Category Archives: PLaces

12 January: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLVI: The Temptations of Brother Ruffino, 3.

Croix Rousse large

Saint Francis promised Brother Ruffino that, “this temptation will bring to thee great profit and consolation, and very shortly shalt thou prove it”. So what happened after Ruffino was utterly impolite to the devil?

The devil being exceeding wroth, gat him away incontinent with so furious a tempest and shaking of the rocks of Mount Subassio, which was hard by, that the loud noise of the rocks that fell down lasted a great while ; and so furiously did they strike the one against the other as they rolled down, that the valley was lit up with horrible flashes of fire: and at the terrible din that they made, Saint Francis and his companions came out of the House, in great amazement, for to see what strange thing had befallen; and still to this day is seen that exceeding great ruin of rocks.

Then Brother Ruffino knew of a surety that it had been the devil that had deceived him. And going back to Saint Francis, he threw himself again upon the ground, and confessed his fault; and Saint Francis comforted him with sweet words, and sent him back full of consolation to his cell, wherein as he was most devoutly praying, there appeared to him Christ, the blessed One, and rekindled all his soul with love divine and said: “Thou hast done well, my son, to believe in Saint Francis, for he that made thee His sad was the devil: but I am Christ thy Master; and to make thee sure thereof, I give thee this sign: Whilst thou dost live, thou shalt no more feel sadness nor melancholy.”

And this said, Christ departed, leaving him in such gladness and sweetness of spirit and uplifting of the mind, that day and night he was absorbed and rapt in God. And from that time forth he was
so strengthened in grace and in certainty of his salvation, that he became altogether changed into another man; and would have continued day and night in prayer and in contemplation of the things of God, if the others had suffered him. Wherefore Saint Francis said of him that Brother Ruffino was in this life canonised by Christ, and that, save in his presence, he would not doubt to call him Saint Ruffino, albeit he was still alive on earth.

Icon by CW
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11 January: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLV: The Temptations of Brother Ruffino, 2.

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Yesterday we read how Francis was made aware of Ruffino’s belief that he was damned, and his subsequent misery. We take up the story when Brother Masseo has called Ruffino to visit Francis. Francis emulates the father of the prodigal son and then gives some very earthy advice!

Saint Francis seeing Brother Ruffino coming from afar off, began to cry out: “O thou miserable Brother Ruffino, in whom hast thou believed?” And when Brother Ruffino was come up to him, Saint Francis recounted to him in order all the temptation that he had had of the devil within and without, and showed him clearly that what had appeared to him was the devil and not Christ, and that he ought in no wise to consent unto his promptings. But when the devil should say to thee again: “Thou art damned! do thou answer : Open thy mouth, for I fain would void on thee! and this shall be to thee the sign that he is the devil and not Christ; for as soon as thou shalt give him this answer, he will flee away incontinent.

Moreover by this token shouldst thou have known that he was the devil and not Christ, in that he hardened thy heart to all goodness, the which thing is his own proper office; but Christ, the blessed One, never hardeneth the heart of the faithful, nay, rather he softeneth it, as he saith by the mouth of the prophet: I will take away the stony heart and I will give you a heart of flesh”. (Ezekiel 36:26) Then Brother Ruffino, seeing that Saint Francis told him in order all the manner of his temptation, touched to the heart by his words, began to weep bitterly, and fell down before Saint Francis and humbly confessed his fault in having kept his temptation hidden. And thus he abode altogether consoled and comforted by the admonishments of the holy father, and wholly changed for the better.

Then at the last Saint Francis said unto him: “Go, my little son, and shrive1 thee, and relax not the zeal of thy wonted prayers: and know of a surety that this temptation will bring to thee great profit and consolation, and very shortly shalt thou prove it.” So Brother Ruffino returned to his cell in the wood, and continuing in prayer with many tears, behold the enemy came to him in the form 0f Christ, as to outward semblance, and said to him: “O Brother Ruffino, have I not told thee that thou shouldest not believe the son of Peter Bernardoni, nor shouldest weary thyself in tears and prayers, seeing that thou art damned? What doth it profit thee to afflict thyself while yet alive, and then when thou shalt die thou wilt be damned?” And straightway Brother Ruffino made answer to the devil: “Open thy mouth, for I fain would void on thee.”

1Confess your sins to a priest
End Paper of The Little Flowers of Saint Francis.

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8 January: An Epiphany Celebration with L’Arche Canterbury Pilgrims.

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Six times a year a mixed gathering of L’Arche core members, assistants and friends meet as the Pilgrims’ Group to pray, eat, and enjoy each other’s company. Pilgrims? Well we are in Canterbury, where every footstep is on the traces of pilgrims to the Shrine of Thomas and saints like Alphege and Mildred from Saxon times, less well known now but great witnesses.

