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26 March. Before the Cross XII: the beatific vision.

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Rood, Our Lady and English Martyrs, Cambridge.

This Crucifix is like that of Tignes a couple of days ago in one respect: it is a representation of the Risen Christ, but in a different context, and equally valid.

This Victorian Rood, full of symbolism, is in the Catholic Church of Or Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge, England. It is challenging in a different way to some of the other images we have seen this Lent, but like the Welcoming Christ, it is essentially an image of resurrection. No way is this Christ dead or in agony!

So what is the Rood telling us?

Let’s start with the Christ figure. We see a man in the prime of life, vigorously alive, not hanging naked on the cross but standing tall and robed in majesty. No-one could say of him, he cannot save himself! The crown on his head is of royal gold, not thorns; the nails in his hands and feet are in gold also, but lest we forget the earthly reality of the cross, we see red blood on his palms and insteps. As well as a King’s crown, he wears the long white alb and the red scarf or stole of a priest vested for Mass.

The white scarf around his neck is called a pallium. These are woven from lambs’ wool and given to archbishops by the pope. One appears on the coat of arms of Canterbury Anglican diocese and that of Westminster Catholic diocese. As well as announcing Christ as high priest, the pallium is associated with the idea of the Good Shepherd who brings home the lost sheep, and with the sacrificial Lamb of God.

The alb is a symbol of purity – we see in the Book of Revelation all the saints in white garments. Christ’s here has red trimmings; together with the red stole they tell of blood shed in martyrdom or persecution. The priest celebrating Mass today wears an alb to show that he is representing Christ, the High Priest, and seeks to be as saintly as the white garment implies. Christ, of course, has every right to wear the white garment, and each baptised Christian is given a white garment at Baptism: so we are crucified and risen with Christ: a thought to sustain us in times of hardship.

At the foot of the Cross stand Mary – the dedicatee of the Church, and John the Apostle and Evangelist. They are not mourning in this Resurrection Crucifixion but are absorbed in the beatific vision: this cross presents the artist’s interpretation of the true meaning of the Crucifixion.

Angels adore the Lord from around the Cross: again sending us to Revelation and pointing out the one-ness of Creation, of our world of time and space where Jesus died in Jerusalem with the heavenly Jerusalem where he is Priest and King; King of All Creation, not just of the Jews.

At the foot of the Cross and along its trunk and arms are stylised leaves and grapes: in John’s Gospel Jesus says, I am the Vine, make your home in me as I make mine in you. The wine pressed from the fruit of the Cross brings relief from our spiritual thirst and joy to our hearts. Take up your Cross daily and follow me – to the Crucifixion, yes, in smaller and bigger ways each day, but to the risen life each day as well, even before we die and go to meet the Good Shepherd.

Finally, at the feet of Jesus we see a chalice – for the cup at every Eucharist is indeed the Holy Grail, the cup of the Last Supper – and above the cup, marked with a Cross and radiant in gold, is a round of white unleavened bread; the ‘forms of bread and wine’ that make present in our day all that this Crucifix sets out to tell us.

If, like me, silence does not always come easily to your heart in church or in prayer, maybe sitting with this image can help direct your thoughts to the eternal reality which it professes. The whole story of Jesus is symbolised here from his birth to Mary, up to John running to the empty tomb and seeing and believing – and witnessing to what he believed. May we be ever more faithful witnesses to what we believe.

MMB

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24 November: The Road to Emmaus VII – and beyond.

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Then they said to each other, did not our hearts burn within us as he talked to us on the road and explained the scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32).

Jesus has vanished, but at last the disciples see. They recognize Jesus. And they are able, consciously now, to lay claim to the strange and wonderful joy they felt as Jesus walked with them on the road and explained the scriptures to them.

But now they realise that what Jesus had told them on the road was a preparation for something else. His words, spoken during their journey, were themselves like the journey and not like the full arrival. The disciples did not really “arrive” until they reached Emmaus.

Then why did Jesus at first pretend that he wanted to go further than Emmaus? Perhaps he did this for the disciples’ sake, because he wanted to draw something further out of them. This seeming pretence on Jesus’ part gives the two disciples the opportunity to realise how much they want this stranger to stay with them; even though they do not realise fully who he is, they know that he is important to them, and so they then make a conscious choice and ask him pressingly to remain with them.

But, when would full recognition of the Risen Jesus come? And why hadn’t it come to them yet? Caravaggio’s painting helps us here, helps us to see that the recognition of the Risen Lord comes most fully within the context of the meal. In the Last Supper Jesus commanded the Twelve ‘do this in memory of me.’ He would now, in this “first supper” of his risen life, show them that he meant it. He would show them that this memorial of him was not an empty memory, a mere trick of the imagination, but a real encounter with him. Earlier in the day, Jesus had shown them that Scripture was about him. Now Jesus would show them that the meal is not ‘about’ something, it is something – or rather, Someone: it is Him.

