At the annual gathering of the priests of the Diocese in October 2018 the speaker was Tom O’Loughlin, Professor of Historical Theology at Nottingham University. Tom gave the priests of the Diocese Six Simple Steps which could go some way to achieving Vatican II’s vision in our celebration of the Eucharist. Today we take a look at steps 5 and 6.
Step 5: Stand at the Table
“One of the obvious changes in the reformed liturgy was that ‘the priest no longer had his back to the people.’ Altars were ‘pulled out’ or a new one built behind which the president stood – and the change was understood in terms of visibility. But the change was really to draw out that the Eucharist takes place at a table, which can be interpreted as our altar. This is the Lord’s table around which we are bidden by the Lord and which anticipates the heavenly table.
Step 6: The Prayer of the Faithful
“The oldest debate in Christian liturgy relates to the tension between fixed formulae and spontaneous prayer. …” By the time of Vatican II (1962-65) many “had recognised the need for both familiar forms and for spontaneous expression, and so there is a place for this in the reformed rite: the Prayer [note the singular] of the Faithful. However, often in practice it has become a scripted set of intentions. … The Prayer of the Faithful is an expression of the priesthood of the baptised and their ability, in Christ, to stand in the presence of the Father and ask for their own needs and those of all the communities to which they belong.
I would not have expected to be quoting Dr Johnson on Education Sunday, but he gives us something to think about, especially his final sentence.
‘Sir, the life of a parson, of a conscientious clergyman, is not easy. I have always considered a clergyman as the father of a larger family than he is able to maintain. I would rather have Chancery suits* upon my hands than the cure of souls. No, Sir, I do not envy a clergyman’s life as an easy life, nor do I envy the clergyman who makes it an easy life.’
Boswell’s Life of Johnson, Vol 3.
Pope Francis sees religious vocations as part of the ‘ordinary pastoral life’ of the Church, and his prayer for today asks for each one of us the gifts of boundless compassion, abundant generosity, and radical availability.
Dear friends, on this day in particular, but also in the ordinary pastoral life of our communities, I ask the Church to continue to promote vocations. May she touch the hearts of the faithful and enable each of them to discover with gratitude God’s call in their lives, to find courage to say “yes” to God, to overcome all weariness through faith in Christ, and to make of their lives a song of praise for God, for their brothers and sisters, and for the whole world. May the Virgin Mary accompany us and intercede for us.
Pope Francis, World Day of Prayer for Vocations, 2020.
Prayer for World Day of Prayer for Vocations
Holy Spirit, stir within us the passion to promote vocations to the consecrated life, societies of apostolic life, diocesan priesthood, and permanent diaconate.
Inspire us daily to respond to Your call with boundless compassion, abundant generosity, and radical availability.
Help us to remember our own baptismal call to rouse us to invite the next generation to hear and respond to Your call.
Inspire parents, families, and lay ecclesial ministers to begin a conversation with young Catholics to consider how they will live lives of holiness and sacred service.
Nudge inquirers and motivate discerners to learn more about monastic life, apostolic life, missionaries, cloistered contemplative life, and evangelical Franciscan life.
Ignite our Church with the confident humility that there is an urgent need for religious sisters, brothers, deacons, and priests to live in solidarity with those who are poor, neglected, and marginalised.
Disrupt our comfortable lives and complacent attitudes with new ideas to respond courageously and creatively with a daily ‘YES!’ Amen.
* Chancery Courts were concerned with domestic matters including adoptions, custody disputes and divorces; guardianships; sanity hearings; wills; and challenges to constitutionality of state laws.
Sister Johanna was not thinking solely of the Annunciation when she composed this reflection, but the whole relationship between Jesus and Mary is there, as a newly germinated seed.
The woman who engages Jesus in this story receives his attention, respect, and a challenge. Our picture from the Baptistry of the Abbey of St Maurice, Switzerland, shows another encounter between Jesus and a woman – the Samaritan at the Well. Jesus is shown as the Word, his book showing Alpha and Omega, symbols to be engraved upon the Paschal Candle in ten days from now.
