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March 11: Abel’s Pleasant Sunday Afternoon.

steamtrainNI

Laetare Sunday: more than halfway through Lent, and it’s time for a breather from the rigours of the season. The fact that God doesn’t get a mention in this story does not mean he didn’t get a look-in. I hope you enjoy our afternoon almost as much as we did. Will.

It began as a walk to post a letter, but once at the postbox we were halfway to the level crossing, so we went there.

There was a train trundling into platform 1, but between the tracks were stop signs and red flashing lights at ground level. No trains towards London today. ‘Red means stop. Train not go past,’ said Abel.

It was as long as it was short to walk home past the station, so we went there.

The train was pulling out of platform 1. In half an hour it would leave from Platform 2, so we stayed to watch the shunting. When that was completed, Abel discovered the metal grids covering the gutters along platform 1. They made good tracks for him to drive his imaginary train along.

By the time we had spoke to the kind station man, who gave Abel half a dozen blank tickets on a roll, there was only ten minutes before the train left. We had enough money for a ride to the next station and back, so we went there.

We had to use the lifts and press the buttons on them and on the train. On the way we saw the other level crossings and some swans and the river, and the moon beginning to shine.

The next station is built across the main road – one platform on one side, one on the other. The road was so busy Abel had to be carried over. A kind man stopped his car and waited for us to cross safely. Just a few minutes before the train left from platform 1, so we went there.

When we got off the train, after more button pressing, the moon was really bright, and an aeroplane went by with its lights on. We were nearly at Grannie and Grandad’s house, so we went there.

But not straight away. In the park the gutter down the middle of the path was waiting to be a railway track again. Abel was ready to run up and down for another half hour, so Grandad found a red bike light to use as a signal. Abel put it by the track like the lights at the station. But when he wanted to move on he said ‘red means stop, yellow means get ready, green means go.’ And off he went.

Eventually we arrived at our destination.

There was one crumpet left, so we had it with Marmite; and Abel ate three-quarters.

It was almost time for Abel’s Dad to collect him, so we played for a bit, then Abel got in the car and went home in the moonlight.

He was asleep when he got there.

Another station, another time … between Belfast and Larne, July 1969.

So Happy Feast Day for Saint Patrick on Saturday!

 

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February 22: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XI: Brother Giles is cared for during a cold Lent 2.

bread

So Brother Giles and his companion gave themselves up to prayer, beseeching God with all their hearts that He would send them help in their great need. And God, who is all-pitiful, had regard unto their faith and devotion and simplicity and fervour, after this fashion.

A certain man that was looking towards the church in which Brother Giles and his companion were, being inspired of God, said within himself; « It may be that in yon church are some good persons doing penance, who by reason of the snow that hath so much fallen, cannot supply their needs, and by reason thereof may die of hunger.” And urged on by the Holy Spirit, he said: “Of a surety I will go and see whether my imagination be true or not”; and taking some bread and a bottle of wine, he set out upon his way; and with exceeding
great difficulty he came to the church aforesaid, where he found Brother Giles and his
companion praying most devoutly ; and they were so consumed with hunger that to all seeming they appeared rather to be dead men than alive, He had great compassion on them, and when they were refreshed and comforted, he returned and told unto his neighbours the
need and the distress of these brothers, and prevailed on them and prayed them for the love of God to make provision for them; so that many persons, following his example, brought them bread and wine and other needful viands, for the love of God; and all through that Lent they took such order among themselves that in their need they were provided for.

And Brother Giles pondering on the mercy of God and the charity of those folk, said to his companion: “My brother most dear, even now have we prayed unto God to provide for us in our need, and our prayers have been heard: wherefore it is fitting that we give Him thanks and glory, and pray for them that have nourished us with their alms, and for all Christian people!”

And for his great fervour and devotion, God gave such grace unto Brother Giles that many
through his example left this blind world, and many others whose hearts were not turned to the religious life, did much great penance in their own homes.

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19 February: Little Flowers of Saint Francis IX: Saint Francis spends Lent on an island: II.

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Saint Francis remained alone: and sith there was no dwelling-place whereto he might betake him, he entered into a close thicket which many a thorny bush and shrub had fashioned like a cave or little hut: and in this place he gave himself up to prayer and contemplation of the things of heaven. And there abode he all the Lent, nor eating nor drinking aught save half of one of those small loaves, even as was found by his devoted follower on Holy Thursday, what time that he came back to him; who found of the two loaves one still entire, but of the other, half.

