A prayer from The Dean of Canterbury Cathedral, the Very Revd Dr Robert Willis As aspects of life return to normality, we pray especially for all who remain particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 and are anxious about the dangers of infection: O Lord, our refuge, our hope, and our peace, be with us as our protector and our salvation. Keep us all safe from danger, calm those who are anxious in spirit, and help our whole society to work together to continue to protect the most vulnerable, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. The Lord bless us and keep us, the Lord make his face to shine upon us and be gracious to us, the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon us and give us peace. Amen.
Sourced via L’Arche Kent.
Some local churches will open for worship this weekend.
Our Friend Christina has been reflecting on the virus more head on than we have, with some thoughts on death and Mary. I’ll let you Read her reflection here.
What I wanted to pick out of it was her opening: “Son, why have you done this to us?” Luke 2:48, which comes from the story of Jesus ‘lost and found’ in hs youth. Christina goes on:
[On Good Friday evening] Memories flooded over her of that evening (… was it only a couple of days or a couple of decades ago?…) when she walked through the caravan of pilgrims to gather her son to her for the night, and she could not find Him. He wasn’t there … and the words of the holy man Simeon had come back to her as she felt a sword of anxiety pierce her heart with love for her missing child.
But she did not stop him on his pilgrimage to Calvary. And on the third day, this time he came looking for her.
After three years, it pleased God to take away from Brother John that ray and fire of love divine, and reave him of all spiritual consolation. Whereby Brother John remained without the light and love of God, and altogether disconsolate and afflicted and distressed. For the which cause, being in such anguish, he went through the wood running hither and thither, calling with cries and tears and sighs on the beloved spouse of his soul, who had hidden himself and gone away from him, and without whose presence his soul could find no rest and no repose: but in no place and in no manner could he find his sweet Jesu again, nor taste again those sweet spiritual draughts of the loye of Jesu Christ, as he had been wont.
This tribulation endured for many days, in which he abode continually weeping and sighing, and praying God that of His pity He would give back to him the beloved spouse of his soul. At the last, when it pleased God to have made trial enough of his patience and to have kindled his desire, on a day when Brother John was going through the wood in such affliction and distress, he sat him down for very weariness, leaning against a beech tree, and remained with his face all bathed in tears looking up to heaven, — behold! suddenly Jesu Christ appeared hard by him in the path, whereby Brother John had come, but spake naught. Brother John seeing Him and knowing full well that it was Christ, straightway threw himself at His feet, and with sore weeping besought Him very humbly, saying:
“Help me, O Lord, for without Thee, my most sweet Saviour, I am full of darkness and weeping, without Thee, most gentle lamb, I am full of anguish and pain and fear; without Thee, Son of God most high, I am full of confusion and shame, without Thee, I am bereft of all good and am blind, since Thou art Jesu Christ, the true light of souls; without Thee, I am lost and damned, for Thou art the life of souls, and the life of lives; without Thee, I am barren and dry, for Thou art the fountain of every gift and grace; without Thee, I am altogether disconsolate, for Thou art Jesu our redemption, our love, and our desire, the bread of comfort, and the wine that maketh glad the hearts of the Angels, and the hearts of all the Saints; enlighten me, most gracious Master, and most tender Shepherd, for I am Thy little sheep, unworthy though I be.”
The prayer that finishes this post was not composed by one who was mentally ill. But he was altogether disconsolate, and told Jesus so.
I had forgotten this war poem by Mary Webb. ‘So young he is, so dear to me’: this was not just written in sympathy for others, but from her own heart. Her three brothers enlisted, and one was gravely injured. Even so, if we cannot feel with those left behind, there is something wrong with us. Pray for all mothers, wives and families and friends worrying, worrying, at home, as well as the men and women on service.
Oh, Powers of Love, if still you lean
Above a world so black with hate,
Where yet–as it has ever been–
The loving heart is desolate,
Look down upon the lad I love,
(My brave lad, tramping through the mire)–
I cannot light his welcoming fire,
Light Thou the stars for him above!
Now nights are dark and mornings dim,
Let him in his long watching know
That I too count the minutes slow
And light the lamp of love for him.