As Jesus was Speaking (Luke 11:27-28)
It happened that as Jesus was speaking, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said, ‘Blessed the womb that bore you and the breasts that fed you!’ But he replied, ‘More blessed still are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’ (see Luke 11:27-28).
Jesus’ behaviour to women is a study that goes far beyond what I can do in a short reflection. But I think it might be safe to say that in his conduct toward women Jesus is both straightforward and courteous. At times he is more the first than the second, and becomes surprisingly frank – but only with those women who reveal in the course of the conversation that they are capable of dealing with his frankness – and he seems to be unerring in knowing who they are ahead of time. Something in their glance, maybe? Or the way they stand? I don’t know. But in this instance, recorded by St Luke (11:27-28), Jesus takes the other approach. He is very gentle here in the way he corrects this woman’s words.
She is clearly a well-meaning person, but nonetheless, she only gets it partially right and Jesus is not really happy with what she says. This passage has often puzzled me; at first glance, I couldn’t find anything really wrong with her words. I wondered why Jesus found it necessary to add his bit. Why couldn’t he just let it go? After all, his mother was blessed. As I was pondering this seemingly small exchange and asking the Lord to enlighten me about it, it occurred to me for the first time that the words the woman uses in praise of Jesus’ mother may very well have been an expression that was common among pious Jewish women at that time – almost formulaic. A bit of research revealed that my hunch was correct.* It’s likely that these words were a saying used when it was clear that some woman’s grown son had turned out well. Even so, what is wrong with it?
As I pondered, the matter began to clarify. First I realised that, yes, Jesus’ mother deserves praise, always and everywhere, but Jesus was not content to let his mother be praised in words that failed to take in the full scope of her blessedness. She was not blessed merely because she bore Jesus and fed him. Such a blessing could apply to every mother who succeeds in bearing and feeding her child. But Jesus knew well and truly that no one had ever been or would ever be like his mother. Such faith as hers was unprecedented in religious history. The archangel Gabriel visited her, proclaimed her ‘full of grace,’ and gave her God’s message. She, in turn, gave her entire being, body and soul, to God in her response to the angel’s words, and she conceived Jesus miraculously, not by sexual intercourse, but by the power of the Holy Spirit. In every sense, and throughout her entire life, Jesus’ mother lived her faith in a way that was beyond the power of ordinary words to praise. And yet, here she was, being praised in a mere commonplace. Jesus knew he needed somehow to adjust the inadequate words that were cried out by this well-meaning woman – and without hurting her.
But even more needed to be said. (I wonder if Jesus groaned a bit inwardly on first hearing the woman’s words.) Although the words were mainly about Jesus’ mother, Jesus himself was misrepresented by them. He – unlike us in our wandering life-journey – never lost sight of his identity as Son, and of his mission to the world. Therefore, anything implying that he could be properly understood as, say, his mother’s ‘pride and joy,’ was so wide of the mark that it could not be allowed at all. It would confuse matters, not so much for Jesus, but for his followers. Because of who Jesus and Mary are, they had a unique relationship in an absolute sense. Jesus did not live in such a way as to fulfil an ordinary mother’s ordinary expectations – the episode of finding Jesus in the temple when he was twelve years old makes that clear (see Luke 2: 41-50) – if any clarity was needed after the extraordinary revelations of glory surrounding Jesus’ birth. Jesus loved his mother – and provided for her care with his last breath as he died on the Cross (see John 19:26-27) – but he is not the doting son in any common sense. And surely, by this time in Jesus’ adult life, his mother will have grasped – somehow – the unfathomable truth that her son was the Father’s Beloved Son, and that his mission as saviour of the world superseded all other claims, hers included. So, as I reflect, I become aware that we are not meant to pigeon-hole Jesus as this woman’s words seem to do. His identity and mission, as well as his mother’s identity and mission, are matters for deepest contemplation. We will never plumb their depths – certainly not in this life. Therefore Jesus and Mary exist, then and now, as a challenge to our cultural mores, our family customs, and even some of our religious categories. These woman’s words of praise unwittingly “shrink” both Jesus and Mary down to a size that seems more manageable, but, in doing so, she also makes Jesus and Mary too small even to recognise.
What was Jesus to do in this awkward situation? How to respond?