The disciples’ recognition of Jesus and Jesus’ physical disappearance are nearly simultaneous. This is, in a way, a difficult truth. It is always a bit painful to me to think that the two disciples were so close to being able to throw their arms around Jesus once more, if only they had been quick enough! But, always the teacher, Jesus has something else, something more important to show them. When he disappears from their sight at the meal, this disappearance of Jesus is not like the disappearance of Jesus in death. This disappearance does not cause grief, it heals grief. The disciples begin to grasp now that Jesus’ reality remains in the meal. The disciples know him in the breaking of the bread. And, most importantly, they now realise that he has overcome death, and as such has assumed a new form. This form is the form in which we, too, must recognise and follow him.

The adventure of Emmaus happens only three days after Jesus’ death, remember. The disciples will need more time to express in words what they suddenly grasped here at Emmaus on an essential level. We need time, too. But there is so much to learn from this. Here I am, a latter day disciple, with all the advantages of understanding that result from access to two thousand years of Christian teaching. Yet, I can feel as raw and untutored as these two disciples were. And maybe that is the way things should be. It enables me to use their experience as a model and to take comfort and encouragement from their story.

SJC

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October 8: Harvest Festival at Saint Mildred’s.

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The Glebe at Saint Mildred’s Church in Canterbury is where L’Arche Kent have their garden, and this year we were able to contribute some produce to the church for Harvest Festival. Then some of us joined the congregation for the Festival Eucharist and lunch.

Rev Jo Richards, the Rector, has quickly become a friend to L’Arche, looking in to say hello. She kindly agreed to our publishing the bare bones of her sermon, and with it her photos from the day. Thank you Jo, and welcome to Agnellus Mirror. (Blessed Agnellus would have been a member of one of the city centre parishes when he lived in Canterbury, so on Jo’s patch!)

MMB.

harvest18.3 obeliskJulian of Norwich was born in 1342, We do not know Julian’s actual name but her name is taken from St. Julian’s Church in Norwich where she lived as an anchoress for most of her life. An anchoress, that is someone who lives in a cell attached to a church, and leads a prayer focused life.

 

When she was 30 years old, Julian contracted a grave illness and came so near death they gave her last rites. At the end of her illness, she had a series of 16 visions, or showings, that she understood to have come from God. She spent the next 20 years reflecting on these visions and writing down what she had learned from them. Perhaps, the most famous of those showings is this one, which I felt was particularly adapt for today:

 

And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.”

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Julian made three reflections relating to this vision:

The first that God created us and all creation. However big or small everything throughout the universe and beyond is created by God. As we look at the conker in our hand, we acknowledge that God created this – the tree from which it fell, and the sun that made it grow, and the rain that encouraged it to grow.

The second observation was that God loves everything that God created; and that is unconditional love, everything and everyone, and that includes you and me, whatever our background, what ever our colour; ability or disability, as it says in 1 John “God is love”.

The third observation that Julian made is that God keeps and sustains – not just us but all of creation.

These reflections raise the question of God’s omnipresence, that is the understanding that God is everywhere, nothing is without the presence and activity of God; God is present with us, here and now; in all that we are and all that we do; in the incarnation the Holy Child; in the Eucharist and the bread and the wine.

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Consider these lilies – created by God, loved by God and sustained by God….they neither toil or spin.

Consider God’s harvest – to share – the word share is found in harvest; as these gifts are given to Catching Lives (Canterbury’s homeless charity) may we remain ever mindful of those whose circumstances are such that they do not have anywhere to call home, other than the pavement of our city streets.

What about us. Our Gospel passage tells us that if God provides for all of God’s creation, why worry about what to wear. God will provide, for all God’s children

You just have to look in our shops bursting with the autumn range of clothing – subliming telling us what we need to be wearing and what colours are in – without which we might be felt to feel inadequate ; perhaps we should draw on our text from our second reading – it is the love of money (not money, but the love of money, that is at the root of all evil.

But look again at your conker, and feel it beautifully created, loved and sustained by God.

Now take your hand in the other, this too is beautifully created, loved and sustained by God.

You and me are beautifully created, loved and sustained by God, for this day and for ever more.

 

 

 

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4 October: Little Flowers, XXXX. Francis and the Robbers 1: better by gentleness.

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It’s St Francis’s day, so who better to continue our series on begging? This story concludes tomorrow.

