Tag Archives: Apostles

17 November: The King, 1.

 

At the end of the Church’s year we celebrate Christ’s Kingship, and the Gospel reading is either of the last Judgement or the Passion: Luke’s account of the crucifixion or John’s report of the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, which Sister Johanna will be talking about this week. A challenging reading, as she states from the start.

Introduction

Toward the end of the Gospel of John, Jesus undergoes a question and answer session with Pontius Pilate that ends with Pilate sentencing Jesus to death (see John 18:1 – 19:30). I must confess that I tend to read this dialogue too quickly because it is always painful. But, I recently read John’s account of the Pilate-Jesus dialogue again, this time more slowly and more prayerfully. I found that the text opened up and some new realisations occurred to me.

I would like to share my findings with you in this week’s posts.

  1. Power

In the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate in John’s gospel, an impasse is quickly reached around the central theme of power. Problems around the theme of power were nothing new to Jesus; they had been rumbling along beside nearly every experience of Jesus’ life and they were addressed in many of his teachings. Yet few – if any – of Jesus’ followers were able to grasp Jesus’ teaching on power and powerlessness. Perhaps we cannot blame them; Jesus asks us to absorb a profound paradox here. He would have us lose our life to find it, be great by being truly small, be powerful by being the most powerless servant of all. This seems to go against our instincts, which lead us to seek self-preservation through control and dominance, even if over only a few people. The apostles themselves were forever getting this wrong, arguing often about who was the greatest. To detail the way the theme of power is present in Jesus’ whole life and in his teachings goes far beyond the scope of these posts, but in looking closely at how the two personalities of Jesus and Pontius Pilate are revealed in their dialogue in John’s gospel, I found that one thread in this complex weave-structure can be examined. As we approach the Solemnity of Christ the King next Sunday, I hope these reflections will shed light on the true power of Jesus, our King.

Pontius Pilate is a well-known name to readers of the New Testament, but as a historical figure little is known about him. What is known is very telling, however. He was the Roman Procurator in Judea from about the year 26 to 36. The Procurator’s job combined several offices: governor, judge, tax collector, and commander of a band of soldiers that functioned a bit like a police force. A lot of power was concentrated in the Procurator. Yet, for this reason, the job was an awkward one.

The Procurator was caught in the middle. He needed to garner support from the Jews in order to please his own authorities in the Roman government. At the same time, he needed to be seen to stand for the official line in order to further his own career – a factor that made it more difficult to please the Jewish community in the area he governed. There is historical evidence that he clashed with both sides and pleased no one. Finally, around the year 36, he was deposed as Procurator of Judea and recalled to Rome.

It is tempting to feel a bit sorry for Pilate in the situation that developed with Jesus and the Jews, and to see him as the harassed middle-man caught in a strange and violent drama that he neither caused nor fully understood. There is certainly an element of that in the story. And perhaps Jesus, too, gave him the benefit of that doubt. But we are looking at something much more profound here. We will begin our exploration tomorrow.

SJC.

Not the sort of King that Pilate expected: Shrine of St Thomas, Canterbury.

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August 8: Another man with dirty hands and clean heart.

handwash

I’ve just been scrubbing my hands after a spot of bicycle maintenance; that and the story of the classic car enthusiast removing every speck of grime from his hands to attend an ordination reminded me of another tale that I heard on the radio a few years ago, before the days of ubiquitous thin rubber gloves.

An Anglican priest, non-stipendiary, meaning he earned his living at another job, as Saint Paul did, was the speaker. I don’t know what his other job was, but it involved getting his hands dirty, the sort of dirt that lodges in the fingerprint whorls and cracks and resists the scrubbing brush. Printer’s ink maybe?

Every Saturday evening this good man would hold his hands in a strong solution of bleach until the residual grime disappeared, ready for Sunday Eucharist. However the result was not good news for his skin.

As I recall the story, his wife intervened, concerned for his health. His hands, she told him, were clean enough to eat with, despite the last ingrained stains, and he was preparing to celebrate the Lord’s Last Supper, a meal with God’s people in his parish; people who knew about his work. They would not be put off by unwashoffable dirt, nor would they expect their priest to contract dermatitis in order to lead them in worship.

