Tag Archives: children

August 15: W is for Walsingham, Mary’s town

 

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As a young man I felt ambivalent about Catholic devotion to Mary. I remembered how the Redemptorists who staffed the parish and the teachers in the primary school served up what now seems a sentimental soup of hymns which emphasised the differences between us and the ‘wicked men [who] blaspheme thee.’

rosary.rjbMy father’s well-thumbed rosary has appeared in these reflections before. His convert’s devotion was not stultifying but I had and have difficulty in seeing the Assumption, today’s feast, as central to my faith. but belief in the Assumption of Mary – he being taken up, bodily to heaven at her death – was required of anyone who sought to become a Catholic Christian. Just as well I was a cradle Catholic!

Walsingham helped reconcile me to some Marian devotion. I think it was to do with the ecumenical nature of the town, with Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox churches in close proximity and, by the time of my second visit with L’Arche Kent in 1976, living in harmony.

Another pilgrimage, a few years later, threw new light on the place of Mary for me. We were visiting Lichfield Cathedral from the Dominicans’ conference centre at nearby Spode House. ‘We’ were a group of children with learning difficulties, their parents and friends. We had a service in the Cathedral and afterwards looked around. I was grabbed by one boy who wanted to show me a snake, carved on a memorial tablet: ‘It’s an obsession of his’, said his father.

We then realised that little Jenny was missing. Jenny had no speech, we did not know what she might do.

We found her, curled up in the Lady Chapel. ‘I should have known!’ said her foster-mother. Jenny preached without words but with an eloquence that reached one who is liable to let his head rule his heart even when it should be the other way around.

Our Lady of Walsingham by Saracen 78.

 

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17 July: Music

sjc music

Music
Lines: only five
evenly spaced and ongoing
there is always room in the universe
for infinity’s seed to germinate, and on the left
of the five lines, the treble sign, inward and reverent,
moves roundly, a pregnant woman, her sweet baby coiled
in her sheltered space: music of life, notes tip-toe on their lines
and spaces, sharps, flats, trills and runs patter and boom, blooming and falling.

SJC

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14 July: The Shepherd girl and the goldfish.

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Here’s a Story from France for July 14. A small town girl, delighted by the sights of the big city: here is a letter from St Bernadette of Lourdes to her sisters back home. She is describing her journey to Nevers where she was to enter the noviciate of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, the sisters who had educated her. On the way they stopped at Bordeaux.

Let me tell you how we made our journey. On Wednesday at six o’clock in the evening we arrived at Bordeaux, and there we stayed till Friday at one o’clock. I beg you to believe that we made good use  of our time there to get around – and in a carriage, if you please.

We were taken to visit all the houses (presumably of her order). I have the honour of telling you that they are not like the house in Lourdes, especially the Imperial Institute for Deaf Girls; you’d think it was more like a palace than a religious house.

We went to see the Carmelite church, and from there made our way to the Garonne to see the ships. Next we went to the Jardin des Plantes: I tell you we saw something quite new: can you guess what? It was fish: golden, black, white and grey. The loveliest thing for me was seeing this little creatures swimming around in front of a crowd of little urchins who were watching them.

Although as a child I liked to see the fish in our local park pool, I perhaps wouldn’t have appreciated that last paragraph as I do now, seeing Bernadette as an excitable young woman. It is always good to see the humanity of the saints.

I wanted to share this with you because Bernadette is revealed as a flesh-and-blood young woman, rather than the unattainably super-holy, superwoman put before us in primary school, at least as I recall. Saints are truly human and enjoy the blessings of this life as well as anyone else. Another Laudato Si! moment.

MMB.

Photo by Stan Shebs.

 

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July 10, readings from Mary Webb XVIII: The Neighbour’s Children

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This poem hurts more  than yesterday’s, I feel.
They run to meet me, clinging to my dress,
The neighbour’s children. With a wild unrest
And sobbings of a strange, fierce tenderness,
I snatch them to my breast.
But my baby, ah! my baby
Weepeth–weepeth
In the far loneliness of nonentity,
And holds his little spirit hands to me,
Crying ‘Mother!’ and nearer creepeth;
Beats on my heart’s lit window anxiously,
Shivering and sobbing, ‘Mother, let me in!
Give me my rosy dress, my delicate dress
Of apple-blossom flesh, dark eyes like flowers,
And warm mouth kissed by a red anemone.
Give me my toys–the hills, the seas, the sun,
Loud song, wild winds, the morning’s cloudy towers.
Give hands to hold and ears to hear and feet to run.
Give me my lesson books–fear, love and sin–
All hell to brave, all heaven to win!’

Then, shadowy, wild and wan,
A little face peers in,
Except in dreams unknown even to me,
And like a summer cloud is gone.
It is the neighbour’s children, playing near,
With voices ringing clear.
But far in twilight, like a moon-awakened bird,
Was that another, fainter laugh I heard?

Brockagh School, Co Leitrim, 1969

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3 June: More Passion Flowers

 

passion.flower.st.Thomas.smI’m sure you’ll understand why I don’t usually take my phone to church, even if this one usually stays switched off when I switch it off. Not like the one that erupted into cacophonous life during an Archbishop’s sermon. This habit partly explains why I’ve only just added this picture of a passion flower from Saint Thomas’ Church in Canterbury. We looked at the symbolism of the flower a few months ago after we spotted some on tombstones in nearby Chartham. You can tell the Christian story with it.