So men believe that Saint Francis took no food from reverence for the fast of Christ the blessed one, who fasted forty days and forty nights without partaking any earthly food ; but
in this manner with that half a loaf chased far the venom of vain glory from him, and after the pattern of Christ kept fast for forty days and forty nights.

Thereafter in that place where Saint Francis had wrought such wondrous abstinence, through his merits did God work many miracles; for the which cause did men begin to build houses there and dwell therein; and in brief space uprose a hamlet fair and great and therewithal a House for the brothers, the which is named the House of the Island; and even to this day the men and women of that hamlet have great reverence and devotion for the place where Saint Francis kept the aforesaid Lent.

Move forward a few Centuries, and you can visit the island on pilgrimage. This is what Sister Frances Teresa wrote for us about her visit to the Island: ‘When Francis was there for Lent it may have been a lot tougher. The tradition is that he went on Shrove Tuesday with two loaves and returned on Maundy Thursday with one and a half. I had eaten mine by 2pm!!’

See: https://wordpress.com/post/agnellusmirror.wordpress.com/8971

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18 February: Little Flowers of Saint Francis VIII: Saint Francis spends Lent on an island: I.

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Happy Lent! Here is the first of this month’s extracts from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis. I’m not sure I could recommend such a fast as this, especially if you are working with machinery. Even our Muslim brothers and sisters eat every evening during Ramadan!

How Saint Francis passed a Lent in an island in the lake of Perugia , where he fasted forty days and forty nights, and ate no more than one half loaf

A S the true servant of Christ, Saint Francis, was in certain points as it were another Christ, given to the world for the salvation of men, it was the will of God the Father to make him in many of his acts conformed and like unto His own dear son Jesu Christ; even as was shown forth in the venerable company of the twelve companions, and in the wondrous mystery of the holy stigmata, and in the unbroken fast during the sacred Lent, which he kept in this manner.

It befell on a time that Saint Francis, on the day of carnival, being hard by the lake of Perugia in the house of one of his devoted followers, with the which he had lodged the night, was inspired of God that he should go and keep that Lent on an island in the lake; wherefore Saint Francis besought this devoted follower of his, that, for tine love of Christ, he would carry him across in his little boat to an island on the lake, wherein no man dwelt, so that none might be ware of it; so he for love of the great devotion that he had unto Saint Francis with diligence fulfilled his request and carried him across to the island aforesaid, and Saint Francis took with him naught save two small loaves.

And being come unto the island, and his friend parting himself to go back home, Saint Francis besought him tenderly that to no man would he reveal in what guise he there abode, and that save upon Holy Thursday he would not come to him; and so he was away.

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A week to go! Sister Rose is not banished to a desert island, but she is undertaking an adventure. Please support her using the website below.

Sister Rose is sleeping out in Littlehampton on Saturday 24th February to raise funds for Worthing Churches Homeless Project. Sister now has a website for donations:

https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/rosearden-close1

Thank you, Maurice.

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4 December: Light to see by.

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I looked up from my mother’s garden to see these windows glowing in the winter’s sun. Those are weavers’ windows, raised up high and facing South to catch the sun, ‘that it may shine to all that are in the house’. Daylight was the more precious when there were only oil lamps to work by as the shades lengthened. Those sycamores would not then have been there to cast a shadow.

You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house.

Matthew 5:14–15

We can forget what a precious gift light is, with our street lights blotting the stars from view. And we are in danger of forgetting how precious our sisters and brothers are when we are encouraged to want an excess of earth’s goods for ourselves.

 Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the harbourless into thy house: when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh. Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall speedily arise, and thy justice shall go before thy face, and the glory of the Lord shall gather thee up.

Isaiah 58: 8-9

WT

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3 October: The Transitus of Saint Francis

On the Eve of Saint Francis’ Day, his daughters and sons gather to honour his transitus – his passing from this world to Eternity with the God he loved. There is no fixed rite for this celebration, but this is the one I have joined in at the Franciscan International Study Centre in recent years. It was adapted by Sister Clare, now the Superior General of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Littlehampton. She has arranged it for different speakers, but feel free to adapt it to suit your group, or just to read it alone.

