Category Archives: PLaces

28 January, Little Flowers CV: St Francis appears to Brother John of Alvernia.

 

Brother John was close to Francis in life. Perhaps this story should not greatly astonish us.

Saint Francis appeared on another occasion, on Mount Alvernia, to Brother John of Alvernia, a man of great sanctity, whilst he was in prayer, and spoke with him for a long time. And at last as he was about to depart, he said to him : ” Ask of me what thou wilt.” 

And Brother John said : ” Father, I pray thee that thou wouldst tell me what I have desired to know for a long time, where thou wert and what thou wert doing when the seraph appeared to thee.’ 

Then St Francis answered : ” I was praying in that place where stands the chapel of Count Simon of Battifolle, and asked two graces of my Lord Jesus Christ; the first was that He would grant me in this life to feel in my soul and in my body, so far as possible, all the pains that He Himself felt during the time of His bitter Passion. The second grace which I asked of Him was like unto the first, that I might feel in my heart the excessive love which induced Him to suffer such a Passion for us sinners. And then God put it into my heart that He would give me to feel both the one and the other in so far as it was possible for a mere creature ; which thing indeed was fulfilled in me by the impression of the stigmas.” 

Brother John asked him again if the secret words which the seraph had spoken to him were such as had been related by the holy brother aforesaid, who affirmed that he had so heard them from St Francis in the presence of eight brothers. And St Francis replied that this was the truth as the brother had said. 

Then Brother John, taking courage through this general condescension to his requests, said : ” O father, I beseech thee let me see and kiss thy most holy and glorious stigmas, not that I doubt of aught, but solely for my consolation and because I have always so greatly desired this favour.” And St Francis with good will showed them and presented them to him, so that he both clearly saw and touched, and also kissed them. And finally Brother John asked : ” Father, what consolation didst thou not feel in thy soul when thou didst see Christ the blessed coming to thee to give thee the marks of His most sacred Passion ? Would to God that I might feel a little of the sweetness thereof! ” And St Francis answered: “Seest thou these nails ? ” Brother John said : ” Yes, father.” 

Touch once again,” said St Francis, ” this nail in my hand.” Then Brother John with great reverence and fear touched the nail, and as soon as he had touched it there came forth so great a fragrance like to a cloud of incense, that, entering by his nostrils, it filled his soul and his body with such sweetness that immediately he was ravished in ecstasy and became insensible; and thus he remained rapt in God from the hour of terce, when this took place, until vespers. 

And Brother John never spoke of this vision and familiar conversation with St Francis except to his confessor until, being near to death, he revealed it to several of the brothers. 

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27 January, Little Flowers CIV: A vision of St Francis, II.

We left our two friars welcoming two journeying friars to their monastery, to the kitchen, the warmest place in the house, where eight friars were already enjoying the fire.

After they had been a little while at the fire, they took the visitors aside to wash their feet, even as they had agreed together. And while that obedient and devout friar was washing the feet of the older friar, and removing the mud therefrom, for they were very muddy, he looked and saw that his feet were marked with the most holy Stigmata; and anon, for joy and wonder he embraced them closely, and began to cry aloud: “Either thou art Christ, or thou art Saint Francis”. 

At that cry and at those words, the friars, which were at the fire, arose and came thither with great fear and reverence to see those glorious stigmata. And then, at their prayer, this ancient friar permitted them clearly to see and touch and kiss them. And, while they marvelled yet more for joy, he said unto them: “Doubt not and fear not, dearest friars and sons; I am your father Friar Francis, who, according to the will of God, founded three Orders. And seeing that, for eight years, I have been entreated by this friar, who is washing my feet, and to-day more fervently than ever before, that I would reveal unto him those secret words which the Seraph spake unto me when He gave me the stigmata, the which words I resolved never to reveal in my lifetime, to-day, by the commandment of God, by reason of his perseverance and the ready obedience with which he left the sweetness of contemplation, I am sent by God to reveal unto him, before you all, that which he asks.”

