joseph’s garden and even he could not send them away. Right down to that Malchus with his mended ear, they were ready to start on him if he put a foot wrong. They would have been glad to get their hands on a high-up like Joseph.

He had to hurry Mary Magdalene away without doing everything properly.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.

Let us pray for all who live in fear, whose lives are a mess, who do not feel they have done things properly. May they feel God’s forgiveness and love.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.

 

Image from Missionaries of Africa.

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18 April. Stations of the Cross for Peter: XII, Jesus dies.

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Winchester Cathedral, MMB

James, Stephen – and eventually Peter himself – were to die for Jesus. But this was a moment of desolation for his friend, the rock.

Scripture References: Jesus the Carpenter: Luke 2:51-52; Mattheew 13: 53-58; Call of the Fishermen: Mark 1: 16-20; Call of the rich young man: Luke 18: 18-25; Stephen: Acts Ch 6-7; James: Acts 12:1-3.

this looks like the end of a wasted life. He could have carried on as a carpenter, and we could have stayed by the lake, catching fish all our days. Good, honest, useful work: absolutely nothing wrong with that.

But Jesus said there was more to life than earning a good living. Sell everything, he told that rich lad, then come and follow me.

We followed him, at times a long way behind and not knowing where we were going. Look what happened to Stephen and James! Stones and the sword, more blood on the cobbles.

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And yet Stephen saw Heaven opened, and Jesus there, with open arms, waiting. He is waiting for me, now.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom!

Let us pray for all who are facing a crisis in their faith or a relationship at this time, that they may be granted courage for the next step.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom!

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18 April, Maundy Thursday: Putting on an apron.

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Putting on an apron, as Jesus did: that can be as serious and solemn as giving one’s life … and vice-versa, giving one’s life can be as simple as putting on an apron.

Blessed Christian de Chergé, Martyr of Algeria.

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