Tag Archives: Christ

23 December: Cracking the Cathedral Code!

Stop there for a moment! Look at what’s in front of you. This is the quire or choir altar in Canterbury Cathedral.

  • It’s decked in purple, code for repentance and waiting. We’ve been waiting for Christmas, we’ve been repenting, trying to change our ways to be ready to meet Jesus.
  • There are four Greek letters, embroidered in gold. Gold for a King. It was one of the gifts brought by the wise men.
  • Ά and ω are the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet. Code for Jesus is before all and comes after all.
  • The two other letters, ϗ and ρ, or Chi and Ro tend to get mixed together in different geometrical ways. This is because they represent the first two letters of Kristos, Greek for Christ. Artistic licence turns the chi into different shaped crosses, to represent the Cross of Christ.
  • (Sometimes we see ICXC, where the ‘I’ is a Greek ‘J’; ‘C’, is ‘S’; ‘X’ is ‘K’ or ‘Ch’; the early Christians liked this sort of code)
  • So the altar frontal tells us to wait for Jesus the king, the first and last.
  • On the altar are a crucifix and candles. Christ, risen from death, is the light of the world.
  • and there is a Christmas tree. Remember how God called to Moses from the burning bush? You stand on Holy Ground, Moses was told. And so do we.
  • At the back, behind the altar, is the chair of Saint Augustine on which Archbishops are seated on their appointment. We stand on Holy Ground. The chair is code for the Communion of Saints, the faith handed down by the shepherds since 597 when Augustine came to Canterbury.

So, call it praying or thinking or day-dreaming, I had a few good minutes in the Cathedral that morning!

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4 December, Advent Light V: In the beginning.

It’s a while since we heard from Fr James Kurzynski, the astronomer and parish priest, scientist and theologian. He’s been reading Pope Benedict and reflects on his reading in this article.

This extract is from the beginning; do follow the link for a most interesting lead.

Reflecting on Genesis 1:20-24, Benedict XVI (writing then as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger) begins with a beautiful summary of two, core realisations about the Creation narratives and the Church’s authentic understanding of them.*

We can sum up the first in this way: As Christians we read Holy Scripture with Christ. He is our guide all the way through it. He indicates to us in reliable fashion what an image is and where the real, enduring content of a biblical expression may be found. At the same time he is freedom from a false slavery to literalism and a guarantee of the solid, realistic truth of the Bible, which does not dissipate into a cloud of pious pleasantries but remains the sure ground upon which we can stand. Our second realisation was this: Faith in creation is reasonable. Even if reason itself cannot perhaps give an account of it, it searches in faith and finds there the answer that it had been looking for.

*In the Beginning.: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Eerdmans New York, 1995, p21.

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15 November, Little Flowers C: the great love she beareth thee.

This passage made Francis more attractive to me, to see him so close in friendship to Lady Jacopa and asking her for treats as well as the things needed for his burial. As the extract opens, he has just come home to St Mary of the Angels to die, but not before seeing her one last time.

And, when they arrived at Santa Maria degli Angeli, they bore him to the infirmary and there laid him down to rest. Then Saint Francis called unto him one of the companions and spake unto him thus: “Dearest friar, God hath revealed unto me that, of this sickness, on such a day, I shall depart from this life; and thou knowest that the well-beloved Madonna Jacopa di Settensoli, who is devoted to our Order, if she knew of my death and had not been present thereat, would be sore grieved; and therefore do thou send her word that, if she would see me alive, she come hither at once”. The friar made answer: “Father, thou sayest rightly; for in truth, by reason of the great love which she beareth thee, it would be most unseemly if she were not present at thy death”. 

“Go, then,” said Saint Francis, “and bring me inkhorn and paper and pen, and write as I bid thee.” And, when he had brought them, Saint Francis dictated the letter on this wise: “To Madonna Jacopa, the servant of God, Friar Francis, the mendicant of Christ, greeting and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost in our Lord Jesus Christ: Know, well beloved, that Christ the blessed hath, of His grace, revealed unto me that the end of my life is at hand. Therefore, if thou wouldst find me alive, when thou hast seen this letter, arise and come to Santa Maria degli Angell; for, if thou art not come by such a day, thou wilt not find me alive; and bring with thee hair-cloth to wrap my body in, and the wax which is needed for my burial. Also I beseech thee to bring me some of that food which thou wast wont to give me to eat, when I was sick in Rome.” 

And, while this letter was being written, it was revealed of God to Saint Francis that Madonna Jacopa was coming to him and was already nigh unto the place, and brought with her all those things which he was sending to ask for by the letter. Wherefore, when he had had this revelation, Saint Francis told the friar who was writing the letter, not to write further, because there was no need thereof, but to lay aside the letter; whereat the friars marvelled greatly, because he finished not the letter and would not have it sent.