He stopped using the bleach. The congregation did not stop coming to Sunday Eucharist. Surely Jesus chose fishermen and a tentmaker as his ministers, but he also chose a man with very dirty hands, the extortionate tax-collector, the future Saint Matthew.

 

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27 July. Little Flowers of Saint Francis LV: Saint Anthony preaches in tongues

anthony and Francis.png

Of the marvellous sermon that the Brother Minor Saint Antony of Padua preached in the consistory (the consistory is an official meeting of the pope with his cardinals.)

That marvellous vessel of the Holy Spirit, Saint Antony of Padua, one of the chosen disciples and the companion of Saint Francis, whom Saint Francis called his vicar, preached on a time in the consistory before the pope and the cardinals, in the which consistory were men of diverse nations, to wit, Greeks, Latins, French, Germans and Slavs, and English, and of other diverse languages of the world; and being kindled by the Holy Spirit, he set forth to them the word of God so forcibly, so devoutly, so subtly, so sweetly, so clearly, and so learnedly, that all they that were in the consistory, albeit they were of diverse languages, full clearly understood his every word, as distinctly as if he had spoken in the language of each one of them.

They were all amazed, and it seemed as though that ancient miracle of the Apostles at the time of Pentecost had been renewed, the which through the virtue of the Holy Spirit spake in every tongue; and they spake together one with the other marvelling; “Is he not of Spain, this preacher? and how then do we all hear in his speech the language of our countries?” The pope in like manner pondering and marvelling at the deep meaning of his words, said: “Of a truth, this man is the ark of the Testament and the armoury of Holy Writ.”

St Anthony of Padua and St Francis of Assisi by Friedrich Pacher

 

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25 April: Sing Alleluia!

 

dec 23 pic birds in flightAs she was going out to choir practice one evening in February, Mrs T said, ‘While I’m out you can play any music you like.’ Temptation: I can’t usually get away with Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, for example. Mrs T says that’s fine for the Cathedral, but not for the kitchen or living room. But I was baking and did not want to be changing discs with floury hands, so opted for Through the Night on BBC Sounds.

Brahms was giving me music while I worked when I stopped and listened and paused the music. ‘Our’ blackbird – the one we had last year, with the white chevron on his head – was singing in a neighbour’s fir tree. I left the door open and enjoyed his repertoire until another blackbird’s alarm call silenced him.

I was reminded of my distracted thought at Mass. The image of starlings murmurating, flying in ever changing formation, merged into ‘O filii et filiae’ of Eastertime.  Here are the words. As for musical fireworks, I found the recordings below  – no need to choose between the blackbird and the choir, enjoy them both! And Happy Easter: Christ is risen, Alleluia!