We make no claim to greatness but we do witness together with Scripture, prayer and fellowship at a shared table. This time we were remembering the wise men who made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to meet an infant king – but found him in Bethlehem.

Our celebration – and we are good at celebrations – took the form of a mini-mystery play around the office and workshop. The wise men left their cosy way of life behind, to try another way: the pilgrim road, seeking for the new born King, and being pointed to Jerusalem.

pilgrims way

And they had to try another way to go home, after they all had the same dream. Here is the text we followed, and the figures that we used to act out the story. After that, we prayed around the table, made ourselves crowns, and feasted. We are good at celebrations!

The lines in blue are repeated by all; red for rubrics means stage directions, not to be read aloud.


The readings are from Isaiah and Saint Matthew.

Isaiah wrote about people going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem before Jesus was born.

Shine out, Jerusalem, your light has come! Kings will come to your shining light. They will bring gold and incense and sing the praise of the Lord.

All: Sing the praise of the Lord.

Our scented candle can stand for the frankincense and myrrh, and the flame is the same colour as gold.

candle

The wise men were pilgrims following the star.

Mark to take up star to first station where magi are waiting.

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in the time of King Herod,  some wise men came from the east.

 

Wherever they went they asked: ‘Where is the baby king of the Jews?’

‘Where is the baby king of the Jews?’

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On the way they told people: We saw his star and have come to honour him.’

We saw his star and have come to honour him.’

Nobody else thought the star was special. They all said:

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‘Go to Jerusalem to see the King of the Jews.’

Stop at  three ‘stations’ and repeat this scene.

At Jerusalem station we see Herod flanked by hid guards.

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When they got to Jerusalem, they went to see King Herod. He was worried. He asked the priests and the teachers where Christ was to be born. They told him ‘At Bethlehem .’

At Bethlehem .’

‘for the prophet wrote:

Bethlehem! Out of you will come the shepherd of my people Israel.’

Bethlehem! Out of you will come the shepherd of my people Israel.’

Then Herod called the wise men. He asked them when the star had appeared, and sent them to Bethlehem. ‘Come and tell me when you find the baby, then I may go and worship him.’ They listened to the king, and they set out. And the star went forward, and halted over the place where the child was.

To final station, the crib.

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They saw the child with his mother Mary, and they fell to their knees. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.

gold and frankincense and myrrh.

But they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, and they went home a different way.

they went home a different way.

Magi depart.

When I was at L’Arche Edmonton, I visited one of the activities where core members worked. The man in charge of it was a wise teacher. He taught me something I’ve never forgotten. Don’t tell someone they are doing something wrong when they are doing their best. Say, Try another way.

That is what the wise men did. First of all they left their home and their work to follow a star. And then, instead of going back to report to King Herod, they went home a different way. If they all had the same dream, they would have taken it seriously! Let’s try another way with the people we live and work with this year.

With thanks to Christina Chase who helped crystallise some of the ideas in this celebration, and thanks to Abel for the loan of his people.

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WT

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January 6: Pope Francis visits the Franciscans.

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While he was in Dublin Pope Francis visited the Capuchin Franciscans at their centre for homeless families and spoke to the friars as well as the people who turn to them for help. This seems an appropriate reading for the Epiphany, when the Wise Men visited the baby born in a stable, and destined, like so many before and since, to flee into Egypt.

Dear Capuchin brothers, and all of you, my brothers and sisters!

You have the grace of contemplating the wounds of Jesus in those in need, those who suffer, those who are unfortunate or destitute, or full of vices and defects. For you this is the flesh of Christ. This is your witness and the Church needs it. Thank you.

It is Jesus who comes [in the poor]. You ask no questions. You accept life as it comes, you give comfort and, if need be, you forgive. This makes me think – as a reproof – of those priests who instead live by asking questions about other people’s lives and who in confession dig, dig, dig into consciences. Your witness teaches priests to listen, to be close, to forgive and not to ask too many questions. To be simple, as Jesus said that father did who, when his son returned, full of sins and vices. That father did not sit in a confessional and start asking question after question. He accepted the son’s repentance and embraced him. May your witness to the people of God, and this heart capable of forgiving without causing pain, reach all priests. Thank you!

And you, dear brothers and sisters, I thank you for the love and the trust that you have for the Capuchin brothers. Thank you because you come here with trust! Let me say one thing to you. Do you know why you come here with trust? Because they help you without detracting from your dignity. For them, each of you is Jesus Christ. Thank you for the trust that you give us. You are the Church, you are God’s people. Jesus is with you. They will give you the things you need, but listen to the advice they give you; they will always give you good advice. And if you have something, some doubt, some hurt, talk to them and they will give you good advice. You know that they love you: otherwise, this Centre would not exist. Thank you for your trust. And one last thing. Pray! Pray for the Church. Pray for priests. Pray for the Capuchins. Pray for the bishops, for your bishop. Pray for me too … I allow myself to ask all this. Pray for priests, don’t forget.