Masterfully, brilliantly, Jesus, in one sentence, managed to achieve everything. First, he was able to use some of the woman’s words, as if to tell her, ‘Yes, what you say is good. But together we can make it even better.’ (Few of us would object to that.) So Jesus keeps hold of her desire to give a blessing (thereby affirming her) and says, ‘More blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.’ In these words, Jesus praises his mother rightly, for she alone of all women heard the word of God through the Angel Gabriel’s message and opened her heart and body to a depth that was and remains unprecedented. She ‘kept’ the word of God by literally giving birth to the word of God. Jesus does not want to give a theology lesson to the woman here, but he leaves us with words of such profundity that they are still yielding treasures to us two millennia later. Second, Jesus opens up this blessing to apply it to all people, men and women alike – even the hapless speaker in our text. The motherhood of Mary is, in fact, a vocation open to every person who hears the word of God and keeps it. Jesus had, after all, been speaking to a crowd of people. (‘As he was speaking,’ the text says, ‘a woman in the crowd’ cried out.) Jesus is always keen to invite all people into the state of blessedness and joy that is one of the signs of the presence of the kingdom now, on earth. This situation gave Jesus the opportunity to teach a deep truth about the kingdom and invite everyone in. And lastly, there is an implication about Jesus himself contained in his words. Jesus is the word of God. To ‘hear’ the word of God and ‘keep’ it is to be in a dynamic relationship not merely with a biblical text, but with the person of Jesus. There is no greater joy, no greater blessing than that.
This is a biblical text of only two lines. Look at it closely and it tells a story, which, had it happened to anyone else, would doubtless have ended rather awkwardly. But it happened to Jesus, and without distressing any well-meaning actor in this story, he broadens its message to praise his mother rightly, and include all men, all women, and all time in a salvific blessedness that will endure even in heaven. Blessed be He!
We have been living with the covid pandemic for more than a year but treatments are on the horizon. In 1934, before antibiotics were set to work in medicine, the Pneumonic Plague was ravaging Uganda. This appeal by Fr Arthur Hughes, M.Afr appeared in The Tablet, 10 February 1934.
By miracles of temporal healing Our Lord frequently awakened yearnings for eternal remedies: is it, then, surprising that our hospital should be for many the anteroom to the Baptistery and the Gate of Heaven? Generously sacrificing many other cherished projects, the mission has concentrated on the establishment of a very satisfactory and properly equipped hospital, where in circumstances of hygienic perfection and comfort pagans and Muslims, as well as our own Christians, receive medical attention and the services of trained nurses … the hospital is absolutely necessary to the spiritual welfare of the mission. Were we deprived of it, we would risk losing many souls as well as many lives …
I write this in the room occupied by Father Wolters, who, only last September, returned from administering the Sacraments to five plague-stricken members of the same family, and died of the plague within two days*…Yet our own hospital can neither be recognized nor maintained without the permanent services of a doctor. At present the sisters urgently need £120 per annum for this purpose. So far an Indian doctor comes regularly, although he has not yet been paid … here is a necessity real, urgent, concerning the glory of God, the salvation of souls, the preservation of life, the care and comfort of suffering being very dear to us in the heart of Christ. Dare we hope?
Illness was certainly the Gate of Heaven for Fr Wolters, though he received no miracle cure from his plague. But Fr Hughes was thinking more of patients and relatives who would hear the Gospel, in perhaps a new way, when faced with serious illness or potentially dangerous surgery. It can concentrate the mind if you know you might not wake up from the anaesthetic: Prepare to meet thy God! A motto good for any and every day, but a crisis can indeed concentrate the mind.
There is also the experience of skilled, loving nursing care which, of course, can also be administered by Muslim, Hindu or Atheist. Where charity and love prevail, there God is ever found, as we will sing in person or in our hearts, on Maundy Thursday. Let us pray for those who have been putting their lives and well-being at risk in caring for others, and for those who cannot obtain life-saving medicines or vaccines.
The Missionaries of Africa still work in Uganda. You can support them this Lent by sending completed cheques, postal orders and gift aid forms to the following address: The Superior Missionaries of Africa 15 Corfton Road London W5 2HP …
* One of the patients was sick in his face. Fr Wolters came home, sorted his affairs, and prepared himself for death.
