Category Archives: PLaces

21 July, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLIX: Kindred Spirits 2.

st louisSaint Louis, King of France, had come in disguise to visit Brother Giles. They spent the whole of his visit in loving silence.

And whenas they had a long time continued together without having spoken together, they parted the one from the other, and Saint Louis went his way on his journey, and Brother Giles returned unto his cell.

When the king was gone, a certain brother asked one of his companions who it was that had embraced Brother Giles for so long time; and he replied that it was Louis, King of France, the which had come for to see Brother Giles. When this he told to the other brothers, they were exceeding sorrowful for that Brother Giles had spoken never a word to him: and murmuring thereat, they said to him: “O Brother Giles, why hast thou shown thee so discourteous as to say naught at all to so holy a king that had come from France to see thee and hear from thy lips good words?’

Replied Brother Giles: “Dear brothers, marvel not thereat, for neither I to him nor he to me could speak a word, sith so soon as we embraced each other, the light of heavenly wisdom revealed and showed to me his heart, and mine to him, and thus through divine working, each looking on the other’s heart, we knew what I would say to him and he to me, far better than if we had spoken with our mouths, and with more consolation than if we had sought to show forth in words the feelings of our hearts.

Through the weakness of human speech, that cannot express clearly the secret mysteries of God, it would have left us all disconsolate rather than consoled; wherefore know ye that the king departed from me with marvellous content and consolation in his soul.”

 

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July 16: Prayer in an Airport

airport prayer

Lord, I know that we always fly
too close to the sun, melt our wax wings
and plummet. I don’t deny it. Still, deign
to give us a safe flight. Let loose great
flocks of your angels, let them range
all around us and let their long hair
stream and their wings be orange, green
and violet. And let their knowledge of
the spheres steer our pilot and keep him
in a state of wonder at the power
you have shared with humans. Show us
that we do not fly by technology alone
but by the grace of spirits who give us
our morsel and cup. And when several tons
of roaring metal and human flesh alight
with a shudder on tarmac, may we thank them,
before we grab our existence back again,
and sprint.

SJC

Another one for the holidays. It’s always good to get down from that plane! Happy Landings to all.                                                                                                                        Will.

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July 15: Thunder Rock

 

sjc. big wave
I stood on the cliff – gale and rain
roared and bellowed, strange duet.
Thwack and thunder, warrior waves,
dropped like bombs on rocks below,
then spewed sea shrapnel up
twenty feet and higher.


Today’s war-storm flooded our lust
for nature’s drama. Oh! Oh! Delight
at every wave-crack.
But this was not
a show.


Better to have moaned
in shame and covered my
face as I faced a faceless
rage that could, with only
minor adjustments in light
and temperature, destroy us:
snap.

SJC

I hope you enjoy the next few poems from Sister Johanna. This is one for the sea-side holiday, if the weather turns fierce and the children insist on enjoying the storm; parents and grandparents can reflect after all are safe indoors. Is our planet becoming more angry with our destruction of its blessings, and on course to destroy us?  

Thank you once more, Sister Johanna. 

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14 July: The Shepherd girl and the goldfish.

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Here’s a Story from France for July 14. A small town girl, delighted by the sights of the big city: here is a letter from St Bernadette of Lourdes to her sisters back home. She is describing her journey to Nevers where she was to enter the noviciate of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, the sisters who had educated her. On the way they stopped at Bordeaux.

Let me tell you how we made our journey. On Wednesday at six o’clock in the evening we arrived at Bordeaux, and there we stayed till Friday at one o’clock. I beg you to believe that we made good use  of our time there to get around – and in a carriage, if you please.

We were taken to visit all the houses (presumably of her order). I have the honour of telling you that they are not like the house in Lourdes, especially the Imperial Institute for Deaf Girls; you’d think it was more like a palace than a religious house.

We went to see the Carmelite church, and from there made our way to the Garonne to see the ships. Next we went to the Jardin des Plantes: I tell you we saw something quite new: can you guess what? It was fish: golden, black, white and grey. The loveliest thing for me was seeing this little creatures swimming around in front of a crowd of little urchins who were watching them.

Although as a child I liked to see the fish in our local park pool, I perhaps wouldn’t have appreciated that last paragraph as I do now, seeing Bernadette as an excitable young woman. It is always good to see the humanity of the saints.

I wanted to share this with you because Bernadette is revealed as a flesh-and-blood young woman, rather than the unattainably super-holy, superwoman put before us in primary school, at least as I recall. Saints are truly human and enjoy the blessings of this life as well as anyone else. Another Laudato Si! moment.

MMB.

Photo by Stan Shebs.

 

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July 7: Readings from Mary Webb XV: just gazing.

