I’m Paul, the Chair of the National Speaking Council in L’Arche, where I make sure people with learning disabilities get to say what they want. This Advent I’d like to share my message with you.
I like to do stuff. In Brecon, I make candles with Beacons Creative, I have a gardening job, mowing the lawns and planting, and I work in L’Arche’s Rebound Books workshop.
When I was in my twenties, I was in care homes. I was lonely and unhappy. I just sat on a chair like everyone else, watching TV, smoking like a trooper. If L’Arche wasn’t there, I’d either be in hospital or some other kind of care home today. I’ll be sharing my story later in Advent. Donate nowL’Arche costs money. We need buildings for workshops and for people to live in, with gardens to look after and perhaps a little garage. We need to pay people. And we need to pay for get-togethers and parties, where we can meet our friends and have a laugh and a disco.
In L’Arche, everyone makes each other happy and cheery and safe. But we don’t have much money and we would like people to donate, to keep L’Arche going and make everyone happy. Would you give us a little donation?
Happy Christmas and have a happy new year.Paul Jones L’Arche Brecon Member and Chair of the National Speaking Council Donate now Social care is going through a crisis of funding and vision. We want L’Arche to be a beacon for brilliant care and life-giving community in Britain, supporting hundreds more people like Paul. But we cannot do it without your support. Please give a gift to L’Arche this Advent.
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The elderly lady that Arthur and I garden for now lives alone in the house that was her bed and breakfast business. She constantly gave of herself to her family and guests with beautiful food, but now relies on carers to put her meals on the table, because sometimes she forgets important things like eating.
Today we were talking about this experience of giving back to God some of our faculties in old age and being cared for. ‘That is true,’ she said, ‘but we can still sit around the table and enjoy a cup of tea and good company. That is good, thank you for coming to see me.’
This post is from an article by Dominique Greiner in Croire-La Croix of 4.02.2022. In it he cites Pope Francis urging us to be conscious of old people as our elder brothers and sisters worthy of our respect, worthy of our spending time with them.
Growing old is not a disease nor a cause for sadness. Old age is a new stage of our life. For sure it can be marked by a decline in strength and various unpleasantnesses due to age, but that doesn’t take away anything from people’s dignity or the respect that is their due.
Pope Francis has denounced the abandonment of old people as a hidden euthanasia, brought about by our throwaway culture. “Old People’s Care Homes should be the lungs of humanity in a country, a neighbourhood, a parish. They should be sanctuaries of humanity, where a person who is old and frail is treated like an elder brother or sister.” In other words, caring for old people is not just for the professionals. Each one of us should feel concerned about the well-being of our elders. Even if we only visit them regularly, we are showing them that we haven’t abandoned them, and they are still important in our eyes.
So who in our neighbourhood or extended family should be receiving a word, a letter, an email, a visit from you or me these next few days? And what about a thought and a prayer for the carers who enable families to live their own lives, with their own duties and responsibilities?
Continuing yesterday’s account of Francis’s vision with the emergence of the Stigmata – the marvellous image and imprint of the Passion of Christ.
When, after long and secret converse, this marvellous vision vanished away, it left an exceeding ardour and flame of Divine love in the heart of St. Francis, and in his flesh a marvellous image and imprint of the Passion of Christ. For anon, in the hands and in the feet of St. Francis the marks of nails began to appear after the same fashion as he had just seen in the body of Jesus Christ crucified, the which had appeared unto him in the form of a seraph; and even so were his hands and his feet pierced through the midst with nails, the heads whereof were in the palms of the hands and in the soles of the feet, outside the flesh; and the points came out through the back of the hands and of the feet, where they showed bent back and clinched on such wise that, under the clinching and the bend, which all stood out above the flesh, it would have been easy to put a finger of the hand, as in a ring; and the heads of the nails were round and black. In like manner, in his right side appeared the likeness of a lance wound, open, red and bloody; the which oftentimes thereafter spouted blood from the holy breast of St. Francis, and covered his habit and breeches with blood.
Wherefore his companions, before they knew thereof from him, perceiving nevertheless that he uncovered neither his hands nor his feet, and that he could not put the soles of his feet to the ground; and finding his habit and breeches all bloody, when they washed them, knew certainly that he bore, imprinted on his hands and feet and likewise on his side, the express image and likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ crucified. And although he very earnestly endeavoured to conceal and to hide those most holy and glorious stigmata which were so clearly imprinted on his flesh, he perceived that he could but ill conceal them from his familiar companions; and therefore he stood in very great doubt, fearing to make public the secrets of God, and knowing not whether he ought to reveal the seraphic vision and the imprinting of the most holy stigmata.
