Tag Archives: children

11 February: Of such is the kingdom of God

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I thought I’d put these two passages together for the Sunday when we read the extract from Luke – only to find that these verses are not used. So here we are today instead, it’s Mary’s feast day and she features in this post.

And they brought unto him also infants, that he might touch them. Which when the disciples saw, they rebuked them. But Jesus, calling them together, said: Suffer the children to come to me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Amen, I say to you: Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a child, shall not enter into it.

Luke 18:15-17.

I am used to rather sentimental pictures of this story, a stained glass Jesus who looks like a film star, perfectly trimmed beard, freshly shampooed blond hair …

But I cast my mind back and thought of the children making the Way of the Cross with me in St Thomas’ church, Canterbury. Spontaneously a group of them gathered around the life size Mary and Jesus in the Pieta. wanting to stroke, console and condole with the Sorrowful Mother.

There was no disrespect in this, and mercifully, no-one present took offence. Yet I could imagine the tut-tuts that might have been uttered another time. No doubt the little ones who met Jesus in the flesh wanted to touch him and climb all over him, and it’s not difficult to envisage the disciples trying to pull them away. But ‘of such is the kingdom of God.’ I think it is fair to let this phrase suggest that Jesus felt himself within the kingdom when the children were swarming over him.

Pope Francis gave his customary press conference on the plane returning from World Youth Days in Panama

At the end of the conference the Pope thanked reporters for their work, and left them with a final thought about Panama: “I would like to say one thing about Panama: I felt a new sentiment, this word came to me: Panama is a noble nation. I found nobility.

“And then”, he concluded, “I would like to mention something else, which we in Europe do not see and which I saw here in Panama. I saw the parents raising their children and saying: this is my victory, this is my pride, this is my future. In the demographic winter that we are living in Europe – and in Italy it is below zero – it must make us think. What is my pride? Tourism, holidays, the villa, the dog? Or the child?”

I am proud of my children, though (or even because) they are all very different. But it would not be a healthy pride if they needed to win my approval rather than doing right, and following their own vocation rather than one laid down by their parents. I can say of my family – with those Panamanian parents – this is my victory, this is my pride, this is my future. Though I trust I will not be too much of a burden to any of them when I’m definitely doddering!

Brocagh School in Ireland, 50 years ago.

 

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January 9: Butterflies in Winter!

butterflies at glebe

The village school’s reception class is called the Butterflies, and they brought a hint of Spring to a winter’s day at the L’Arche garden.

The four and five year olds came to learn and exercise a few gardening skills, to meet some of the community and enjoy the winter sunshine. Of course, the sun shines as brightly in the village as in the city. And it’s generally quieter there, unless a tractor or chain saw is on the go. The inner ring road runs roaring past the garden so it’s never really quiet. But we, sometimes grudgingly, ignore it and so did the children, though one boy noticed the trains accelerating from the station, something he would not hear at school.

Everyone noticed the sirens as the two fire engines raced past. Drama that does not happen in the village! I looked up from my planting to see three of the girls, arms linked, dancing in a circle, chanting nee-naw, nee-naw, taking pleasure from the sounds, taking pleasure from being alive on a sunny winter’s day in the youth of the world.

And my mind’s ear remembered the blackbird who lifted a telephone warble into his song, and the thrushes and starlings who also make music of our human racket, even getting me halfway down the garden path to answer a starling’s phone call, and I thought, why not? Why not dance when the world is young, and your friends are around you, and you have a day off from routine, and so much to be grateful for? Words are not always enough.

Admiring the River from a safe distance.

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3 January: What’s in a name?

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‘My baby’s called Aubergine’, the little girl told me. I can’t help feeling that Aubergine will stick, even though it is not the one her parents will propose at her Baptism.

Some people are insistent on getting their names spelt and pronounced correctly. I taught one boy who had a soft spot for me because I always spelt his name with a K instead of the C it has in English. I must say I hate it when my name is spelt wrong, especially when people do it in front of me, without asking.

Others just do not feel comfortable with their names.  I was reading of a Spiritan Missionary who prefered to be called Shorty rather than Colman Watkins. He worked in Kenya and helped in Ethiopia when the Catholic Church there was in crisis. Peter was a nickname given to Simon by Jesus.

Another missionary who changed his name was Saint Edmund Campion. He travelled through England incognito during the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth, celebrating Mass for faithful Catholics when to do so was counted treason and liable to the death penalty.