The sight of death, the sleep forlorn,
The old homesickness vast and dumb–
Amid these things, so bravely borne,
Let my long thoughts about him come.
I see him in the weary file;
So young he is, so dear to me,
With ever-ready sympathy
And wistful eyes and cheerful smile.
However far he travels on,
Thought follows, like the willow-wren
That flies the stormy seas again
To lands where her delight is gone.
Whatever he may be or do
While absent far beyond my call,
Bring him, the long day’s march being through,
Safe home to me some evenfall!
Postcards sent from the front by a lad who died out there.
In my reading about Archbishop Arthur Hughes there was a story from 1938 about his boss worrying. This priest was a great worrier, as it happened, but he was regional superior for Uganda, and the Superior General insisted he stay in the job.
On this occasion, Arthur Hughes was at the annual scout camp as an assistant county commissioner, not as chaplain, although there was daily Mass.
Father Superior had expected to see a separate Catholic Scout Movement such as still exist in France. It was not like that in Uganda.
Arthur Hughes and other fathers were dining with the leaders, and Father Hughes was wearing not his habit but full scout uniform including his shorts, or ‘petite culotte bombo’, apparently with the local Bishop’s approval. Hughes was ‘Mess President, General Secretary, Man of all work, and chief raconteur’, according to an unidentified newspaper report. No doubt he was enjoying himself, but why were the fathers taking orders from Protestant laymen?
Well, we might ask, why not?
Mr Lameka Sekaboga was appointed Assistant County Commissioner during the camp; even as Father Superior fretted, the organisation was being put into competent lay, Ugandan hands. It was surely better for Catholics to work with others to make this happen, Arthur Hughes could see that, his Superior could not, but concentrated on the differences that appeared to define Catholics, and within the church, to define clergy against lay people.
We now see many ministries working ecumenically: Street Pastors, food banks, refugee care, the list is long. What we can share, we should share. And salute those who made the first steps towards Churches working together.
Arthur Hughes (front, centre) and confreres about to leave for Africa.
Your letters delight me, they are altogether after my own heart, that heart that so loves its dear Péronne. It is true, my child, that in this life we must always be beginning anew, but if it were not so where should we be? For this is essential to our humility and to confidence, the two virtues our good God asks of us. Be brave, train yourself to courage and to exactitude in the observance. Keep a light heart, and above all things put sadness far from you. God is wholly ours, and we, my daughter, have no other wish than to be wholly His. How then can we be solicitous about anything whatsoever? When you have time give me news of that heart that is so dear to me and that I know so well, I say, so well, thanks be to God.
I beseech you, my love, be a good example to others, avoid all useless conversation, never absent yourself from the community assemblies without real necessity. Give challenges to spur each other on to virtue. Let your chief care be to inculcate recollection, practise it yourself in good earnest, it ought to be pre-eminently our practice. Incite one another to it, and to seek Our Lord, and our own perfection in singleness of heart.
I have received all your letters and the other things you sent by Chambéry, but they came very late. Another time, my dearest daughter, to give you comfort we’ll talk as you desire, heart to heart, but I am feeling the cold today, and am pressed for time. In a word, humility, exact observance, holy confidence and joy in God.
Our very dear Father1 is, he says, entirely yours. All our Sisters salute you. To conclude, you are, as I told you the other day, my own dear Péronne, whom I love with all my heart.
1Saint Francis de Sales, her co-founder of the Sisters of the Visitation.
There have been times of great perplexity, when I could have done with the following prayer from Cardinal Newman. Something of an antidote to ambition! Retirement is as much a time of discernment as when leaving school or college, and it may well be that Newman’s Kindly Light will lead into unexpected corners!
God created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me, which He has not committed to another. I have a mission. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.
Therefore I will trust Him. Whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; if I am perplexed, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in joy, my joy may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. Amen.
NAIB and I were awaiting the rest of our party in the hotel lobby. I pulled out the leaflet about Beeston Castle, which we had visited half a lifetime ago.