St Francis said: ” Know, most beloved brothers, that being on the mountain of Alvernia, wholly absorbed in the contemplation of the Passion of Christ, in that seraphic vision I was thus stigmatised in my own body by Christ Himself; and He said to me : “Knowest thou what I have done to thee ? I have given thee the marks of My Passion that thou mayest be My standard bearer. And as I, on the day of My death, descended into Limbo, and, by virtue of My stigmas, liberated all the souls I found there and conducted them to paradise, so also I grant to thee in this hour, in order that thou mayest be conformed to Me in thy death even as thou hast been in thy life, that when thou shalt have passed away from this life, every year on the anniversary of thy death thou shalt go into purgatory, and, by virtue of these stigmas which I have given thee, shalt liberate all the souls thou shalt find there belonging to thy three orders, Friars Minor, sisters and virgins, and over and above these all who have been devout to thee, and shalt lead them to paradise.’ These words of Christ I never revealed whilst I lived in this world.”

And having thus spoken St Francis and his companion suddenly disappeared. And many brothers afterwards heard these things from the eight brothers who were present during the vision and had heard the words of St Francis. 

There was no doubt in the minds of the ten friars as to who had visited them. But contemplate for a moment the spontaneous decision of the two friars that we read yesterday, to wash the feet of their visitors, though they were very muddy. Love in action!

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26 January, Little Flowers CIII: a vision of Saint Francis, I.

We return to the Little Flowers of Saint Francis for our last few extracts from this ancient text. It’s clear that the brothers did not know what to make of the stigmata, the marks of the Passion of Jesus seared onto his body, though they recognised it as a holy sign in a holy man. It was his life that was holy before any such marks were imposed on him. We start with a brother at prayer …

A devout and holy friar, while reading of Saint Francis’s most holy Stigmata, began with great travail of spirit to consider what those so secret words could have been, which Saint Francis said that he would not reveal to any one while he lived; which the Seraph had spoken to him. And this friar said within himself: “Saint Francis willed not to speak those words to any one during his lifetime; but now, after his bodily death, perchance he would tell them, if he were prayed devoutly so to do”. Thenceforward, the devout friar began to pray God and Saint Francis that they would reveal those words. 

This friar continuing eight years in this prayer, until one day, after eating, thanks having been given in the church, he was in prayer in a certain part of the church, and was praying to God and Saint Francis touching this matter, more devoutly than he was wont, and with many tears; when he was called by another friar, who commanded him in the name of the Guardian to bear him company to the town for the good of the Place. 

Doubting not that obedience is more meritorious than prayer, as soon as he had heard the commandment of his superior, he left off praying and went with that friar that called him. And, as God willed it, he, by this act of ready obedience, merited that which he had not merited by his long praying. 

As soon as they had gone forth from the gate, they met two strange friars, who appeared to have come from a far country; and one of them seemed a young man and the other old and lean; and, by reason of the bad weather, they were all muddy and wet. Wherefore that obedient friar had great compassion for them, and said unto his companion: “O dearest brother mine, if the business whereon we are going may wait a little, inasmuch as these strange friars have great need to be charitably received, I beseech thee to permit me first to go and wash their feet, and especially those of this aged friar, who hath the greater need thereof; and you will be able to wash those of this younger one; and thereafter we will go about the business of the convent”. 

They went back and received those strange friars very charitably, and took them into the kitchen to the fire to warm and dry themselves; at the which fire eight other friars of the Place were warming themselves. 

To be continued.

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25 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, VIII.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2023

Photo: Mazur/cbcew.org.uk

As we join with other Christians around the world for the Week of Prayer we pray that our hearts will be open to see and hear the many ways in which racism continues to destroy lives, and to discern the steps we can take as individuals and communities to heal the hurts and build a better future for everyone.