1. O filii et filiae,
Rex caelestis, Rex gloriae,                     morte surrexit hodie, alleluia.

2. Et mane prima sabbati,
ad ostium monumenti
accesserunt discipuli, alleluia.

3. Et Maria Magdalene,
et Jacobi, et Salome,
venerunt corpus ungere, alleluia.

4. In albis sedens Angelus,
praedixit mulieribus:
in Galilaea est Dominus, alleluia.

5. Et Joannes Apostolus
cucurrit Petro citius,
monumento venit prius, alleluia.

6. Discipu lis adstantibus,
in medio stetit Christus,
dicens: Pax vobis omnibus, alleluia.

7. Ut intellexit Didymus,
quia surrexerat Jesus,
remansit fere dubius, alleluia.

8. Vide, Thoma, vide latus,
vide pedes, vide manus,
noli esse incredulus, alleluia.

9. Quando Thomas Christi latus,
pedes vidit atque manus,
Dixit: Tu es Deus meus, alleluia.

10. Beati qui non viderunt,
Et firmiter crediderunt,
vitam aeternam habebunt, alleluia.

11. In hoc festo sanctissimo
sit laus et jubilatio,
benedicamus Domino, alleluia.

12. De quibus nos humillimas
devotas atque debitas

1. O sons and daughters of the King, Whom heavenly hosts in glory sing,  Today the grave has lost its sting! Alleluia!

2. That Easter morn, at break of day,
The faithful women went their way
To seek the tomb where Jesus lay. Alleluia!

3. And Mary Magdalene,
And James, and Salome,
Came to anoint the body, Alleluia!

4. An angel clad in white they see,
Who sits and speaks unto the three,
“Your Lord will go to Galilee.” Alleluia!

5. And the Apostle John
Quickly outran Peter,
And arrived first at the tomb, alleluia.

6. That night the apostles met in fear;
Among them came their master dear
And said, “My peace be with you here.” Alleluia!

7. When Thomas first the tidings heard
That they had seen the risen Lord,
He doubted the disciples’ word. Alleluia!

8. “My pierced side, O Thomas, see,
And look upon my hands, my feet;
Not faithless but believing be.” Alleluia!

9. No longer Thomas then denied;
He saw the feet, the hands, the side;
“You are my Lord and God!” he cried. Alleluia!

10. How blest are they who have not seen
And yet whose faith has constant been,
For they eternal life shall win. Alleluia!

11. On this most holy day of days
Be laud and jubilee and praise:
To God your hearts and voice raise. Alleluia!

12. For which we humbly
dedicated and duly
Give thanks, Alleluia.
Tr. Edward Caswall, apart from vv. 5 & 12.

RSPB recording of   blackbird’s song

Choir of Notre Dame de Paris O filii et filiae

 

Picture from SJC

 

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17 April: Stations for Peter XI: Jesus speaks to his Mother.

beholdthymother.small,rye

Jesus spoke to his mother, but Peter was not beside him and Mary. Jesus asked John to care for his mother.

Scripture references: Peter a long way off: Luke 22:54-55; 23:49; Mary and John at the Cross: John 19: 25-27; Peter’s mother-in-law: Matthew 3:14-15.

I was not there, not really there. Back in the crowd I was.

I don’t think he could even see me, and no way could I hear his gasping words, but young John was there, John was listening closely.

Jesus knew John was there, and his mother, Mary. He told John to care for her.

I would have done it.

Didn’t he care for my mother-in-law?

I let him down again.

Let us pray for everyone caring for other people’s parents, and their own; for adoptive and foster children and parents, and for all who work with children.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom!

Window, St Mary, Rye, Sussex, MMB.

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9 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus III: Personal History

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We all have a history, including Zacchaeus. We do not know what his history was, but it is probable that this friendless man had an unhappy one. Why choose a profession that guarantees the hatred of one’s fellow-man otherwise? Perhaps he was tossed out of the home at a young age by an abusive parent, or perhaps he ran away from a situation of poverty and violence, had to fend for himself, become street-wise, learn to manipulate situations to his advantage. Whatever happened, he became, for reasons we will never know, a rich man, but also a dishonest man in a despised profession. No doubt he was intelligent and competent – too competent, maybe, at getting money – but wealth and the power to ruin people does not attract friends. Sycophants, maybe, but not friends. And not even these were with him that day. He was alone, unsupported. No wife, no servant. No colleague. No one.

Let’s fill in some other details about this man. Working backwards from what the text tells us, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine Zacchaeus as a wiry little boy, able to run fast and scale obstacles easily as he escaped from the angry adults who wanted to thrash him for some misdemeanour – or none. I think he knew what hunger meant as a child, and although he survived by his wits, perhaps his nutrition was dubious, and bodily growth was affected. Now he is a well-to-do adult, but Zacchaeus is a small man. He is abundantly energetic, though, and is both crafty and agile enough to solve his current difficulty without reference to anyone else (it is the story of his life): he cannot see Jesus because he is too short and the crowd is too big and unyielding. Fine. He dashes ahead and swings easily into a sycamore tree, as the text tells us – a tree well furnished with thick branches radiating from a central crown. Here is a resourceful person with few inhibitions. Here is someone determined never to allow his desires to be thwarted. Here is a man who has never cared what people thought of him as he ruthlessly made his fortune – why start now? He climbs higher on the sturdy branches. Yes, excellent view, he thinks smugly. He can see Jesus perfectly now.