370 years ago it was the scene of a siege during the last civil war in England, after which it was demolished by the parliamentary forces removing a threat to nearby Chester.
Naturally we were more concerned to recall our visit than the long siege of 1644-45. It was February when we were there and the nettles were no more than brittle grey stalks, the ground beneath them bare.
Here and there were stones and the odd shard of pottery. NAIB and I both found scraps that looked like the reconstructed 17th Century wine flasks in the museum. George, her younger brother, was becoming frustrated that he had found none, and his mother was getting anxious to return to base before dark.
His sister offered him one of her pieces; no, that was not finding it for himself.
‘Here’s one’, said his mother, but that was not finding it for himself.
What worked was for one of us to spot a shard on the surface, but not to touch it, nor to point at it, but just to wave a hand over it and say, ‘This looks like a good place for pottery.’
George went on his way rejoicing with his own piece of pottery, after finding it for himself.
It seems to me that each of us has a ‘treasure hidden in a field’ that the Good Lord allows us to find for ourselves, even providing endless clues to guide us. Let’s be open to that guidance, not consumed by frustration, fear or anger.
Did it dance, throwing its flames across the void?
Did it rain?
Surely it rained?
A penetrating April deluge,
Short, sweet, cleansing.
Penetrating like grief,
Did the wind blow?
With no-one to feel it lift the dirt, the dust,
Prepare the way.
The sun at darkness’ end.
The lightning, thunder.
Fit entrance to a forgiven world.
Fit entrance for a Prince, a Lord.
Did the birds and the creatures rejoice together?
The flowers tremble,
Their perfume astonish?
Till all ablaze,
You stepped forth
Accompanied by Angels,
And went your way, about your world.
Until the women came,
All was calm again by then,
Except that you had gone to Galilee
And left a message with an Angel.
Sister Johanna insisted, underlined and insisted, that we should publish this today. Of course she was right. Thanks, Mum! Maurice. (And it was raining on Wednesday in Holy Week at Canterbury Cathedral.)
So, fortitude is about things, people, circumstances that threaten us. We speak easily nowadays about finding something “threatening.” We might use the word to describe our feeling about someone’s personality, and confide to a friend, “I don’t know why, but Sam threatens me.” Or, it might be that some actions are scary for us. We might admit to someone we trust, “The very idea of getting up in front of an audience and giving a speech is much too threatening. I couldn’t possibly do it.” We all know what it’s like to feel threatened, and it is very uncomfortable. No one likes it. That churning feeling in the stomach. That inability to behave naturally, to find the right words to converse normally. The trembling hands, the racing pulse. Something elicits these symptoms of anxiety because it is perceived as dangerous. Fortitude is what governs our fear of danger. This fear needs to be kept under control, because if it is allowed to get the upper hand, we will simply run away.
Now, there are times when running away is the wisest thing to do. No one contests that. But what if the person who “threatens” us happens to be our employer in a job we know we can do? If we run away every time we feel threatened by someone, we will not be able to negotiate the pressures of the professional world. It is fortitude that counsels us to stick it out, explore our insecurity, try to determine why these feelings are surfacing and then take steps to overcome them. We do this because earning a living requires it. Financial independence is one of the requirements of adulthood, ordinarily. We need fortitude not only for things that are obviously big and difficult – like perhaps running into a burning building to rescue someone. Even in order to realise the goals entailed in living as an adult we need the strength that fortitude develops within us.
Père Jacque Hamel’s last earthly audience included his murderers.
Or, take our other example, that of feeling threatened by having to speak before an audience. This is not something that is required of everyone, but, once again, what if your job requires you to lead a seminar from time to time? Your future in the company might depend on it. It is fortitude that counsels us to learn how to address an audience by perhaps taking advice from someone who is accustomed to public speaking, by planning your talk well in advance, by noting that smiling and making eye-contact with the audience is important, and so on. Fortitude is what comes into action when we might prefer to run away, wiggle out of something, or back out of situations that are of importance to our personal, professional or religious lives.
For further study:
The Catechism of the Catholic Church ,Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1994
The Four Cardinal Virtues, Joseph Pieper, University of Notre Dame Press