MMB.

Thank you Clare!

The service took place in the evening, in a darkened chapel. A Franciscan habit was spread on the floor before the altar, surrounded by candles. One candle would suffice to read this by at home.

candle

Transitus of St. Francis

(n1, n2, CANTOR, LEADER)

1.      [Narrator 1] At this time Francis was staying in the palace of the Bishop of Assisi, and he therefore asked the brothers to take him as quickly as possible to the place of St. Mary of the Portiuncula. For he wished to give back his soul to God in that place where, as has been said, he first knew the way of truth perfectly.

2.      [N 2] Then blessed Francis, despite the overpowering burden of his sickness, praised the Lord in a great joyful outburst of body and soul, saying to his companion: “Since I must soon die, have Brother Angel and Brother Leo come and praise our Sister Death for me.” Both arrived and, forcing back their tears, sang the “Canticle of Brother Sun” and of the other creatures, which the saint had composed during his sickness for the glory of God and for the consolation of his soul and of that of the others.

Antiphon: 

Cantor: Alleluia
Francis, poor and humble, enters heaven rich and is welcomed with celestial hymns.
Alleluia

1Most High, all-powerful, good Lord,

Yours are the praises, the glory, and the honour, and all blessing,

2To You alone, Most High, do they belong,

and no human is worthy to mention Your name.

3Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures,

especially Sir Brother Sun,

Who is the day and through whom You give us light.

4And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour;

and bears a likeness of You, Most High One.

5Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,

in heaven You formed them clear and precious and beautiful.

6Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,

and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather,

through whom You give sustenance to Your creatures.

7Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,

who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

8Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire.

through whom You light the night,

and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

9Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth,

who sustains and governs us,

and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.

10Praised be You, my Lord, through those who give pardon for Your love,

and bear infirmity and tribulation.

11Blessed are those who endure in peace

for by You, Most High, shall they be crowned.

12Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death,

from whom no one living can escape.

13Woe to those who die in mortal sin.

Blessed are those whom death will find in Your most holy will,

for the second death shall do them no harm.

14Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks

and serve Him with great humility.1

All:

Alleluia
Francis, poor and humble, enters heaven rich and is welcomed with celestial hymns.
Alleluia

3.      [N 1] While therefore the brothers were weeping very bitterly and grieving inconsolably, the holy father commanded that bread be brought to him. He blessed and broke it and gave a small piece of it to each one to eat. Commanding also that a book of the Gospels be brought, he asked that the Gospel according to St. John be read to him from the place that begins: “Before the feast of the Passover.” He was recalling that most holy supper which the Lord celebrated as his last supper with his disciples. He did all of this in reverent memory of that supper, showing thereby the deep love he had for his brothers. John 13:1-17 

4.      [N 2] Then Francis spent the few days that remained before his death in praise, teaching his companions whom he loved so much to praise Christ with him. He himself, in as far as he was able broke forth in this psalm, “I cried to the Lord with my voice: with my voice I made supplication to the Lord.” He also invited all creatures to praise God. He exhorted death itself, terrible and hateful to all, to give praise, and going joyfully to meet it, he invited it to make its lodging with him. 

5.      [N 1] Francis then said to the brothers: “When you see that I am brought to my last moments, place me naked upon the ground just as you saw me the day before yesterday; and let me lie there after I am dead for the length of time it takes one to walk a mile unhurriedly.” The hour therefore came, and all the mysteries of Christ being fulfilled in him, he winged his way happily to God.

LEADER: Hail, holy father, light of your country, model of your friars,  mirror of virtue, path of rectitude, rule of conduct. From this exile of the flesh, lead us to the realms above.

ALL: Poor and humble Francis enters Heaven laden with riches.

LEADER: We pray to God our Father in the words Jesus himself taught us … Our Father who art in Heaven…

Let us pray. O God, Who this day gave to the soul of our holy father Francis the reward of everlasting bliss, be pleased to grant that we who, with loving hearts celebrate the memory of his departure, may deserve to obtain the same happiness for our reward. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

End of Transitus. [Quiet music: while all depart]

1Francis, The Canticle of the Creatures, FA:ED, vol, 1, pp. 113-4.