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26 May: Love’s redeeming work is done

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Jackdaws soaring near Uppermill, Yorkshire.

While they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. Acts 1:7.

Charles Wesley wrote many hymns, and this one fits the end of Eastertide, the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus. I like the image of us soaring where Christ has led: on high and beyond. Let us soar now by enjoying as much as we can of what life offers, as Jackdaws, Starlings, Swifts and Seagulls so often seem to celebrate the gift of flight together. Together may we soar when we are called to go above the cloud and the sunset. 

Christ has burst the gates of hell!
Love's redeeming work is done;
fought the fight, the battle won:
lo, our Sun's eclipse is o'er,
lo, he sets in blood no more.
Vain the stone, the watch, the seal;
Christ has burst the gates of hell;
death in vain forbids his rise;
Christ has opened paradise.
Lives again our glorious King;
where, O death, is now thy sting?
dying once, he all doth save;
where thy victory, O grave?
Soar we now where Christ has led,
following our exalted Head;
made like him, like him we rise;
ours the cross, the grave, the skies.
Hail the Lord of earth and heaven!
Praise to thee by both be given:
thee we greet triumphant now;
hail, the Resurrection Thou!

                                                   

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April: 13 A Lenten Litany.

For you were slain and by your blood you ransomed men for God …….

For you were rejected, and through that rejection
You ransomed men for God,
           Lord have mercy.

For you were betrayed, and by that betrayal
You ransomed men for God,
          Christ have Mercy.

For you were mocked, and by that mockery
You ransomed men for God,
          Dear Lord have mercy.

For you were scourged, and by that brutality
You ransomed me for God,
          Dear Lord have mercy.

For you were clothed in purple and insulted
And by those insults you ransomed men for God,
          Christ have mercy.

For you were crowned, not with gold, but thorns.
And with that crown you ransomed men for God.
          Dear Lord have mercy.

For you were stripped and spat upon,
And by your humiliation you redeemed me for God.
          Christ have mercy.

You stood alone and heard the cry of 'Crucify',
And by that cry you have redeemed men for God,
          Lord have mercy.

For you were abandoned and in your abandonment
You redeemed me for God.
          Lord have mercy.

You embraced the wood of your cross,
Embracing the death that you would die
          To ransom men for God.
          Dear Lord have mercy.

In blood and dirt from the road and pain
You met your Mother.
In that shared pain you ransomed men for God.
          Christ have mercy.

You had compassion on the thief who sought your peace,
Your compassion is the ransom of all men for God.
          Christ have mercy.

I drank water to refresh my mouth.
They gave you vinegar to drink.
You drank the searing bitterness of sin
          And by your thirst you ransomed men for God.

You died . . . as all men die . . . alone.
And by your loneliness you ransomed men for God.
          Dear Lord have mercy.

How long those hours, so dark, until your 'hour' was done.
But through the darkness you redeemed us all.#

Christ obedient,
Christ victorious,
Christ wounded,
Christ our brother,
Offered to our Father.

Sheila Billingsley, March 2022

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17 February: Today, this is my vocation XV: Painting as preaching.

ANGELICO,_Fra_Annunciation,_1437-46_(2236990916).jpg (1008×700)


Annunciation by Fra Angelico

John of Fiesole joined the Order of Friars Preacher, or Dominicans, but his vocation lay with the walls of churches rather than their pulpits; he is better known to us as Fra Angelico. Here are the thoughts of E.V. Lucas in the early years of last century, who visited, studied and enjoyed Angelico’s work in Florence and elsewhere.

As to Fra Angelico’s character, let Vasari+ tell us. “He would often say that whosoever practised art needed a quiet life and freedom from care, and he who occupies himself with the things of Christ ought always to be with Christ. . . . Some say that Fra Giovanni never took up his brush without first making a prayer. . . . He never made a crucifix when the tears did not course down his cheeks.”

The one curious thing—to me—about Fra Angelico is that he has not been canonised.* If ever a son of the Church toiled for her honour and for the happiness of mankind it was he… His pictures will be found not only in Florence and Italy but in the chief galleries of the world; for he was very assiduous. We have an excellent example at the National Gallery.

In looking at his pictures, three things in particular strike the mind: the skill with which he composed them; his mastery of light; and—and here he is unique—the pleasure he must have had in painting them. All seem to have been play; he enjoyed the toil exactly as a child enjoys the labour of building a house with toy bricks. Nor, one feels, could he be depressed. Even in his Crucifixions there is a certain underlying happiness, due to his knowledge that the Crucified was to rise again and ascend to Heaven and enjoy eternal felicity. Knowing this (as he did know it) how could he be wholly cast down?