Day 8 Restoring hope through the work of justice

Isaiah 40:1-11
Luke 1:46-55

Commentary

In facing up to the harm caused by racial injustice, we hold before us the promise of God’s love and the healing of relationships. The Prophet Isaiah speaks of God gathering and comforting all people who have been lost and have experienced suffering. In the Magnificat, Mary reminds us that God never abandons us and that God’s promise to us is fulfilled in justice.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Stephen was a young man growing up in south-east London with big dreams for his future. His life was tragically cut short when, on 22 April 1993, he was murdered in an unprovoked racist attack. The pain of his family and the wider community was compounded by serious failings in the investigation of this crime, which were later exposed in the Macpherson Report. In his memory a foundation has been established to support and inspire young people to have a bright future. Stephen’s mother, (Baroness) Doreen Lawrence, says of this work:

“Justice for Stephen is about all of us, every one of us, in society having justice. There are still too many young people who do not have a sense of hope, who just don’t get the chance to live their dreams. I want all our children and young people to feel inspired, be confident and have hope in their own future. We are building hope, but there is more to do.”

It is easy to feel hopeless as we are time and again reminded that we live in a fractured society that does not fully recognise, honour, and protect the human dignity and freedom of all human beings. An alignment of love of God, love of all our human family and love of justice are deeply needed for hope and healing. God calls us to continually live into hope, trusting that God will be with us in the midst of our individual and communal liminal space – on the threshold of what has been and what is, while yearning for what is yet to be.

Reflection

Fr Bryan Massingale, one of the world’s leading Catholic social ethicists and scholars in racial justice, reminds us of his hope and challenge:
“Social life is made by human beings.
The society we live in is the result of human choices and decisions.
This means that human beings can change things.
What humans break, divide and separate,
we can with God’s help,also heal, unite and restore.
What is now does not have to be.
Therein lies the hope and the challenge.”

Prayer

Creator God, please teach us to go inward 
to be grounded in your loving spirit
so we can go outward in wisdom and courage
to always choose the path of love and justice.

Questions

Many of the global protests that took place after George Floyd’s killing were led by young people, some of whom were connected to the Church. How can we use their ardour for racial justice to bring about change in the Church?

What substantive actions should have taken place after Stephen Lawrence’s killing? Why do you think they did not occur?

How did you respond to the killings of Stephen Lawrence and/or George Floyd? How have these tragedies encouraged you to take a greater interest in racial justice?

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21 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, IV.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2023

Photo: Mazur/cbcew.org.uk

As we join with other Christians around the world for the Week of Prayer we pray that our hearts will be open to see and hear the many ways in which racism continues to destroy lives, and to discern the steps we can take as individuals and communities to heal the hurts and build a better future for everyone.

Day 4 Lament

Psalm 22:1-5 
Matthew 27:45-50

Commentary

Lament requires us to really look and see. A young woman looked and saw the tears of the oppressed. The video she shot on her phone of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 was seen all around the world and unleashed a holy rage as people witnessed, and finally acknowledged, what African Americans have experienced for centuries: subjugation by oppressive systems in the midst of privileged blind bystanders.In the UK, black men between 18 and 25 years are five times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police and black women are four times more likely to die during childbirth. We have much to lament.

The two passages today speak of lament. Jesus, and David, the brutally honest psalmist, set this example for us of what to do when we’re in pain.

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” is a pain-filled cry at the very beginning of Psalm 22 that is mirrored by Jesus himself on the cross in Matthew 27.

The pain is not sanitised and polished for us. It is raw and honest.

Lament is a hard practice to embrace. Our society wants us to rush towards positivity and victory. What does it mean to truly lament? To sit with the pain. Lament demands that we open ourselves, it demands from all of us, that we no longer ignore the pain.

Reflection

“Lament is a protest so deep that it must become a prayer, for only God can provide needed hope that justice will prevail and that the future will be different.”

Rachel’s Cry: Prayer of Lament and Rebirth of Hope, Kathleen D Bilman and Daniel L Migliore, The Pilgrim Press 1999

Prayer

God of justice and of grace, 
remove the scales from my eyes 
so I can truly see the oppression around me, 
and give me courage not only to name it, but to fight it 
while providing authentic presence, witness, and compassion to the oppressed.

