Category Archives: Mission

1 July 2022: Praying with Pope Francis: Old People.

Saint Joachim, grandfather of Jesus.

Here is Pope Francis’s prayer intention for July.

We pray for the elderly, 
who represent the roots and memory of a people; 
may their experience and wisdom 
help young people to look towards the future 
with hope and responsibility.

Pope Francis has been speaking quite a lot about old age recently. Representing the roots and memory of a people is a quite responsibility for us oldies. It’s more important than you might think, until you realise that only two or three people remember events that were important at the time and helped shape our community or family today. And as for important people!

A couple of years ago a story popped into my head about a woman from Canada who helped shape our L’Arche community, back in 1975. I tracked down her brother who shared the story with her daughter – my friend had died between times. He wrote back, sharing his niece’s reaction, overjoyed to read about her mother, and a story hitherto unknown to her. ‘What a gift!’ she had said.

Yes, memory is a gift, not only for old persons but for those who are energised by the stories of beginnings and growth, prosperity and hardship. Maybe this July could be a month of sharing memories, sharing experiences and hope. Praying for the elderly might well include listening to them and recording their wisdom.

Follow this link to Independent Catholic News and Pope Francis’s video message for today.

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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.

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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.

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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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23 June: Feast of John the Baptist: called to be Faithful witnesses.

walking together

This post is from Vincent Cardinal Nichols’ Chrism Mass homily, 13.4.22.

Faithful witnesses. Through our baptism, we are set apart to be the sign and agent of God’s love and compassion. Every word and deed we make is to breathe the saving truth that God is with us, that our Blessed Lord accompanies us at every turn. Can we not offer this accompaniment to each other? Can we not lay aside the instinct to criticise, belittle, isolate, judge and condemn those we meet, those who are different, those we do not like? Perhaps this aggressive confrontation is the air we breathe, but our witness is to something different: to the gracious acceptance given us by God, an acceptance that we, in our turn, are called to offer to all. As we venerate the Cross on [Good] Friday, we are promising to be like him, without judgement, without condemnation, whispering only ‘Father forgive’. This is the key quality of the Church called for by the voice of our Synodal pathway. As our baptismal calling, let us put it into practice.

Jesus, the faithful witness, teaches us that in him our very humanity is being lifted up to God. In him we are made partakers of that divine life, through his Body and Blood, given on the Cross and raised in glory by the Holy Spirit. It is the great privilege of ordained priesthood to make this, the very heart of salvation, freshly presented in every age and in every place.

My brother priests, we are anointed, ordained, to take the very stuff of life and reveal it to be the gift of heaven, the means of our salvation. The bread which we accept from the people is the daily toil which is the lot of us all. The wine we receive from them is the participation, of every person, in the suffering of this world. Our words of consecration witness to the truth that God takes the toil and pain of this world and transforms it into the saving mystery it truly is. ‘Take and eat this bread’; ‘take and drink this chalice’ refer first to the daily reality of living, suffering and dying from which no one is excused. This reality, already suffused with the Holy Spirit, is now, through that same Spirit, revealed to be the substance of our salvation, for it is all taken up by Christ in his one redeeming sacrifice. In him, the texture of and content of our day, of every day, is transformed. In him, we see that the reality that awaits us each morning, and the reality within us, is the ‘first matter’ of the sacrifice we celebrate and the sacrament we bring.

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21 June: Lawful Authority

The Pharisees took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?

But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?

They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.

When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.

Matthew 22:15-22.

This story takes place during Holy Week, the days of preparation for the Passover Feast in Jerusalem. Herod was around, as the Gospels tell us he took part in condemning Jesus. Here Herod is in an unlikely alliance with the Pharisees, collaborators lining up with the upholders of the Jewish Law; opposite views of the basis for civil society. Both groups are corrupt, both are tempted to confuse their own interests with those of God’s people, their authority is shaky and in both cases dependent on the Roman Occupation, for or against it, for their prestige. Does either group want a revolution?

Dr Johnson wrote:

The general story of mankind will evince that lawful and settled authority is very seldom resisted when it is well employed…. Men are easily kept obedient to those who have temporal dominion in their hands, till their veneration is dissipated by such wickedness and folly as can neither be defended nor concealed.

The Rambler, No. 50; in “Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765” by James Boswell.

Jesus sketches out the fine line we generally have to follow in respecting lawful authority. It requires grown up thinking, not Punch and Judy politics. But how best to resist indefensible wickedness and folly? It was a question of life and death for tomorrow’s saints, John Fisher and Thomas More.

For deeper and satisfying reflection on this passage, we suggest joining Sister Johanna as she eavesdrops on the discussion that Jesus so elegantly sidesteps, in this post from last May.

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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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9 June: A newish feast.

Rood, Our Lady and English Martyrs, Cambridge.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest

Pope Benedict XVI set this Feast on the Thursday after Pentecost ten years ago. It has only just crossed my radar, and I wondered whether this was a feast for clericalism, that non-synodal view of the Church that Pope Francis wants to leave behind. My suspicions were not placated when I saw the reading in the Divine Office was from Pope Pius XII, but I read on, and was reminded that he had made important changes to the celebration of the Eucharist, such as allowing people – including priests – to take a drink of water without breaking their fast. For anyone travelling a distance, or whose circumstances meant they attended a late Mass, he made it more possible to participate and receive Communion.

This extract from Mediator Dei insists that every Christian is called to be  a priest ‘as far as is humanly possible’; today we might remember that we are each anointed at Baptism to serve as priestprophet, and king. But Pope Pius was exploring these ideas before Vatican II. The language is perhaps unfamiliar, but the message is clear enough.


Christ is a Priest indeed; however, he is a Priest not for himself but for us, since, in the name of
the whole human race, he brings our prayers and religious dispositions to the eternal Father; he
is also a victim, but a victim for us, since he substitutes himself for sinners.
Now the exhortation of the Apostle, ‘Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,’
demands that all Christians should possess, as far as is humanly possible, the same dispositions
as those which the divine Redeemer had when he offered himself in sacrifice: that is to say, they
should with a humble attitude of mind, offer adoration, honour, praise and thanksgiving to the
supreme majesty of God.
Moreover, it demands that they must assume in some way the condition of a victim, that they
deny themselves as the Gospel commands, that freely and of their own accord they do penance
and that each detests and makes satisfaction for his sins.
It demands, in a word, that we must all undergo with Christ a mystical death on the Cross so
that we can apply to ourselves the words of St. Paul, ‘I have been crucified with Christ’ (Galatians
2:19).

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