From “A Wanderer in Florence” by E. V. Lucas, 1912.

+ Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) is credited as the first art historian. His Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects is a valuable resource for the Renaissance.

* In 1982 Pope John Paul II beatified Fra Angelico as Blessed John of Fiesole and later declared him the patron of catholic artists.

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16 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2022. Introduction, II.

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Jerusalem is a powerful symbol for Christians because it is “The City of Peace”, where all humanity was saved and redeemed. But today peace is missing from the city. Even prayer in Jerusalem has become subject to political and military measures. Various parties stake their claim to it and disregard others. Jerusalem was the city of kings, indeed the city that Jesus will enter triumphantly, acclaimed as king (Luke 19:28-44). Naturally the Magi expected to find the newborn king revealed by the star in this royal city.

However, the narrative tells us that, rather than being blessed by the birth of the Saviour king, the whole of
Jerusalem was in tumult, much as it is today. Today, more than ever, the Middle East needs a heavenly light to accompany the people.

In this context Christians are called to seek the new-born king, the king of gentleness, peace and love. But where is the star that leads the way to him? It is the mission of the Church to be the star that lights the way to Christ who is the light of the world. By word and through action the Christian people are called to light the way so that Christ might be revealed, once again, to the nations. Yet divisions dim the light of Christian witness and obscure the way, preventing others from finding their way to Christ. Conversely, Christians united in their worship of Christ, and opening their treasures in an exchange of gifts, become a
sign of the unity that God desires for all of creation.

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11 November: Why do men go to War?

Remembrance sand art portrait of Wilfred Owen, 11.11.2018, Folkestone.

It is the late 1930s. War looks inevitable. We break into a discussion that Virginia Woolf is holding with herself – herself as an imaginary male lawyer – on how to prevent war. She asks, ‘Why do men fight?’ She sums up her previous few paragraphs thus:

Here, immediately, are three reasons which lead your sex to fight; war is a profession; a source of happiness and excitement; and it is also an outlet for manly qualities, without which men would deteriorate. But that these feelings and opinions are by no means universally held by your sex is proved by the following extract from another biography, the life of a poet who was killed in the European war: Wilfred Owen.

Already I have comprehended a light which never will filter into the dogma of any national church: namely, that one of Christ’s essential commands was: Passivity at any price! Suffer dishonour and disgrace, but never resort to arms. Be bullied, be outraged, be killed; but do not kill … Thus you see how pure Christianity will not fit in with pure patriotism.

And among some notes for poems that he did not live to write are these: The unnaturalness of weapons … Inhumanity of war … The insupportability of war … Horrible beastliness of war … Foolishness of war.

from “THREE GUINEAS: A book-length essay” by Virginia Woolf, via Kindle.

Quite what Wilfred Owen would have said in the face of the bullying, outrageous killers of the Third Reich is another question, but he would have had no reason to change his mind about war’s unnaturalness, inhumanity, foolishness and the rest. Has war ever been a contest between two groups of men with no involvement of civilians and their way of life? Of course not.

See also this post and search Agnellus Mirror for Wilfred Owen for more reflections on the Great War.

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16 October: Resplendent and ablaze, Little Flowers LXXXVII

So much did the fervour of devotion increase in Saint Francis that he altogether transformed himself into Jesus through love and pity.

He saw, coming from heaven, a Seraph, with six wings resplendent and ablaze; He bore the likeness to a crucified Man; two wings extended above His head, two were spread out to fly, and the other two covered all His body. Saint Francis was sore afraid, and, at the same time, was filled with joy and grief and wonder. He had passing great joy of the gracious aspect of Christ, who appeared to him so familiarly and regarded him so kindly; but, on the other hand, seeing Him crucified upon the cross, he felt immeasurable grief for pity’s sake. Next, he marvelled much at so strange and stupendous a vision, knowing well that the infirmity of suffering agreeth not with the immortality of the seraphic spirit. And, while he thus marvelled, it was revealed unto him by Him who appeared to him: that that vision had been shown unto him in that form, by the Divine providence, to the end that he might understand that, not by corporal suffering but by enkindling of the mind, he must be altogether transformed into the express image of Christ crucified, in that marvellous vision.