At the last, being goaded thereunto by his conscience, he called to him certain of his most intimate friends among the friars, and, setting before them his doubt in general terms, yet without explaining the actual fact, he asked their advice; and among the said friars was one of great sanctity, who was called Friar Illuminatus. Now this man, being of a truth illuminate by God, and understanding that St. Francis must have seen marvellous things, answered him after this manner: “Friar Francis, know thou that, not for thy sake only but also for the sake of others, God manifesteth unto thee at divers times His mysteries; and therefore thou hast good reason to fear that, if thou keepest secret that which God hath shown thee for the benefit of others, thou wilt be worthy of blame”.
Then St. Francis, being moved by these words, with great dread related unto them all the manner and form of the aforesaid vision; adding that Christ, who had appeared unto him, had spoken certain things unto him which he would never repeat as long as he lived. And, albeit those most holy wounds, inasmuch as they were imprinted by Christ, gave very great joy to his heart; nevertheless to his flesh and to his corporal senses they gave intolerable pain.
I once took a message to a local convent, where the door was answered by a little old sister, walking with two sticks, bent almost double, who had a chat with me before finding the sister I was sent to. ‘You must know about this convent, Will – she’d found out my name as a matter of course – your friend Sister Clare may be a teacher, but most of us look after old people’. I had the impression that she was looking after as much as being looked after. I felt looked after by her in those few minutes’ conversation!
Sister Carol Zinn, the executive director of the American Leadership Conference of Women Religious, says that healthy aging is “whatever is holy and healthy for human beings: to be in relationships, have a meaningful prayer life and a way of being of service to other people. These are a given in religious life, but I really think that they are a given in a happy, holy human life.”
This article from the National Catholic Reporterby Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans explores aging in community and healthy, mature ‘letting go’ of work, property and other things, but not letting go of mission. What is holy and healthy for Will T as he moves deeper into Autumn and deeper into retirement, I wonder? Do read this excellent reflection from the Global Sisters Report.
Then Friar Leo, obedient, stood still and waited for him, with such fear that, as he afterwards told his companions, he would rather, at that moment, that the earth had swallowed him up than wait for Saint Francis, who he thought was angered with him; because with very great diligence he took heed not to offend his fatherhood, lest, through fault of his, Saint Francis should deprive him of his company.
When he had come up to him, Saint Francis asked him: “Who art thou?” and Friar Leo, all trembling, replied: “My father, I am Friar Leo”; and Saint Francis said unto him: “Wherefore didst thou come hither, friar little sheep? Did I not tell thee not to come and watch me? For holy obedience, tell me whether thou sawest or heardest aught.” Friar Leo replied: “Father, I heard thee speak and say many times: ‘Who art Thou, my most sweet God? What am I, most vile worm and Thine unprofitable servant?'” And then Friar Leo, kneeling down before St. Francis, confessed himself guilty of disobedience, in that he had done contrary to his commandment, and besought his pardon with many tears. And thereafter he prayed him devoutly that he would explain those words which he had heard, and would tell him those which he had not understood.
Then, seeing that to the humble Friar Leo God had revealed or granted to hear and to see certain things, by reason of his simplicity and purity, Saint Francis condescended to reveal and to explain unto him that which he asked; and he spake as follows: “Know, friar little sheep of Jesus Christ, that when I was saying those words which thou heardest, then were shown unto me two lights for my soul; the one of knowledge and understanding of my own self, the other of knowledge and understanding of the Creator. When I said: ‘Who art thou, O my most sweet God?’ then I was in a light of contemplation wherein I saw the abyss of the infinite goodness and wisdom and power of God; and when I said: ‘What am I?’ I was in a light of contemplation in the which I beheld the depth of my baseness and misery; and therefore I said: ‘Who art Thou, Lord of infinite goodness and wisdom, that deignest to visit me, that am a vile worm and abominable?’
And in that flame which thou sawest was God; who in that form spake with me, even as of old He spake unto Moses. And, among other things which He said unto me, He asked me to give Him three gifts; and I made answer: ‘Lord, I am all Thine; Thou knowest well that I have nothing beside the habit and the cord and the breeches, and even these three things are Thine; what then can I offer or give unto Thy majesty?’ Then God said unto me: ‘Search in thy bosom, and give Me that which thou findest therein’. I searched and found a ball of gold; and I offered it to God; and thus did I three times, even as God three times commanded me; and thereafter I kneeled me down three times and blessed and thanked God who had given me wherewith to offer Him. And straightway, it was given me to understand that these three offerings signified holy obedience, highest poverty and most resplendent chastity; the which God, through His grace, hath permitted me to observe so perfectly that my conscience accuseth me of nothing.