God bless you all, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

 

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30 December: The Holy Family

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Before Amsterdam had numbers for houses, people used plaques on their walls to identify their home or business premises. Perhaps this one belonged to one of the many exiles living in what was then a small city on a marshy riverside. Here is Joseph taking a watchful Mary and Baby away to Egypt; He has his tools with him, including one very long saw. Perhaps he cut his own planks from the tree, or maybe it pleased the artist’s eye to show it at the pinnacle of the picture. Joseph may have given up his business but he was not giving up work.

Exile was a serious business, true enough, but Joseph was able to start work in Cairo and support his family. (The Franciscan church there that bears his name is said to be near the Holy Family’s home.)

Here is a prayer from USPG.

O God, who made your home among us in Jesus of Nazareth, we pray for those who have been forced from their homes and now live as migrants and refugees. Bless them and all who work to bring them relief, comfort and a new home.

Amen.

We could pray, too, that refugees may be allowed to find work and education in their exile, that they may be better equipped to help restore their homeland when they are able to return.

 

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28 December: Children in Need

Here’s another seasonal poem from Sheila Billingsley. Challenging feasts like St Stephen and the Innocents jerk us out of any complacent sentimentality about the Babe in the manger. 

Children in Need

‘Suffer,’ you said,

Rebuking misplaced care.

‘Suffer the children to come to me.

Men reject me,

Reject my Father’s love.

The children embrace me,

Gaze ….. those eyes!

Touch me,

Hold me,

My hand ….. arm,

Climb my knee,

Tread on my toe!

The dominant one, his arm around my neck,

Triumphant.
They cannot tire me.
Remember the children of my childhood,

Little boys,

And I a babe from among them,

Slaughtered like beasts in my stead.
Suffer the children

Down through the ages,

Suffer the new-born,

Fragile, hand held.

Suffer, for they suffered.
Who will pray for them

And for the children to come?
Those eyes …..
‘Who will pray for me?’
Days for this

And days for that,

Days for aged,

Days for youth,

Dogs and donkeys,

Cancer, cats.
For children

In need, in danger?

Infants exposed to evil

Unacknowledged?
TV, phone,

School and street,

Chain link fence enclosing terror,

Violence watched calmly over breakfast.
Feed your great, sad eyes, my children

For this is your life.
I too suffered

That you should come to me.

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12 December: Beautiful killers and the greatest love.

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September had turned warm again, it was a good day to enjoy a sandwich in sight of the sea near Rye Harbour, and watch the world go by.

There were fewer humans than the last time I was this way, which was in August, but there were plenty of birds, as always. What first caught my eye was a small group of sand martins, swooping and swirling, stirring themselves up for the long flight to Southern Africa. Not quite ready to go yet! Was it a family group, the parents imparting their final advice before taking off in earnest?

A cormorant passed by, purposefully facing the light westerly breeze. A different spectacle altogether: its flying looked like hard work, though we know the grace they acquire as soon as they are in their watery element.

It must have been the frequent sightings of fighter planes this Battle of Britain month that set me comparing the martins to Spitfires, all speed and aerobatics and the cormorant to a ponderous Wellington bomber: killing machines both. So are the martins and cormorant killers, but not of their own kind and no more than necessary to feed  themselves and their children.

We humans know better than that of course.

_______________________________________________

Redemption? Half a mile away is an abandoned wooden hut, the former lifeboat station. It was from here that seventeen men sailed and rowed to their deaths early last century, setting out in a storm to rescue the crew of a stricken ship. They did not know that the men were safely on shore before they set out. Their monument says they were doing their duty.

It was rather the greatest love.

(Another day at the same place.)

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6 December: T is for Truro

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I’m sorry that the A-Z Tour of Britain has got a bit lost. Yesterday’s post about the local pilgrim must have scratched at the door of my conscience! I was looking for a photo for my piece on Truro in Cornwall when I came across this in a blog called ‘Ship of Fools’. It is part of a report by a mystery worshipper, describing the sermon s/he heard at Truro cathedral, given by the composer James Macmillan on 10/10/10. Forget my effort and read on! WT.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