On the eve of his death, Jesus prayed for the unity of those the Father gave him: “that they may all be one … so that the world may believe”. Joined to him, as a branch is to the vine, we share the same sap that circulates among us and vitalizes us.
Each tradition seeks to lead us to the heart of our faith: communion with God, through Christ, in the Spirit. The more we live this communion, the more we are connected to other Christians and to all of humanity. Paul warns us against an attitude that had already threatened the unity of the first Christians: absolutising one’s own tradition to the detriment of the unity of the body of Christ. Differences then become divisive instead of mutually enriching. Paul had a very broad vision: “All are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God” (1 Cor 3:22-23).
Christ’s will commits us to a path of unity and reconciliation. It also commits us to unite our prayer to his: “that they may all be one. . .so that the world may believe” (Jn 17:21).
“Never resign yourself to the scandal of the separation of Christians who so readily profess love for their neighbour, and yet remain divided. Make the unity of the body of Christ your passionate concern.”
[The Rule of Taizé in French and English (2012) p. 13]
vivifying fire and gentle breath,
come and abide in us.
Renew in us the passion for unity
so that we may live in awareness of the bond that unites us in you.
May all who have put on Christ at their Baptism unite
and bear witness together to the hope that sustains them.
Are you resigned to the scandal of separation of Christians?
What part of your tradition is vital and life giving and what can you learn from what is vital and life giving within other Christian traditions?
What could be the impact on the world of greater unity between the churches?
This is the ancient baptistry of Milan Cathedral; here it was that Saint Ambrose baptised Augustine, back in the fourth century. This area, adjacent to today’s Cathedral, was rediscovered when the Metro was being excavated after World War II. Ambrose was a good pastoral bishop, working to reconcile different bodies of Christians and to present the faith as a reasonable life choice in an age of scepticism. We just skipped his feast to accommodate Sister Johanna’s One Good Deed posts, which tied in nicely with Mary’s feast yesterday. Ambrose was great, but not that great!
Ambrose was also a poet, who wrote this evening hymn, still very much used today; this is J.M. Neale’s translation.
Before the ending of the day, Creator the world, we pray, that with thy wonted favour thou wouldst be our guard and keeper now.
From all ill dreams defend our eyes, from nightly fears and fantasies; tread under foot our ghostly foe, that no pollution we may know.
O Father, that we ask be done, through Jesus Christ thine only Son, who, with the Holy Ghost and thee, doth live and reign eternally. Amen.
The Pope’s intention for October is: We pray that by virtue of baptism, the laity, especially women, may participate more in areas of responsibility in the Church.
Having been dismissed summarily from a post of responsibility in my parish by a newly ordained curate, I realise that it is not always ‘by virtue of baptism’ that ‘the laity’ participate in the Church, but by the favour of the clergy. Something’s wrong when a priest abuses the power that rightly goes with the responsibility of leading a parish community. As Pope Francis says, the pastor should smell of his sheep.
Do you remember the Doors of Mercy that were set up during Pope Francis’s Year of Mercy? This one was in Zakopane, Poland. Through God’s mercy we can enter what we rather inadequately call ‘The House of God’ — if there is a way to avoid crippling steps, put there by history but not needed for today’s church, which seems to be called to be much more lay-led in the near future.
As I wrote the date today – it was six months ago today that we were all together celebrating Christmas, singing carols together, and for me one of the highlights of the year is Midnight Mass – something so special with all the candles and that sense of celebration after the waiting and preparation of Advent – and the flowers! For some who are isolating that might have been the last time they saw family and friends; if it hadn’t been our visit to see our son in Manchester in February, the last time he was down was Christmas last year, and certainly when we saw any of our extended family, as I am sure it is for many … and for so many across our country, and around the world, Christmas this year will be without a loved one. I do wonder what it will be like this year – I do hope we are allowed to sing by then!! When we lived in Faversham, there was a board I passed every day that said “Christ is not just for Christmas, but there all year” . This is so true, we have Christ with us as a real and living presence 24/7; Rev Mark spoke about this in Sunday’s sermon (on website), from the passage from Romans 6:1-11, in our baptism we die with Christ to be born again with Christ – a new creation; that is why sometime a font is referred to as a womb (in the Roman liturgy the font is designated the “uterus ecclesiae,” ) – when a baby is born, it emerges from the waters of the womb, and wrapped in a blanket – when the person who has been baptised ‘comes up out of the water’ – or usually water poured over the head these days, though many do’ especially in the Baptist church, have full immersion. In the liturgy today, the baby is wrapped in a white blanket immediately after having water poured, with the words “you have been clothed with Christ. As many who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ”; with an adult I use a white scarf.