Now there dwelt in those parts three notorious robbers, who wrought much evil in that country, the which came on a day to the House of the brothers, and besought Brother
Angel, the guardian, to give them food to eat; and the guardian with harsh reproof, answered them after this fashion: “Ye thieves and cruel murderers, ye be not ashamed to rob others of the fruits of their labours: but likewise, as men insolent and bold, ye would devour the alms bestowed upon the servants of God; in sooth, ye are not worthy that the earth should hold you, since ye respect nor men nor God who created you: then go your ways and see ye come not here again”; whereby they went away disquieted and full of ire.

And behold, Saint Francis returned from abroad with a wallet of bread and a little flask of wine, that he and his companion had begged: and when the guardian recounted unto him how he had driven the men away, Saint Francis reproved him sternly, saying: “Because sinners are brought back to God better by gentleness than by cruel reproofs; wherefore our master Jesu Christ, whose Gospel we have promised to observe, saith that they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick and that he was not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance: wherefore he oftentimes ate with them. Seeing then, that thou hast done against charity and against the holy Gospel of Christ, I command thee by holy obedience, that thou take this wallet of bread that I have begged and this little flask of wine, and search diligently for them over mountains and valleys until thou find them, and give them all this bread and wine as from me; and then kneel thee down before them and humbly confess thy fault of cruelty; and then pray them on my behalf that they do no more ill, but fear God nor offend Him any more: and if this they will do, I promise to provide for their needs and to give them food and drink abidingly; and when thou hast said this unto them, return hither again in all humility.”

While the guardian was going for to do his bidding, Saint Francis set himself to pray, beseeching God to soften the hearts of those robbers and convert them to penitence.

Photograph by Christina Chase, Ste Anne de Beaupré, Canada.

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20 July, What is Theology Saying? XX: The Eucharist 7; Presence for our presence

The Paschal Mystery is the New Covenant – not that the Old has gone [there is only one covenant]. New means greater depth of intimacy with universal outreach. Jesus takes the Law and the Prophets – Israel’s heritage – and through this loves his people into existence. By the end of his short life they were still in receiving mode, not yet deepening into giving what was received and so, as Scripture says, he loved them to the end; handing over his Spirit which has lived and a human existence to the Father to give to all willing to receive – Pentecost.

To sustain and feed them along this new way he gives himself as the bread of life; not like the feeding of the 5,000. Being with him at the Last Supper, eating the bread he broke, accepting his death is to continue his way; to come together to break bread and become sustaining food for others. The Covenant Community was set up at that supper table. This is why there is much more involved in celebrating the Eucharist than a memorial experience; it is to accept his presence through his death, to become body given and blood poured out for others – service.

The Eucharist is the mystery of God’s graciousness and our salvation. Transubstantiation is a word for something we cannot understand, something beyond the competence of human language; to claim to capture it is to nullify the challenge to attune the way we live so as to address the cry of the poor. Augustine [who used the word Transubstantiation] says we are present not to satisfy personal needs [or commandments] but to be attentive and proactive to the cry of the poor. We cannot appreciate Transubstantiation if we by-pass the challenge for personal change.

The Eucharist is the real presence, not just a memorial ritual. It is Presence there for our presence, so that what is in him can be in us. Jesus does not stand-in for us, but invites us to get involved. We cannot receive the Eucharist in passive ways – the fruit of the Eucharist is one community allowing God’s love to be felt in our world.

AMcC

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July 15: What is Theology saying today? XV: The Eucharist 2; mystery not magic.

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Gate to Jesus Hospital, Canterbury

The Eucharist is Mystery; mystery is not magic. Magic supposes there is no explanation or understanding – no way of entering-into the reality; whereas mystery invites participation in an encounter. This means a way-in to something greater than we are. Mystery is not something I can’t know anything about – but something can’t know everything about. How ludicrously wrong to say you can’t tell me anything about him – as if I can fit into my tiny mind everything about another person – when I can’t even know all about myself. Interesting to ask ourselves why did Jesus ask – who do people say I am?

To say we enter into something greater – to be with someone who can appropriately say we whereas I can only say I! What is happening for this to become my experience? The basic action of the Eucharist is sharing – not just eating. The experience this addresses in me is my experience of hunger. To be human is to be hungry, in the sense that I need more than myself to live fully – as well as food and drink, I need companionship and compassion… so many human hungers persuade me that I cannot be self-fulfilled. With all possible human hungers in mind – this is what Jesus means by I am the bread of life. Our Western culture persuades us that meal-times are essential and always available. There is no such thing as meal-time for the vast majority, who eat whenever food, affection and compassion are available.