We see him with his martyr’s palm and the rope he was hanged with, and his name in blood red mosaic tiles. Another name appears to the left: IHS – the first three letters of the Holy Name of Jesus in Greek. It’s a long tradition, going back to when parchment or papyrus was not cheap, and it’s stayed with us.

Appropriately enough this image is in the Holy Name church in Manchester, run by the Jesuit order to which Edmund Campion belonged. Happy Feast to them!

Not Morris but Maurice!

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29 December: The Suffering of the Innocents

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Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury

There is nothing so devastating to bear as the suffering of children or animals, but it is no good letting oneself be made hopeless and helpless with sorrow. I often wonder how Our Lord’s Mother got through the time of the massacre of the Holy Innocents, which all came about really because of Him! What could she do? All she could do was what she did with regard to the doubt of S. Joseph and all else, just be silent and trust.

pieta.wfThat is all you or I can do. We know that the idea of making a little child stumble drew from Our Lord the most burning words of condemnation he ever spoke, and that, somehow or other, the little one’s suffering is also the suffering of the Babe of Bethlehem, and the Divine Life is inextricably bound up with our human life and our sufferings are really also His. It is a mystery which we cannot explain, and the best i can do is to help you or me or any other perplexed person to go without an explanation, to trust God’s love where we cannot trace his purpose.

Father Andrew SDC.

The life and Letters of Father Andrew, London, Mowbray, 1948, pp 245-246.

Pieta from Missionaries of Africa

 

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28 December: Children in Need

Here’s another seasonal poem from Sheila Billingsley. Challenging feasts like St Stephen and the Innocents jerk us out of any complacent sentimentality about the Babe in the manger. 

Children in Need

‘Suffer,’ you said,

Rebuking misplaced care.

‘Suffer the children to come to me.

Men reject me,

Reject my Father’s love.

The children embrace me,

Gaze ….. those eyes!

Touch me,

Hold me,

My hand ….. arm,

Climb my knee,

Tread on my toe!

The dominant one, his arm around my neck,

Triumphant.
They cannot tire me.
Remember the children of my childhood,

Little boys,

And I a babe from among them,

Slaughtered like beasts in my stead.
Suffer the children

Down through the ages,

Suffer the new-born,

Fragile, hand held.

Suffer, for they suffered.
Who will pray for them

And for the children to come?
Those eyes …..
‘Who will pray for me?’
Days for this

And days for that,

Days for aged,

Days for youth,

Dogs and donkeys,

Cancer, cats.
For children

In need, in danger?

Infants exposed to evil

Unacknowledged?
TV, phone,

School and street,

Chain link fence enclosing terror,

Violence watched calmly over breakfast.
Feed your great, sad eyes, my children

For this is your life.
I too suffered

That you should come to me.

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December 4: Thomas Traherne XV: You are God’s joy.

plowden.madonna

Church-going Christians are used to being called to rejoice in the Lord, but here Traherne suggests that we are God’s joy. As if God had emotions! But whatever we say about God  is a very approximate attempt to grapple with a reality we cannot grasp. Remember that Genesis tells us that he saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good. So good that he came to earth to experience it all.

Were you not born to have communion with Him? And that cannot be without this heavenly union. Which when it is what it ought is Divine and Infinite.

You are God’s joy for willing what He willeth. He loves to see you good and blessed. And will not you love to see Him good?

Verily, if ever you would enjoy God, you must enjoy His goodness: All His goodness to all His hosts in Heaven and Earth. And when you do so, you are the universal heir of God and all things.

God is yours and the whole world. You are His, and you are all; or in all, and with all.

Photo: MMB, Plowden Church, Shropshire.

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11 November: Poppies for remembering

poppy.bridge

We took a walk in South Manchester, going  to the Fletcher Moss Park along this footpath. Here it crosses over the tram lines; not only has the bridge been decorated with poppies, but where the overgrown verges of the path have been cleared, three local primary schools have sown poppy seeds, ready to come up in the next few weeks. (I was writing this in March, but the poppies did indeed flower during the summer.)

There were poems by some of the children attached to the fence, just out of sight.

On this centenary Remembrance Day, what should we teach them about events that no-one alive remembers? In an increasingly aggressive world, do we say ‘Si Vis Pacem. Pare Bellum’ – ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’? That makes a certain sense, but it is not the way we expect them to behave in the playground.

A sense of injustice can lead to war; but there is also greed. And there is romanticising of self-sacrifice in battle which all too easily prevents the asking of difficult questions. (How dare you suggest my father/brother/son died for nothing.)