FMSL

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September 12. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, X: My body for you

bread

It is said that torture is the imagination of the world; that Eucharist is the imagination of the Church. The real Jesus took real bread and identified himself with it – Tad Guzie [ex Jesuit – educator and advisor to Bishops]. We cling to life and the systems that preserve it; and we are challenged by the systems’ victims. Here is Jesus identifying himself as crucified – take and eat my body given for you. When we eat this bread and drink this cup we are taken up into the love that undermines system we live by.

This bread is my body for you to share and become, for each other, my body for you. This puts into context the reality of life as gift; my life is given to me for me to become what I am receiving, for you. My life is not for me, but for you; just as your life is not for you but for me. Notice how this can even be tested – ask anyone who freely gives self to help and serve others how do you manage with all your other commitments? The answer is always – I receive far more than I give – which means I am experiencing human living as it is meant to be. It is when your body for me becomes my body for you that the Mass is real.

It is here we see something more – Jesus victim is presented as our hope. When Jesus was tried and condemned we see active resistance to the saving will of God. However, there is nothing we can do to prevent this saving will. God’s saving will does not cease to be saving because it is not wanted. There is an open invitation with the free flowing of Grace – and as we see from Paul’s conversion – it is possible when the judges who condemn turn to their victim and recognise their hope, their saviour: There is no other name under heaven by which we will be saved – Acts.4.12, and salvation is offered for all. God can never give less than all of himself to whoever [no conditions] is willing to receive.

The Lord who judges is the saving Lord, and such is his judgement. He gave himself up for us to tell us you will be lost over my dead body – this is our judge. Judgement is not me sitting waiting anxiously for the verdict, his judgment is a relationship – turn to me and be saved! By locating this in Jerusalem we see a new priority, salvation is first offered to the guilty. Once it becomes clear that the persecuted church is the real body of Jesus-victim – I am Jesus and you are persecuting me – the definition of oppressor widens. Paul is on his way to hound the Christians in Damascus, which means there too is Jerusalem waiting for the Good News of the Resurrection, and so on as the Church spreads.

We need to recognise our victim as our hope – we need to turn to the victim and hear I am Jesus and you are persecuting me. In no way is this an abstract concept, we need to recall that this was first said to those who actually condemned this historical victim. When I make victims by judging, excluding, condemning I am setting myself up as judge, jury and executioner. But I will always be faced by the victim, and my salvation rests here, if I accept the challenge of grace to deliberately turn to ask – who you are. This is the great Easter lesson of hope – when we say only in Jesus is there salvation, this not just pious language. We are saying: only in the victim is my salvation.

Salvation does not neatly by-pass the fact and memory of guilt, rather does it build on it. Sad evidence of completely missing this point is seen in the Crusades, seeing them as justifying persecution and exclusion. The established relationship between me as judge over the victim has to be reversed, and then transcended. My behaviour is diminishing me, in judging I am victimising myself. I need another kind of relationship; I am not saved by forgetting or cancelling what I have done – Judas repented and returned the silver, he left contrite – but unforgiven – and destroyed himself.

Relating can be a complex issue – within the same relationship I can be both oppressor and victim. Having been exploited I can start to enjoy being victim, to make another feel guilty! There is no neat divide in me between victim and oppressor. Is there such a reality as a pure victim? Can I imagine a person capable of free choice, and so able to choose oppressive behaviour, who is only victim and never oppressor? Only the pure victim can be merciful. Jesus our judge is pure victim and so his judging is mercy eager to forgive.

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Throughout his trial he never counter attacks, retaining a dignified silence. He is judge because he is victim, and as pure victim is a judge who does not condemn. It is the Son, not the Father who judges because the Son is totally involved in our processes of violent injustice. Judgement on the world is not pronounced from on high, but from within the experience of pain, suffering and injustice – by the pure victim whose judgement is forgiveness. Judgement is not a task Jesus has to perform, it is his shared experience of living with us in our world, which he seeks to transform: this is the will of the one who sent me, that none should be lost – John. 6.39. This judgement is just because his sole desire is the Father’s will which is that none should be lost.