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I had not realised how long it had been since I promised more from Mary Webb, until I began re-reading her official biography, ‘Mary Webb: her life and work’ by Thomas Moult, Jonathan Cape, 1935. These lines from pp23; 25-26 set me looking at her poetry again. What treat can I find for tomorrow?

One of her brothers remembers how in girlhood she would go out early in the morning and sit in the grass ad watch the wild flowers open. She would watch them at evening, too, seeing them close. he remembers also how she ‘lay for hours and hours, just gazing at the wheat field, as the wind ran across it.’

[Mary Webb] eventually praised it all so proudly and gratefully in her prose and verse.

‘Long, long ago I thought on all these things,

Long, long ago I loved them.’

Lord, give us eyes to see your world, and the grace to love and nurture it. Amen.

The picture shows barley rather than wheat, but the monochrome brings out the dancing, like tango partners en masse!

 

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6 July: U is for Upham

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I’d forgotten this alphabetical gazetteer of places around Britain till I turned over the drafts folder. There are fewer places beginning with U than you might expect. Uttoxeter? Horse racing and biscuits. I could tell a story about biscuits from forty years ago, but I’m going back further, to my schooldays, and the village of Upham, unofficially known to us at school as Upper Upham, to distinguish it from nearby Lower Upham.

Both villages are tucked away off main roads in rural Hampshire. As a teenager, I was sent to Upper Upham as a catechist to a young boy preparing for his First Holy Communion; I was following in the footsteps of other boys who had taught his sisters. We were given adult responsibility as teenagers. And I had an early taste of working one to one with children out of school, though this lad was simply receiving some of the religious education he would have been give had he been in a Catholic primary school. He was not a school drop out or throw out.

My lad did not live in the Brushmaker’s Arms, but we sometimes made our way in there. Smaller than this it was, as I recall it, all cool and dark inside, but it is good that it’s still open, and welcoming far more customers than 50 years ago. No doubt we’d have to show ID to get a glass of beer there if we were teenagers today.

Our Church seems as confused about young people as the rest of society. Children or adults? Capable of preparing younger children for the Sacraments? We don’t really trust them, yet catechists are needed and grandparents should not do it all, willing though they may be. Readers, ministers of the Eucharist? They won’t volunteer if they don’t think they fit the picture; and someone has to put them there.

It’s worth recalling that youngsters like Saint Pancras gave their lives for their faith; and for every young Roman man I know of there are many young women, Roman and British: Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Perpetua, Felicity get mentioned in the Roman Canon at Mass, they were considered that important in those days; Tydfil, Winifred, Eanswyth, Mildred among our more local heroines.

Do we think young people in Britain today can have a lively faith, evident in their lives? Just asking.

 

 

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4 July: Clouds over London II.

st.pauls.from meynell

Although I was born within the sound of Bow Bells, making me a true Cockney, I am less of a Londoner than Chris, who spent most of his working life in and around the capital. After taking in the view I shared yesterday, we wondered if we could see Saint Paul’s cathedral or would it be lost among the towers of Mammon? Chris thought the planners would have wanted to preserve the view of it from Greenwich, I was much less sure, remembering the gung-ho attitude to vanity projects of the last London Mayor, Boris Johnson.

We walked across the hill to look West towards the actual City of London, a small borough in the midst of it all. We peered left and right, identifying a couple of suburban towers, but were disappointed, until I spotted the dome, dwarfed by the towers, but still visible from a green hill in Greenwich. My photograph was not usable, but this shows a similar view from 1898 – similar but for one thing: the Cathedral is at the centre of William Hyde’s engraving unchallenged by the rash of towers spreading across from those we saw in yesterday’s picture.

There are all sorts of possible responses to this, most of them platitudes.

But the story goes that Christopher Wren, architect of the present Cathedral, following the disastrous fire of 1666, found in the ruins, as he began surveying the site,  a stone carved with the word ‘RESURGAM’ – I shall arise. And his Cathedral rose where the old one had stood. Let us Christians live as if we believe that, and the gates of hell will not prevail.

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July 3: Clouds over London I.

london towers clouds
We went to Greenwich for a reunion. Greenwich Park is on a hill; it was a favourite retreat for royalty such as Henry VIII, not far from London then, now an inseparable part of London but still green.
This  tremendous sky towering over the towers deserved to be remembered. Next morning I read these lines in Dante’s Inferno,  lines that seemed to fit the picture:
“Not all the gold, that is beneath the moon,
Or ever hath been, of these toil-worn souls
Might purchase rest for one.”
Divine Comedy Canto VII
People earn crazy salaries in those towers; people work crazy hours in those towers, chasing what seems like imaginary money from one side of the world, through devious channels and passages, to the other.
If only they could see the clouds of heaven in all their beauty! But their towers, even as they exalt them from the ground, obscure the sky and the sight of heaven.

Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.

Matthew 11:28-30

Nicholas Lash, in Theology for Pilgrims (p22), tells how Frei Betto, a distinguished Dominican theologian from Brazil was invited to contribute a guest editorial for New Blackfriars, their magazine. He wrote that people had told him that Britain was a secular country, yet he found it a pagan country, where the things that were worshipped were not called gods.

 

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30 June, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLVI: How Brother Masseo obtained from Christ the virtue of humility and the gift of tongues.

Abel.bluebells

The forest seems to have been a good place for the early brothers of Saint Francis to find God and their own true selves.

The first companions of St Francis set themselves with all their might to follow holy poverty with regard to earthly things, and to acquire every other virtue, as the sure means of obtaining celestial and eternal riches.  Brother Masseo, hearing wonderful things of humility, and knowing it to be one of the greatest treasures of life eternal, was so inflamed with a love and desire of this virtue of humility, that he lifted his eyes to heaven with much fervour, and made a vow and firm resolution never again to rejoice until he should feel the said virtue to be firmly established in his soul.

From that moment he was constantly shut up in his cell, macerating his body with fasts and vigils and prayers, weeping before the Lord, and earnestly imploring him to grant him this virtue, without which he felt that he was only worthy of hell.

Brother Masseo having passed several days in this state of mind, as he was entering the forest and asking the Lord, who willingly listens to the prayers of the humble, with cries and tears to grant him this divine virtue, he heard a voice from heaven, which called him twice: “Brother Masseo! Brother Masseo!” And he, knowing in his spirit that it was the voice of Christ, answered: “My Lord.” Then Christ answered: “What wilt thou give in exchange for this virtue which thou askest for?” And Brother Masseo answered: “Lord, I will willingly give the eyes out of my head.” Christ answered: “I grant thee the virtue, and command at the same time that thou keep thine eyes.”

And having said these words, the voice was silent; and Brother Masseo was so filled with the grace of humility, that from thenceforward he was constantly rejoicing. And often when he was in prayer he was heard to utter a joyful sound, like the song of a bird, resembling “U-u-u”, and his face bore a most holy and happy expression. With this he grew so humble that he esteemed himself less than all other men in the world. And Brother James of Fallerone having asked him why in his joy he used always the same sound, he replied gaily, that when in one way he found all good he saw no reason to change it.

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29 June, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLV: The Secrets of Hearts

 

EVEN as our Lord Jesus Christ saith in the Gospel: “I know My little sheep and they know Me,” so the good father St. Francis, like a good shepherd, knew all the merits and virtues of his companions by Divine revelation, and so likewise he knew their imperfections also; whereby he was able to provide for all of them the best remedy; to wit, humbling the proud, exalting the humble, rebuking vice, and praising virtue; as may be read in the wonderful revelations which he had concerning that first family of his.

Among the which we find that once, when St. Francis was with his said family in a Place, discoursing of God, Friar Ruffino was not with them, being in the wood in contemplation; but, while they continued to discourse of God, lo! Friar Ruffino [a noble citizen of Assisi, but a nobler servant of God, a most pure virgin, sublimated by the noble prerogative of Divine contemplation, and adorned before God and man with the flowers of odoriferous conversation] came forth from the wood and passed by at some distance from them.

Thereupon, St. Francis, beholding him, turned to his companions and asked them: “Tell me, which, think ye, is the holiest soul that God hath upon this earth?” Whereto they made answer and said that they believed it was his own. Then St. Francis said unto them: “Most dear friars, I am of myself the most unworthy and the vilest man that God hath in this world; but see ye that Friar Ruffino who is now coming forth from the wood? God hath revealed unto me that his soul is one of the three holiest souls in the world; and of a sooth I tell you that I would not fear to call him St. Ruffino while he is yet alive, inasmuch as his soul is confirmed in grace and sanctified and canonised in heaven by our Lord Jesus Christ;” but St. Francis never spake these words in the presence of the said Friar Ruffino.

judasHow St. Francis knew the imperfections of his friars was clearly seen in like manner in Friar Elias, whom he often rebuked for his pride; and in that Friar Giovanni della Cappella, unto whom he foretold that he would hang himself by the neck; and in that friar whose throat was held fast by the devil what time he was admonished for disobedience; and in many other friars whose secret defects and virtues he knew clearly by revelation of Christ.

The artist of Strasbourg Cathedral shows the Lamb of God releasing the suicide Judas ready to remove him from Hell’s Mouth.

Woodland photograph by Eleanor Billingsley

 

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