There were reasons why our fathers and grandfathers did not speak of their wartime experiences: because romantic it was not. As well as pain, loneliness and fear, a man had to be ready to kill fellow human beings, individually or en masse. Many hated this duty but there was also bloodlust; something we have witnessed, and continue to witness, in today’s conflicts.

Perhaps it’s good to introduce the children to the idea of self-sacrifice, while diverting them from the glorification of war and from the aggressive war games we used to play – in times when the nation had not got the Second World War out of its system. That of course is too easily said, when immersive shoot-up games are readily available on computers and on line. Do these dissipate aggression or reinforce it?

MMB

 

 

 

 

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October 21. What is Theology Saying? XXXIV: My “me” is dependent on desires.

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The fact that my way is illusory means that it cannot be natural, a mistake cannot be of the essence of anything. That this is world-wide and world-old cannot make it natural. Revelation has something to tell us about living together; and we must avoid supposing an autonomy of social science, which forgets that modern social theory is formulated specifically against theology. It shares the same illusion of seeing reality as setting one against another. As a consequence of faith in the Incarnation, we receive the awareness that self-awareness comes from seeing self as total gift – no rivalry, as each one is unique.

Why does the infant struggle to repeat words and sounds; a process we take for granted? It isn’t automatic [and often missing in the Autistic]. This pull we feel confronting us as gravity is for the planets. It is a call to imitate, it is repetitive learning. We move into adult life through relating and, like gravity, such imitating both attracts and repels. We are attracted and we imitate, but eventually imitation leads to rivalry, using the same model differently. Our model is now our rival through whom we define ourselves against.

We imitate not just what the model looks like – but also what he/she has; it is this moving towards an object other than the model that we call desire. It pulls us away from the model into a kind of autonomy. But something more is required to fashion me. This involves focussing on the model as being – wanting to be who the model is. It is this imitating that eventually leads to rivalry: an impossible rivalry. Rivalry is resolved by exclusion or marginalising the victim – asserting individual self over the self of the other – I establish me through many victories gained in this way.

Does this mean we are all victimisers? The sense of self is always given – not acquired. It is the tension set in place by my sense of self as given, and as self acquired by violent means – this is the essence of Original Sin. My sense of self is unstable, changeable, other-dependent – the other who is there before me. My “me” is dependent on the desires that gave rise to it. Christian scholars understood the way in which humans relate to God in terms of where we come from, where we are going and how to get there.

AMcC

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October 9: Traherne X: you must be Heir of the World

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Love has a marvellous property of feeling in another It can enjoy in another, as well as enjoy him. Love is an infinite treasure to its object, and its object is so to it. God is Love, and you are His object. You are created to be His Love : and He is yours. He is happy in you, when you are happy : as parents in their children. He is afflicted in all your afflictions.

And whosoever toucheth you, toucheth the apple of His eye.

Will not you be happy in all His enjoyments ? He feeleth in you ; will not you feel in Him? He hath obliged you to love Him. And if you love Him, you must of necessity be Heir of the World, for you are happy in Him. All His praises are your joys, all His enjoyments are your treasures, all His pleasures are your enjoyments. In God you are crowned, in God you are concerned. In Him you feel, in Him you live, and move, and have your being, in Him yon are blessed. Whatsoever therefore serveth Him, serveth you and in Him you inherit all things.

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27 August. Shared Table XXIV: Prue and the Firefighters

shared-meal-xmas

When Abel’s mother was growing up, Prue Leith was advising what was still British Rail on catering for their passengers. Abel’s mother and her sisters really enjoyed Casey Jones milk shakes from Charing Cross station in London, superior to the franchise operators who took over after privatisation.

Ms Leith was writing about meals in the i newspaper recently (June 30). At the same time as she was devising London’s best milk shakes, her company was catering for city firms, But that business has gone. People are eating alone at their desks, as we read recently.

An exception is the Fire Service, where one firefighter on each watch will shop and cook for the crew: breakfast, lunch, dinner. Meals matter to keep the individual firefighters fit and healthy, and to keep the team fit and healthy, knowing each other, looking out for each other, ‘having each other’s backs.’

I share Ms Leith’s sorrow that eating together has been slipping away from work and family life. Let’s turn off the tv or radio and enjoy each other’s fresh news and stale jokes again!

A festive table from the Littlehampton Sisters, who need no lessons from me in eating, living and praying together! WT

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