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Here is the real thing, a promise of summer to come, and also of heaven to come! Saint Thomas’ flower is next to the sacristy door, the priest and servers process by the passion flower on the way to the altar to celebrate the passion and death of Jesus.

As we have remarked more than once, Jesus lived a lifelong passion. He enjoyed the world, loved it. He told us parables about the flowers of the field, trees and fruit, wine and wineskins, seeds and sowers, so it’s appropriate that we should have this little parable in stone in our Church, even if Jesus would not have known one in his earthly life.
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Would Jesus have known this plant, the hop? I don’t know, but it was very common in Kent back in the Nineteenth Century when the church was built, and is still grown in the local area for the brewing industry.  Hops were harvested by hand until after the Second World War, with whole families joining in; school holidays in Canterbury were adjusted to allow children and parents to go to the hop gardens legally rather than as truants!

The hops can be seen between two arches on the opposite side of the Church. They represent the people of Canterbury, and the work of their hands. So Christ’s offering and ours, depicted in stone on the walls of our Church: Laudato Si!

PS: So far we’ve not found carved passion flowers in any local churchyard that we’ve visited since Chartham.

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April 26: What became of the fish?

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This was Brocagh School in County Leitrim, close to the Irish border, in 1969. A year or so later the little 2 classroom schools would be all closed down and a new school built in Glenfarne village. The assistant teacher was leaving anyway to get married! So this is an historic photo graph! As seminarians (student priests) we went two and two to the little schools and gave the children an RE lesson each week.

It was Mrs McCormack who gave me a valuable lesson, thanks to Joe McHugh, down there in the front row. One week after Easter we had John’s story of the breakfast by the lake after the miraculous catch of fish, and Peter’s final declaration of faith; I felt the lesson went well. I had the ultimate visual aid close at hand in the lake: Lough MacNean.

The children drew some remarkable pictures, but Mrs McCormack drew my attention to Joe’s in particular: come here now, Joe, what’s this in the corner? – It’s Saint Peter’s lorry, Miss, come to carry away the fish. I’d missed the lorry completely; I’d not interpreted the shapes he’d drawn in 20th Century terms.

What she knew, but I did not, was that Joe’s family had recently acquired a lorry which was Joe’s pride and joy, so of course St Peter would have had his lorry ready to take the fish to market. The story made sense to Joe, and has always made more sense to me as a consequence; thank you Joe, wherever you are.

An earlier version of this true story appears in thepelicans.org.uk website, Gallery p356.

MMB

Here, for the record are names of the children as far as their neighbours could remember them. Back Row: ——, Paddy McManus, John McManus, Jimmy Peckanham, ?Junior McHugh, Sean McGivern, Sean Clancy, Thomas Kelly, Ann Keany, Bernadette Clancy; 2nd Row: ?Teacher —— Agnes O’Hara, —— Breege Campbell, Bernadette Kelly, Kitty Cullen, Lily Pechenham, Owen O’Hara, Marie O’Hara, ——, Ann Brady, Ann McHugh, Ann Kelly, ?Mrs McCormack; 3rd Row: Josephine Clancy, —— McPartlin, ——? Gerry Clancy, ———, ———,———, Veronica McHugh, Geraldine McGuire, ?Teresa Keany; Front Row: Bridget McManus, Noel McManus, Ann Kelly, ——, Joe McLoughlin, Joe McHugh, Hugo Clancy, Margaret McGuire, Damien McGuire, Rosaleen McLoughlin (Thanks to Olivia O’Dolan, Mary Brady-Timoney, her sisters Kathleen Brady- Keaney and Bridget Brady – Fitzpatrick; Ben McHugh and Clancy family

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17 April: Stations for Peter XI: Jesus speaks to his Mother.

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Jesus spoke to his mother, but Peter was not beside him and Mary. Jesus asked John to care for his mother.

Scripture references: Peter a long way off: Luke 22:54-55; 23:49; Mary and John at the Cross: John 19: 25-27; Peter’s mother-in-law: Matthew 3:14-15.

I was not there, not really there. Back in the crowd I was.

I don’t think he could even see me, and no way could I hear his gasping words, but young John was there, John was listening closely.

Jesus knew John was there, and his mother, Mary. He told John to care for her.

I would have done it.

Didn’t he care for my mother-in-law?

I let him down again.

Let us pray for everyone caring for other people’s parents, and their own; for adoptive and foster children and parents, and for all who work with children.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom!

Window, St Mary, Rye, Sussex, MMB.

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16 April: Stations for Peter X: Jesus is crucified.

winchester crucifix

Peter stood a long way off, but he probably had little choice.

Scripture references: Peter’s boat: Matthew 13:1-3; Let the children come: Luke 18: 15-17; the Crucifixion: Luke 23:33-34.

Everyone always wanted to be near Jesus. We used to try to protect him, to keep the crowds away.

I remember when he sat in my boat, just to have room to breathe! 

I remember when we sent the children away. He used to get tired just like anybody else, but No, he said, let them come to me. And climb all over him, arms and legs hanging on everywhere.

Now, no-one can get near, soldiers with swords and spears hold us back while they hammer nails through him and hang him up on high.

No last minute rescue.

The whole world seemed dark.

Let us pray for everyone in prison, especially those held for no real crime at all; and for those separated from their families and loved ones, kept apart by bullying governments and authorities.

Jesus remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.

 

Image from Winchester Cathedral by MMB.

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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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