If I am never hungry in any of these human hungers to the point of starving, it is unlikely that I feel for those who are permanently there. Compassion requires me to enter into the suffering of another simply because that is where they are [this makes sense of the ancient discipline of fasting before communion]. The obvious way to know about hunger is to be hungry. Hunger is intrusive; will not allow us to get on with anything else until it is attended to. When God created hunger he created a blessing – opportunity to experience so many good things. God created more than enough ways to satisfy every possible hunger – the fact of so much starvation serves to tell us what we have done with Creation’s good things, enough to make the experience of hunger a curse to be eradicated.

AMcC

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June 1: S is for Sligo

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I remember Sligo for one reason especially: hospitality.

Let loose in a bookshop, even on-line, I tend to lose track of time. So it was in Sligo, all those years ago, so that when I paid over my punts, I received with my book and my change an invitation to take tea with the family.

Perhaps it’s my fond imagination, but Irish baking in those days could hit the heights of good taste. I recall a bakery in Ennis –  run by a cousin of a woman we knew up by Sligo – where the fresh brown bread was so very good, two of us had eaten the loaf within a quarter of an hour as we walked across town.

Here in Sligo it was sitting around the peat fire, a tea loaf – an Irish version of bara brith but with more butter within and more spread upon it than in Wales. And it was talk, good interesting talk it was too.

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Good booksellers, like good librarians, listen to the people of the centuries, and if they speak to those of today, have wisdom to share. ‘I think you’ll like this one. You had another book by her a year ago.’ That’s the computer helping out, telling the librarian what I’ve borrowed before, but it’s a useful tool for her and her borrowers.

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28 April: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XIX: The Riches of Poverty 2.

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(Continued from Yesterday) After begging through the town, Saint Francis and Brother Masseo met together to eat in a place without the city, where was a fair fountain and, hard by, a fine, broad stone ; upon the which each set the alms that he had begged.

And Saint Francis, seeing that Brother Masseo’s pieces of bread were more and finer and larger than his own, rejoiced with great joy, and said: “ O Brother Masseo, we are not worthy of such vast treasure ”: and when he repeated many times these self-same words, Brother Masseo made answer:
« Father, how can one speak of treasure where is such poverty and lack of all things whereof there is need ? Here is nor cloth, nor knife, nor plate, nor porringer, nor house, nor table, nor man-servant, nor maid-servant.”

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Quoth Saint Francis: “And this it is that I acount vast treasure, wherein is no thing at
all prepared by human hands, but whatsoe’er we have is given by God’s own providence, as
manifestly doth appear in the bread that we have begged, in the table of stone so fine, and in the fount so clear; wherefore I will that we pray unto God that He make us to love with all our
heart the treasure of holy poverty which is so noble, that thereunto did God Himself become your servitor.”

And when he had said these words, and they had done their prayer, and for refreshment of the body had taken of those pieces and drunk of that water, they rose up to journey into France.

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27 April: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XVIII: the Riches of Poverty 1.

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THE wonderful servant and follower of Christ, to wit Saint Francis, to the end that he might in all things conform himself perfectly unto Christ, who, as the Gospel saith, sent his disciples forth by two and two unto all the cities and places where He was himself purposing to go; seeing that after the pattern of Christ he had gathered together twelve companions, sent them forth by two and two to preach throughout the world.

And to give them an ensample of true obedience, he was himself the first to go, after the pattern of Christ who began to do before he taught. Wherefore having allotted to his companions the other parts of the world, he with Brother Masseo as his companion took the road that led to the land of France.

And coming one day to a town sore hungered, they went, according to the rule, begging their bread for the love of God; and Saint F rancis went by one street, and Brother Masseo by another. But because Saint Francis was mean to look upon and small of stature, and was deemed thereby a vile beggar by whoso knew him not, he got by his begging naught save a few mouthfuls and scraps of dry bread: but to Brother Masseo, in that he was tall and fair of form, were given good pieces, large and in plenty, and of fresh bread. When that they had done their begging, they met together to eat in a place without the city, where was a fair fountain and, hard by, a fine, broad stone ; upon the which each set the alms that he had begged.

And Saint Francis, seeing that Brother Masseo’s pieces of bread were more and finer and larger than his own, rejoiced with great joy, and said: “ O Brother Masseo, we are not worthy of such vast treasure ”: and when he repeated many times these self-same words, Brother Masseo made answer:
« Father, how can one speak of treasure where is such poverty and lack of all things whereof there is need ? Here is nor cloth, nor knife, nor plate, nor porringer, nor house, nor table, nor man-servant, nor maid-servant.”

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March 11: Abel’s Pleasant Sunday Afternoon.

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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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