And as thou sawest me put my hands in my bosom and offer to God those three virtues symbolised by those three balls of gold, which God had placed in my bosom; so hath God given me such virtue in my soul that, for all the benefits and all the graces which He hath granted me of His most holy goodness, I ever praise and magnify Him with heart and mouth. These are the words which thou heardest when I thrice lifted up my hands, as thou sawest. But look to it, friar little sheep, that thou watch me no more; but return to thy cell with the blessing of God, and do thou have diligent care of me; because, a few days from now, God will do such great and marvellous things upon this mountain that all the world shall wonder thereat; for He will do certain new things, the which He hath never done unto any creature in this world.”
And, when he had spoken these words, he caused the book of the Gospels to be brought unto him; for God had put it in his mind that, by the opening of the book of the Gospels three times, that which it was the will of God to do unto him should be revealed.
We have not read from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis for months, perhaps because we have been nearing the end of the book. Let’s make up for that by starting the account of the imprinting of the Stigmata. Francis at this time is living solitary a little way from the rest of the order. Brother Leo is his chief point of contact with his brethren; he used to recite the office with Francis – if Francis responded to his salutation …
Coming to the third reflection on the seraphic vision and the imprinting of the most holy Stigmata; as the time of the feast of the most holy Cross drew near, (14 September), one night Brother Leo went to the wonted place and at the wonted hour for to say Matins with Saint Francis, and when he said Domine, labia mea aperies* from the bridge-head as was his wont, Saint Francis made no answer. Brother Leo did not go back again, as Saint Francis had given him commandment; but with a good and holy intention, he crossed the bridge and entered softly into his cell, and not finding him, he thought that he might be praying somewhere in the wood; wherefore he came out again, and by the light of the moon went softly searching through the wood. At last he heard the voice of Saint Francis, and, drawing near, saw him on his knees in prayer, with face and hands raised up to Heaven; and in fervour of spirit he was saying: “Who art thou, O most sweet my God? What am I, most vile worm and Thine unprofitable servant?” And these words he said again and again, and spake no word beside.
Brother Leo, marvelling thereat, lifted up his eyes unto heaven, and as he looked, he saw coming down from heaven a torch of flame exceeding beautiful and bright, which, descending, rested on the head of Saint Francis; and out of the flame there came a voice that spake with Saint Francis, but Brother Leo could not understand the words. Hearing this, and deeming himself unworthy to stand so close to the holy place where that wondrous apparition was revealed, and fearing moreover to offend Saint Francis and disturb him in his contemplation, if perchance he should perceive him, he softly drew back, and standing afar off, waited to see the end: and gazing with eyes fixed, he saw Saint Francis stretch out his hands three times to the flame: and after a long space of time he saw the flame return to heaven.
Gladdened by the vision, he softly turned away to go to his cell again. And as he was going softly, deeming himself unseen, Saint Francis was aware of him by the rustling of the leaves beneath his feet, and bade him wait for him, and not to move.
* The first words of Morning Prayer (Matins): Lord, open my lips (and my mouth will declare thy praise.)
67. Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The biblical texts are to be read in their context, recognising that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world (cf. Genesis 2:15). “Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations. “The earth is the Lord’s” (Psalm. 24:1); “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me” (Leviticus 25:23).
68. The laws found in the Bible dwell on relationships, not only among individuals but also with other living beings. “You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and withhold your help… If you chance to come upon a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting upon the young or upon the eggs; you shall not take the mother with the young” (Dt 22:4, 6). Along these same lines, rest on the seventh day is meant not only for human beings, but also so “that your ox and your donkey may have rest” (Exodus 23:12). Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.
69. We are called to recognise that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes and indeed, “the Lord rejoices in all his works” (Psalm 104:31). By virtue of our unique dignity and our gift of intelligence, we are called to respect creation and its inherent laws, for “the Lord by wisdom founded the earth” (Proverbs 3:19).The Catechism clearly and forcefully criticises a distorted anthropocentrism: “Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection… Each of the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness. Man must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any disordered use of things”.
In this section Pope Francis looks to Saint Francis of Assisi as an example to follow.
I do not want to write this Encyclical without turning to that attractive and compelling figure, whose name I took as my guide and inspiration when I was elected Bishop of Rome. I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast.
He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace.
11. Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise. He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord, just as if they were endowed with reason”. His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”. Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.
12. What is more, Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wisdom 13:5); indeed, “his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since the creation of the world” (Romans 1:20). For this reason, Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty. Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.
Of course, the temptation is never far away to see the world as a problem to be solved. It is perhaps then that we need to stop thinking and start singing! We must refuse to turn the world about us into an object to be used and controlled for short term gain. Creatures are our sisters and brothers.