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20 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, III.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2023

Photo: Mazur/cbcew.org.uk

As we join with other Christians around the world for the Week of Prayer we pray that our hearts will be open to see and hear the many ways in which racism continues to destroy lives, and to discern the steps we can take as individuals and communities to heal the hurts and build a better future for everyone.

Day 3 Difference

Luke 5:27-29 
Amos 5

Commentary

The identity of the Minnesota Working Group is immersed in the rich and haunting harmonies that tell the history of many peoples. “Our bodies can be in tune with the ancestral, while acknowledging all of the pain, joy, brilliance, fatigue, connection and more wrapped up in one. We centre ourselves in the stories of the place we call home. We are men, women, mothers, fathers, storytellers and healers.”

We can recognise the diversity within our communities if we take time to look. Even within our gatherings there is a beautiful tapestry of worship experience and spiritual expression, woven together from the indigenous population, from those who have immigrated, or those who are displaced and who now call this place home.

We are blessed and we are to bless others. We are loved and we are to love others. We are to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God, together. We. Not Me. Our kinship and God’s teachings guide us into community together as we learn and act as We. Not Me. So our gatherings, prayers, hymns, art and culture should reflect this, and be infused with the beauty of difference, all the while reaching toward the unity of God’s divine justice.

A tapestry is a beautiful work of art, but if you look at the back, you see the messy edges, and frayed ends, the knots and snags – how do we celebrate the beauty of the tapestry while acknowledging the work that is necessary to maintain the beauty, not as a façade, but as a result of recognising and celebrating difference?

Reflection

What is this noise? 
These meaningless festivals of falsehood, 
litanies of lip service and diatribes of doxologies, 
that seek to drown out the reality of poisonous polity, 
that hope to mask the clanging cymbals of fear and frailty. 
We do not seem to understand that disharmony is our downfall.

But in the midst of our din, 
God calls forth from each corner of this earth, 
songs of justice that roll down like waters 
– interwoven melody and haunting harmony 
deep enough to hold our dissonance 
and the unresolved tension of our journeys to this place.

Prayer

Gracious and loving God, 
expand our vision that it may be wide enough to recognise the beautiful complexity
 of the tapestry you chose to weave with each and every one of us. 
Gather our frayed edges, our loose ends 
and bind us together for your glory.

Questions

How often do we think and act as ‘We. Not me’?

How much of the necessary work are we doing to make a beautiful tapestry in our communities?

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17 January: Introduction to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2023

Photo: Mazur/cbcew.org.uk

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is traditionally observed from the 18th to the 25th January – the octave of St. Peter and St. Paul. However, some areas observe it at Pentecost or some other time.

Introduction

For this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we are guided by the churches of Minneapolis as we seek to explore how the work of Christian unity can contribute to the promotion of racial justice across all levels of society. Through this resource, the CTBI* writers’ group has also focussed our attention on the 30th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, which we mark in 2023. The work of restoring hope through justice undertaken in Stephen’s memory continues to inspire and change lives for the better.

Welcome

The murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis in May 2020 was described as a watershed moment. There was a sense that the global wave of solidarity that brought people out onto the streets during a pandemic would make it impossible to ignore the deadly consequences of institutional racism and the power imbalances that deny human dignity.

Yet with each passing year we see continued evidence that, across the world, the powerful institutions of the state continue to treat people differently based on race, ethnicity and other facets of identity that are protected in legislation. Those who live in fear are still waiting for their watershed moment.

Despite the heightened awareness of the nature and consequences of racism in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement there is a persistent resistance to dialogue about issues of power and privilege, exclusion and alienation in society. Christians bring to this dialogue a vision of reconciliation grounded in mercy and faithfulness, justice and peace, from which we draw hope for the healing of relationships.