And what is happening with Jesus? What is Zacchaeus apt to be seeing? St Luke tells us in the immediately preceding passage that Jesus, on entering Jericho, had healed a blind man, and that ‘all who saw it gave praise to God.’ The formerly blind man then followed Jesus, we are told. He was probably now part of Jesus’ joyful entourage walking down the main road of Jericho. I expect this group might have included many of the people who had known the blind man all his life and had now witnessed his healing. They would have joined Jesus’ group, already consisting of the Twelve, without whom he rarely went anywhere. The gospels also report that there were women among Jesus’ constant supporters and followers, and I image that some of them would have been there now, too. Chances are, the collection of people coming down the road with Jesus was a large one.

As we have seen in our gospel passage, Jesus already seems to know Zacchaeus’ name when he starts the conversation with him. No one introduces them. We do not need to assume that this is a demonstration of Jesus’ divine omniscience. Zacchaeus was infamous. The apostle Matthew, reformed tax collector himself, probably knew him, even if Jesus didn’t. He would probably have warned Jesus about Zacchaeus as he approached the town: “Rich man, but the very devil for getting tax money from people – and then some. Ruthless,” Jesus might have been told. He was probably also told that Zacchaeus lived a big house. I can see Jesus listening quietly to such information, and forming his own plans. Jesus had nothing to fear from notorious individuals.

SJC

Favella image from CD.

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15 October: Women as Apostles, by Saint John XXIII

john xxiii

John XXIII’s opening paragraph really applies to any baptised Christian, and so does much of this extract. John concludes by reminding us that women were there from the beginning of the Church, and perhaps he challenges us all to act as one in what he calls a fusion of souls.

No soul consecrated to the Lord is dispensed from the sublime duty of continuing the saving mission of the Divine Redeemer.

The Church expects much from those who live in the silence of the cloister, and especially from there. They, like Moses, have their arms raised in prayer, conscious that in this prayerful attitude one obtains victory.

ther3So important is the contribution of women religious of the contemplative life to the apostolate that Pius XI wished to have as co-patron of the missions—and a rival therefore of St. Francis Xavier—not a Sister of the active life, but a Carmelite, St. Theresa of the Child Jesus.

May the Church militant feel that you are present wherever your spiritual contribution is needed for the good of souls, as well as for real human progress and human peace.

May those who are dedicated to the active life … strive in obedience to study and obtain the degrees which will allow you to surmount every difficulty. Thus, in addition to your merited and proven capability, you may be better appreciated also for your spirit of dedication, patience and sacrifice.

There is, moreover, the presage of further demands in the new countries which have entered the community of free nations. Without lessening one’s love for his own country, the world has become more than ever before a common fatherland. Many Sisters have already felt this call. The field is immense.

Not even the Sisters dedicated to contemplation are exempt from this duty. The people in certain regions of Africa and the Far East feel a greater attraction to contemplative life, which is more congenial to the development of their civilization.

The consecrated souls in the new secular institutes should know also that their work is appreciated and that they are encouraged to contribute toward making the Gospel penetrate every facet of the modern world.

 May the spirit of Pentecost prevail over your chosen families and may it unite them in that fusion of souls which was seen in the cenacle where, together with the Mother of God and the Apostles, several pious women were to be found (Acts 1:14).

We thank God for the families we have been given, but also for our friends who are sisters, especially the Littlehampton Sisters, the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Saint Joseph and the  Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood, who were all part of the community at the Franciscan International Study Centre.

 

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29 August: Saint Sabina

barts.rich.cast.sabina

I doubt I’ll find out how an icon of a second century Roman martyr saint came to be displayed in a redundant church in Shropshire, but that’s where we found this image of Saint Sabina. Who was she?