Jesus’ living his passion is not done passively, as pure victim it is creative – it is setting the world free from the treadmill of attack and revenge and it belongs wherever the condemned Jesus continues to face his judges as the mission of the Church; the cycle of oppressive relations is transformed by the judge who never condemns. The powerless sufferer, innocent or guilty, is always with God in virtue of being victim – pure or not. Conversion means turning to the victim, even when I am convinced of the rightness of my cause – as with Paul. This is not a moral issue but identifying what is causing the exclusion [justified or otherwise] – it is not me turning to God, but turning to the victim.

judasJudas is saved, not condemned, by Jesus, Lamb of God, saving victim

It is not unjust or misplaced violence that requires repentance but the act of excluding – no matter why. We need to remember for example that racism is not evil because its victims are good, but because they are human. God is not with the victim in order to make me a victim; even though our systems seek to do just that, with the oppressor becoming a victim of the victims. There is much concern for making sure our prison sentencing is sufficiently punitive, whether our counter-terrorism resources are adequate. Granting that coercion and retaliation are at times unavoidable, the fact is that our justice systems are such as to create victims, and to exclude. This is not suggesting that God sees genuine human outrage as of no consequence; it is not wrong to give in to pain and anguish seeking to react. It is saying that the wretched state of the prisoner must in some way reflect the Lamb of God.

If God is against all human diminishment, then God is within such situations. God does not condemn our kind of justice but transcends it. God is incapable of aggressive condemnation. The Gospel opens with repent and believe – it is confronting the executioners of Jesus [in the victim] asking them to accept responsibility. This is how it works – I need to let the Gospel confront me, gently; to show me my victimising ways and urge me to face my victims. Modern warfare specialises in techniques designed to avoid the consequences of our behaviour; but memories cannot be healed until they are exposed as the wounds they have caused.

AMcC

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20 August, Shared Table XVI: A Welcome in Broadstairs.

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We were in Broadstairs, my student, his mother and me. We needed to investigate the journey from home to the college he might be joining, a train ride and a walk onto unfamiliar territory for my student, who can find the unfamiliar challenging. But we were at our destination before he knew it.

On Queen’s Road where once I worked for two years, I found myself on unfamiliar territory. The Baptist Church Hall where Gill and I and our team had taught school drop-outs had disappeared, replaced by a lovely new building with a community café on the ground floor. In we went as it looked warm and by no means noisy.

A wise choice! There was time only for a welcome tea and slice of cake, but we warmed up (this was in January) and looked around. One waitress had learning disabilities but was coping fine under discreet supervision. Some of the customers clearly knew each other well, and were enjoying their meals and each other’s company.

This mosaic hangs on the wall of the café. It brings Broadstairs, represented by the beach, the harbour buildings and the houses, to the Lord, around his table: not a church table with a white cloth but a coloured, patterned one. Bread and fishes from the harbour; bread and wine: everyday fare made special by His sharing, by our sharing with him.

Another concrete prayer, that mosaic. Another concrete prayer, that café! Drop in if you are in Broadstairs.

MMB.

 

 

 

http://www.thegapproject.co.uk/

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June 21: Shared Table IV, Bread and Wine?

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Herbert McCabe O.P. was always thought-provoking. Nicholas Lash once laid these quotations of Herbert’s before his own readers:

Christ has a better right to appear as food and drink than bread and wine have. The doctrine of transubstantiation, as I see it, is that the bread and wine become more radically food and drink.

I am suggesting that the consecrated host exists at a level of reality at which questions of whether it is bread can not relevantly be asked.

Nicholas Lash, ‘Traveller’s Fare’, New Blackfriars, May 2007, pp129, 131.

Lash warns against the ‘reification’ of Christ in the wheaten host. In other words, I think, we must not see the host as a thing we can call Jesus. Despite the old hymn it does not ‘my very God conceal’, but it reveals him.

It reveals him as humble, as nourishing,  as one  who,

though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:6-8

 MMB.

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15 June: Laid upon God’s table.

 

barley-sea-waves-b-w-2-640x477Much of the world celebrates Corpus Christi today. Here is another reflection from the early Anglican Franciscan, Fr Andrew SDC.

I have often thought of the bread we use in Holy Communion. First of all it is a blade growing in the field, and then part of a golden cornfield over which winged birds fly and amongst which the poppies and the wild flowers grow. Then it is plucked and subjected to the action of fire and water and kneaded into bread, and then it is laid upon God’s Table, waiting for the Holy Spirit to become his means of grace.

it seems such a parable of our life. We are not really put to the highest use until we have been plucked out of the world, ground and kneaded and given to God to do just what he likes with us, even as He gave Himself for us.

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