Tag Archives: Christians

26 December: Sober this Christmas?

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I was looking for inspiration for Saint Stephen’s day, a martyrdom straight after the birth of baby Jesus. I also had an eye open for frankincense, because Abel is to play Caspar the Wise Man or King in the school Nativity play. Siesta is the obvious shop for such things in Canterbury and they did not disappoint: half a dozen sticks of frankincense, or so they claim were soon found and in my bag.

It was on my way out that I saw the card, the bright red was hard to ignore. The message on the front read, ‘What’s sobriety got to do with Christmas’, which reminded me of the ancient card or cracker joke: ‘be like the early Christians this Christmas, get stoned.’ Which brings us back to Saint Stephen, shown here with a pile of the stones people used to kill him. The statue is above the main door of his Church in Canterbury.

Already on Pentecost Day the Apostles had been accused of drunkenness because of their proclamation of the Good News (Acts 2:15). A few weeks later Stephen was arrested, and his words sound like a drunken illusion (Acts 7:56-60).

Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, [who was] calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Even when stone-cold sober, people can act irrationally and sinfully; a sobering message indeed.

Let us pray for all our Christian sisters and brothers who are trying to live out their vocation as members of a minority, sometimes suspected of treason, open to accusations of blasphemy, and liable to suffer violence and murder.

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News from L’Arche Asha Vani in India

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We have received a newsletter from the Asha Vani community in India, which bears witness to a different way of interfaith meeting. Please follow the link to read it all.

The newsletter opens with Ten rules for life to become more human, by Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche:

• Accept the reality of your body
• Talk about your emotions and difficulties
• Don’t be afraid of not being successful
• In a relationship, take the time to ask “How are you?”
• Stop looking at your phone. Be present!
• Ask people “What is your story?”
• Be aware of your own story
• Stop prejudice: meet people
• Listen to your deepest desire
• Remember that you’ll die one day

Very good advice, but do read the rest of the newsletter!

 

Asha Vani November 2018-light

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August 28: Cultural Centre bears witness to the “universality” of the Church

Here to mark the feast of Saint Augustine is a story from his native land of Algeria, where the Missionaries of Africa have been present for more than 100 years. Their society is 150 years old this year. 

Precious volumes and photographs testifying to the history of the Christian presence, but also courses in English and French and IT: all this is found at the Cultural Centre of the White Fathers (Missionaries of Africa) in Ouargla, a city in eastern Algeria,  at the service of the local, mainly Muslim, community, in this city of the desert.

The Cultural Centre is rooted in history. In 1875 the first White Father missionaries were sent here to find only a French military garrison and a handful of Berber hovels. Besides providing religious assistance for the soldiers, the White Fathers started to learn the local languages. At the same time they collected ancient books, scrolls and took photographs.

Over the years the missionaries catalogued the growing heritage which becomes a memory for the region and for the whole of Algeria. The photographs in particular bear witness to the different stages of a Christian presence which is ever more closely linked with the local population. “From the early years of colonisation down to our day – says Fr. Aldo Giannasi, a White Father missionary who lived and served in Ouargla – the Algerians viewed the Church as a continuation of the French political and cultural invasion. Today a change is taking place: the majority of priests and other church workers are from Black Africa, which clearly shows that the Church is not connected with France or with the West, or the powerful people of the world. She is Catholic, that is universal, and at the service of all”.

Ouargla too has changed. The military base is now an important Oil hub. The small village has become a city. The Cultural Centre still stands in the qasbah. As the years passed the structure deteriorated. The windows and doors were old and the desert sand was beginning to penetrate the rooms. Shelves, tables, chairs were old and needed to be replaced. The White Fathers thought of moving to the outskirts, but decided to stay in the original place and embark on its refurbishing.

Today the Centre hosts boys and girls, mostly Muslims, who study and use the library. Here they find a patrimony of books: history, geography, sociology, ethnology, religion and Christian spirituality. However the Centre has also become a focal point for the rest of the city because students find help with research and local people take courses in French, English, IT. “Our structure – concludes Fr Giannasi – bears witness to an active presence of Catholics at the service of Algeria, committed to a cultural mission which is a fruit-bearing seed of the Gospel” (Fides 4/4/2018).

The Algerian stamps show St Augustine and a Christian inscription from his time.

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14 February: Mockery

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Just a few weeks after the children’s festival, a new academic year began at the University. During Freshers’ Week the newly-arrived keen students who have just survived Sixth Form pressures and A level exams, are encouraged to develop lively leisure activities alongside their chosen Degree courses. A Fresher’s Fair is a chance for all sorts of university clubs to win over a good number of students to this or that hobby. Here is one example, a Paintball shooting club. As seen here, human beings are presented as dividing into aggressive friends and unwelcome enemies. The idea of slaughtering an enemy is part of this so-called “game”. A mock human skull can be lifted up at the end to foster pride in the possibility of sneering (symbolically) at a corpse.

During the Vietnam War in the late Sixties and Early Seventies, some religious writers, both Buddhist and Christian, collaborated in calling for pacifist symbolism to be given a genuine hearing. The need for an agreed symbolism of non-violent resistance was what brought together the Jesuit Daniel Berrigan and the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Nhat Hanh wrote and spoke about resistance meaning “more than resistance against war. It is a resistance against all kinds of things that are like war. Because living in modern society one feels he cannot easily retain integrity, wholeness. One is robbed permanently of humanness, the capacity of being oneself… So perhaps, first of all, resistance means opposition to being invaded, occupied, assaulted, and destroyed by the system.”  It means refusing to join in all sorts of mockery, even in play, that treats others as disposable rubbish.  [See their co-authored book: The Raft is Not the Shore.]

 

Chris D.

Jan. 2017.

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A Week’s Reflections on Living as Neighbours: Introduction.

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Next week includes the feast of Saint Augustine of Hippo, so we had prepared reflections on Algeria, his homeland. But it would be wrong to offer these while ignoring recent events in Belgium, France and Germany. It would also be wrong to suggest that all is well in Algeria or anywhere else that Muslims and Christians live side by side. All too easily someone can assert the primacy of the ‘true faith’, as they perceive it, over love and mutual respect: it happens within communities as well as between them. Therefore I offer this week’s reflections on recent events as a preface to those on Algeria, prepared weeks ago to celebrate Augustine, recognised by Muslims as well as Christians as a great Algerian.

MMB

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