A wealthy woman by all accounts, who was converted by her Syrian slave girl, Serapia. That alone makes me wonder what sort of relationships existed between Roman citizens and their slaves. But it was not a Roman, but a Victorian woman, Mrs Alexander, who wrote All things bright and beautiful, including the lines, ‘The rich man in his castle,/ The poor man at his gate,/ God made them high and lowly / And ordered their estate. 

But that’s not today’s reflection!

Sabina held Serapia dear enough to have her body rescued after she was martyred, and buried in the family tomb. Sabina herself was denounced and executed soon afterwards.

The ancient Basilica of Saint Sabina in Rome is built where her house had stood.

Serapia shows us how anyone can be a herald of the Gospel; Sabina invites us to humbly pay attention to everyone around us, to respect those who serve us. A bus driver, postman or woman, a supermarket worker or nurse; none of these is our slave but our sister or brother in Christ rendering us service. That much Sabina saw; an early step on the road to abolition. The two ideas of equality and slavery are irreconcilable, unless everyone is equally precious and everyone is also a willing slave towards their neighbours.

For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.

Philippians 2:5-8

 

Photo from St Batholomew, Richard’s Castle.

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10 August, What is Theology Saying? XXI: Who is Jesus Christ?

Croix Rousse large

Our reflections on Eucharist raise a couple of questions about Jesus. What is the importance we attach to his death and the meaning of the Resurrection? And then, Jesus is shown as figuring things out about the meaning of his life, like the rest of us. He did not give us a theology of himself. He is simply there giving people his total presence, his friendship, his example and his teaching about the will of the Father and the Kingdom. We don’t have a chronology of his life, nor do we have a literal record of his words. The Gospels were written simply as proclamations of the good news of salvation, which the early Christians found through the experience of the resurrection and which they wanted to share. There was no intention to give us a biography of Jesus, which explains why so many things seem to be missing, and why the four accounts do not always agree – they are shared memories.

The basic message that the apostles preached was that they had experiences of Jesus as alive and present after his death; experiences which changed everything for them. At last, everything made sense. Jesus who had been crucified had been raised up by God, so that in him all could be raised to eternal life. Because of what they experienced they looked back to the Hebrew Scriptures in which they had grown up, and saw how everything was centring on Jesus, who somehow fulfilled the promises of all that went before.

They proclaimed that he was the Christ, the anointed and chosen one, who brought the promised kingdom in which hopes will be fulfilled. They also preached that he would come again, because they knew the messianic times had not yet been fully realised, and that they, the Church, had to strive to bring about these promises of peace, love and universal fraternity. They proclaimed Jesus as Lord, in a context in which it was always clear they were not identifying Jesus with God the Father, but relating to the Father in a uniquely special way.

AMcC

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6 August: The Transfiguration of Our Lord.

path.charlottenberg.mausoleum

Transfiguration

Rabbis
Mullahs
Priests and Popes
All have their vesture
Set apart.

Your garment was seamless.

A gift?
Did your mother have it woven for you?
To become a lottery prize.
Where did it go
That day?

You had been dressed in purple,
Regally mocked,
Criminally whipped.

Replaced,
Your garment stained
Chafed the torn flesh.

Was it only yesterday …..
Last week?
More radiant than light
Its whiteness dazzled
Your beloved friends,
Foreseeing the blood as yet to flow,
The lottery drawn.

Would they remember
That time,
That day …… ?

Consecrated
To you
To your father
By your Spirit.

They left you
The glory of that moment fading
Overcome by the shame.
Rabbis,
Mullahs,
Popes and Priests,
Religious of all faiths
Bear your garments,
And I too,
… how can I write this? …
was given a garment,
Rough, coarse, not white.

Grey.

For my company with you,
… how can I write this? …

‘Keep it,’ you said,
For when you come.
Clean,
Fresh.
Grey against your radiance.
Surely it must be white by now …. ?
But grey, bland, indifferent grey
And greyer yet.

How can I come? So.

‘Listen to him’,
Your Son ….. Beloved.

SPB

Today is the feast of the Transfiguration. here is another of Sheila’s meditations. Speak it aloud and listen.

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