God Bless, and please do keep safe, keep connected and keep praying Jo🙏🙏🙏 Rev Jo Richards Rector of the Benefice of St Dunstan, St Mildred and St Peter, Canterbury
The Roman font at Milan, where St Ambrose baptised St Augustine and his son Adeodatus by immersion, Easter 387.
I thought I would start today’s reflection from a picture.
Usually the last Supper seems to be shown as an all-male affair, though I find it hard to imagine Jesus excluding such strong supporters as Joanna, Mary Magdalene, Mrs Zebedee or his own Mother. So here we have the Pentecost window at Saint Aloysius, near Euston Station in London. No apologies for the street scene visible behind it: the message of this window is not just for us, bu for the world outside the church building, where we spend most of our time.
The next picture shows another momentous moment, one from our own days. Here is Pope Benedict sitting down to eat a festive meal with poor people from his diocese of Rome: an unprecedented and prophetic event. It was not so long ago that Gormenghast style protocol decreed that nobody should see the pope eating. It was, perhaps, a useful excuse to avoid dining with political leaders who might capitalise on the photo opportunity, and claim papal approval of their policies rather than their cuisine.
The poor of Rome could not gain influence or anything other than a good meal in good company to celebrate Christmas; Benedict saw to it that they were not left out in the desert of their poverty.
The rules for the Passover that Jesus celebrated with his disciples make clear that all Israelites are invited to the feast, and that their neighbours should make sure none are excluded.
The people of Israel could trace their birthday back to the Passover and the crossing of the Red Sea into the desert of Sinai: as Christians we can look to the events of Holy Week and also to Pentecost as our foundation days, or birthdays. So it is appropriate to show Pentecost today, a gathering where Mary is prominent and one or two more female faces can be seen. The Spirit was poured out n them too; as it has been on all baptised men and women. Let us be as missionary as they were, accepting the paradox of passion and pain, of desert and defeat as essential to our story; and being at one with the people on the far side (which is merely centimetres away) of the church’s stained glass windows.
I give you a new commandment: that you love one another.
I am writing this post in July, not a Lenten month at all. People in England are looking forward to the summer holidays, to relaxation rather than to rigorous fasting and spiritual exercise. But there is also a market – I use the word deliberately – for spiritual activities. Here are a few random web ads for yoga experiences; we could look at other sorts of spiritual experience, but yoga seems popular among those who can afford it.
What about a yoga immersion course – is the hint of baptismal initiation deliberate, I wonder?
Or a restful and rejuvenating yoga retreat, with mindfulness vegetarian food? The Cistercians are vegetarian and eat in silence, but is it the food or the shared nature of meal that contributes to ‘mindfulness’?
What about a Japanese yoga retreat mixing body-transforming jivamukti yoga with hikes through forests peppered with ancient temples. Could you not get the transformed body from the gym and hikes through the local countryside?
What are the purchasers of the top 30 yoga retreats going into the luxury desert to seek? Classical yoga and ‘divine’ spa treatments? Notice the Christian religious language that creeps into these ads, even the ‘transformed body’ has resonances, especially at the time you are reading, the season of preparation for Easter, when life is changed, not taken away.
Our desert this Lent makes no claim to be luxurious, nor will a few minutes of reading with us transform your earthly bodies, but we do hope the Spirit is leading us into the desert where we can receive a renewal of our baptism, the original and best divine spa treatment. And as for mindfulness food: must I spell it out?
Here is a hymn by Lucien Deiss that draws on 2Timothy2 and other texts: Keep in mind.