For this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity we are guided by the churches of Minneapolis as we seek to explore how the work of Christian unity can contribute to the promotion of racial justice across all levels of society. Through this resource, the CTBI writers’ group has also focussed our attention on the 30th anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, which we mark this year. The work of restoring hope through justice undertaken in Stephen’s memory continues to inspire and change lives for the better.

As we join with other Christians around the world for this year’s Week of Prayer we pray that our hearts will be open to see and hear the many ways in which racism continues to destroy lives, and to discern the steps we can take as individuals and communities to heal the hurts and build a better future for everyone.

Dr Nicola Brady, General Secretary, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland

We will be observing each day of the octave here at Agnellus Mirror.

_____________________________________________________________________________

* Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. We will be using resources provided by CTBI as will groups around the British Isles.

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14 January, Review: Felix the Railway Cat

9781405929783: Felix the Railway Cat

Felix the Railway Cat By Kate Moore, Penguin 2017

Why did I pick this book up? I think it may have been the Huddersfield connection; the story unfolds at Huddersfield Railway station in Yorkshire where I have awaited my connection more than once when visiting family, though I haven’t been introduced to Felix. The last time we were there the weather was telling us to seek shelter, not feline friends. No doubt Felix was warm and snug inside.

This book tells how Felix ‘became the heart of a community’ but the community was there from the start and was drawn closer together by having a station cat. A great deal of preparation and skullduggery went into acquiring a cat. The station manager did not approve but his boss gave the go-ahead when he was seconded elsewhere and he returned to find a fluffy black-and-white kitten in residence, named Felix by vote among the whole station team. We read of adventures and misadventures, of the vet’s discovery that Felix was not a tom cat, but nobody supported changing her name to Felicity. It’s a charming story, well told.

But this is not just about Felix, Rodent Control Officer, nor even the many other duties she undertook, such as reassuring stressed passengers. It is also about the community at the station, staffed 24 hours per day, sometimes working alone, sometimes coming together, but always a team, built up by senior staff looking out for each other and their subordinates, but most importantly, taking care of passengers.

Read this book and you will understand that these railway men and women are dedicated to their passengers and would not lightly be striking and putting services at risk. It is not they who are ‘holding the country to ransom’.

Felix shares her Facebook page with her junior deputy, Bolt. The two of them share further adventures in ‘Full Steam Ahead, Felix’ also by Kate Moore.

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13 January: now you see him.

Mrs Turnstone, whose birthday this is, loves the fact that on 13 January the sun is visible in Greenland for the first time since the winter’s darkness took over. Let’s pray that we might be ready to observe the light we are given and to rejoice this day and every day.

And Happy Birthday to Mrs Turnstone!

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12 January: Sitting by the fire.

In centrally heated, 21st Century England it’s easy to forget how comforting a fire can be. Not to mention how much work one can entail. This little 1880s house once had three hearths downstairs – one for the kitchen which was to heat the servant girl’s room above. The other two bedrooms each had a fireplace. Plenty of work hauling all that coal up and ashes down the stairs. No more of that, but we can relax around the woodburning stove, or once a year, by this thermally inefficient open fire.

In 1806 Mary Lamb was writing to her younger friend, Sarah Stoddard, who had a few major family and personal matters to sort out at some distance from London, before Rowland Hill’s Penny Post made letter writing cheap and reliable.


Do write soon: though I write all about myself, I am thinking all the while of you, and I am uneasy at the length of time it seems since I heard from you … and this second winter makes me think how cold, damp, and forlorn your solitary house will feel to you. I would your feet were perched up again on our fender.

The fender is a low barrier between the fireplace and the floor of the room, often at a good height for warming the toes.

This story made me wonder how often the one who came to bring fire to the earth sat around an open fire with his disciples, how much of his more intimate teaching was given that way. I shall have to re-imagine some of the Gospel passages next time they come up.

Mary Lamb to Sarah Stoddard, 14 March 1806, The Letters of Charles and Mary Lamb, 1796-1820, edited by E. V. Lucas.

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