Then all the mountain of Alvernia seemed to burn with brightest flame, which shone forth and lighted up all the mountains and the valleys round about, even as if the sun had risen upon the earth; wherefore the shepherds, who kept watch in those regions, beholding the mountain all on fire and so great a light round about it, were very much afraid, according as they afterward related to the friars, declaring that that flame continued upon the mountain of Alvernia for the space of an hour or more. In like manner, by reason of the brightness of this light, which shone through the windows into the hostelries of the countryside, certain muleteers, who were journeying into Romagna, rose up, believing that the sun had risen, and saddled and loaded their beasts; and, as they went upon their way, they beheld the said light die out, and the material sun arise.

In the said seraphic vision, Christ, who appeared to Saint Francis, spake unto him certain high and secret things, the which Saint Francis was never willing to reveal to any one during his life; but, after his death, he revealed it, even as is set forth below; and the words were these: “Knowest thou,” said Christ, “that which I have done unto thee? I have given thee the stigmata, which are the tokens of My Passion, so that thou mayest be My standard-bearer. And even as I, on the day of My death, descended into Limbo, and, in virtue of these My stigmata, drew out thence all the souls which I found there; so to thee do I grant that, every year on the day of thy death, thou shalt go to purgatory, and in virtue of thy stigmata, shalt draw out thence all the souls of thy three Orders, to wit minors, sisters and continents, and also those others who have borne great devotion unto thee, and shalt lead them unto the glory of paradise, to the end that thou mayest be conformed to Me in death as thou art in life.”

Now 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. 

With all the light pollution caused by modern fear of the dark, nobody would notice the coming of Christ on the mountain! But we should all bear in mind the words ‘not by corporal suffering but by enkindling of the mind, [we] must be altogether transformed into the express image of Christ crucified.’

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.

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September 12, 1775: A most pleasing effect on my mind. Season of Creation XIV.

An Island ferry docked at Mallaig.

Two Hundred and forty six years ago, Dr Johnson and James Boswell were on the Isle of Raasay in the Hebrides, making for Skye and thence for home. No regular Calmac ferry then! Indeed they had waited in the islands for clement weather to allow the rowing boats to set out. Now the conversation grew serious; can one die contented? Johnson’s answer is comprehensive, and reminds me of the old catechism answer: God made me to know him, love him and serve him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in the next. We rely on his mercy for the latter.

More of Boswell’s idiosyncratick spelling!

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 12. It was a beautiful day, and although we did not approve of travelling on Sunday, we resolved to set out, as we were in an island from whence one must take occasion as it serves. Macleod and Talisker sailed in a boat of Rasay’s for Sconser, to take the shortest way to Dunvegan. M’Cruslick went with them to Sconser, from whence he was to go to Slate, and so to the main land. We were resolved to pay a visit at Kingsburgh, and see the celebrated Miss Flora Macdonald, who is married to the present Mr. Macdonald of Kingsburgh; so took that road, though not so near.

All the family, but Lady Rasay, walked down to the shore to see us depart. Rasay himself went with us in a large boat, with eight oars, built in his island; as did Mr. Malcolm M’Cleod, Mr. Donald M’Queen, Dr. Macleod, and some others. We had a most pleasant sail between Rasay and Sky; and passed by a cave, where Martin says fowls were caught by lighting fire in the mouth of it. Malcolm remembers this. But it is not now practised, as few fowls come into it.

We spoke of Death. Dr. Johnson on this subject observed, that the boastings of some men, as to dying easily, were idle talk, proceeding from partial views. I mentioned Hawthornden’s Cypress-grove, where it is said that the world is a mere show; and that it is unreasonable for a man to wish to continue in the show-room, after he has seen it. Let him go cheerfully out, and give place to other spectators.

JOHNSON. ‘Yes, Sir, if he is sure he is to be well, after he goes out of it. But if he is to grow blind after he goes out of the show-room, and never to see any thing again; or if he does not know whither he is to go next, a man will not go cheerfully out of a show-room. No wise man will be contented to die, if he thinks he is to go into a state of punishment. Nay, no wise man will be contented to die, if he thinks he is to fall into annihilation: for however unhappy any man’s existence may be, he yet would rather have it, than not exist at all. No; there is no rational principle by which a man can die contented, but a trust in the mercy of GOD, through the merits of Jesus Christ.’

This short sermon, delivered with an earnest tone, in a boat upon the sea, which was perfectly calm, on a day appropriated to religious worship, while every one listened with an air of satisfaction, had a most pleasing effect upon my mind.

From “Life of Johnson, Vol 5 Tour to the Hebrides (1773)” by James Boswell.

Keeley Psalms devotions_30
Follow this link for Sister Johanna’s Psalm reflection for today, again bearing out CS Lewis and Thomas Merton:

‘In the psalms we have theology expressed poetically.’ 

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