9 – James Macmillan is a Roman Catholic, a lay Dominican, a musician and composer of note, not a preacher by trade, but he spoke very well and he was talking about the subject that is his passion. It was a privilege to hear him (and his music!). He had been there to deliver a lecture the previous evening, but sadly I didn’t know that. He had, incidentally, composed some of the music used at services during the recent papal visit.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The gospel reading was Luke 17:11-19 (Jesus heals ten lepers, instructing them to show themselves to the priests). The ten lepers had to show themselves to the priests because the priest could authorise their readmission to the society from which they had been ostracised. But one (a Samaritan, no less) comes back and gives thanks and praise to Jesus on the surface a useless thing to do but Jesus lets him know that it was the right thing to do and wonders why the other nine didn’t bother. The one who gave thanks was more concerned with praising God than with following the prescribed ritual for readmission. Giving praise may baffle the contemporary world because it is perceived to be useless, but when we raise our voices in song it is not about the consequences. The parting of the Red Sea is the prime event in the Old Testament and Jewish history, and out of it comes the Song of Moses. The Song of Songs is the ultimate love song. Sometimes words are not enough. It is love that moves us to sing. The psalms were sung in Old Testament times and the psalter is the original prayer book. Pope Benedict has called music “the sober inebriation of faith”.

Image by Simon Lewis via wikipedia

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5 December: The local pilgrim.

As the old missionary said, ‘once we began riding mopeds we had fewer ‘chance’ meetings with people who need to hear the Good News.’ Jesus of course walked about teaching his disciples both before and after his resurrection, a good example for all of us tempted to make the shortest journey by car. And that’s before we think of the environmental issues.

This morning walking out meant I could greet three neighbours. I also had a lesson in walking as pilgrimage. We’ve spoken before of how walking into Canterbury is a daily pilgrimage, if we think about it that way. This was a new aspect of that idea.

The next person I met was one of the local clergy, striding along our street. ‘I’m doing my prayer walk’, she told me. With the help of a mapping app on her phone, she walks the streets of her parish in turn, praying for the residents as she goes by. Over a few weeks she covers the whole parish, street by street, prayer by prayer, and starts all over again.

One of my friends always says to joggers, usually under his breath, ‘You’re going to die anyway!’ We share a scepticism about exercise as self-improvement, but exercise as prayer and pilgrimage is something altogether different.

I walked on with a spring in my step. I had heard the Good News that morning.

MMB

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24 November: The Road to Emmaus VII – and beyond.

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Then they said to each other, did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32).

Jesus has vanished, but at last the disciples see. They recognize Jesus. And they are able, consciously now, to lay claim to the strange and wonderful joy they felt as Jesus walked with them on the road and explained the scriptures to them.

But now they realise that what Jesus had told them on the road was a preparation for something else. His words, spoken during their journey, were themselves like the journey and not like the full arrival. The disciples did not really “arrive” until they reached Emmaus.

Then why did Jesus at first pretend that he wanted to go further than Emmaus? Perhaps he did this for the disciples’ sake, because he wanted to draw something further out of them. This seeming pretence on Jesus’ part gives the two disciples the opportunity to realise how much they want this stranger to stay with them; even though they do not realise fully who he is, they know that he is important to them, and so they then make a conscious choice and ask him pressingly to remain with them.

But, when would full recognition of the Risen Jesus come? And why hadn’t it come to them yet? Caravaggio’s painting helps us here, helps us to see that the recognition of the Risen Lord comes most fully within the context of the meal. In the Last Supper Jesus commanded the Twelve ‘do this in memory of me.’ He would now, in this “first supper” of his risen life, show them that he meant it. He would show them that this memorial of him was not an empty memory, a mere trick of the imagination, but a real encounter with him. Earlier in the day, Jesus had shown them that Scripture was about him. Now Jesus would show them that the meal is not ‘about’ something, it is something – or rather, Someone: it is Him.

The disciples’ recognition of Jesus and Jesus’ physical disappearance are nearly simultaneous. This is, in a way, a difficult truth. It is always a bit painful to me to think that the two disciples were so close to being able to throw their arms around Jesus once more, if only they had been quick enough! But, always the teacher, Jesus has something else, something more important to show them. When he disappears from their sight at the meal, this disappearance of Jesus is not like the disappearance of Jesus in death. This disappearance does not cause grief, it heals grief. The disciples begin to grasp now that Jesus’ reality remains in the meal. The disciples know him in the breaking of the bread. And, most importantly, they now realise that he has overcome death, and as such has assumed a new form. This form is the form in which we, too, must recognise and follow him.

The adventure of Emmaus happens only three days after Jesus’ death, remember. The disciples will need more time to express in words what they suddenly grasped here at Emmaus on an essential level. We need time, too. But there is so much to learn from this. Here I am, a latter day disciple, with all the advantages of understanding that result from access to two thousand years of Christian teaching. Yet, I can feel as raw and untutored as these two disciples were. And maybe that is the way things should be. It enables me to use their experience as a model and to take comfort and encouragement from their story.

SJC

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