Tag Archives: Christmas

Going viral XXXVIII: reflections of Rev Jo on Baptism, feast of John the Baptist.

As I wrote the date today – it was six months ago today that we were all together celebrating Christmas, singing carols together, and for me one of the highlights of the year is Midnight Mass – something so special with all the candles and that sense of celebration after the waiting and preparation of Advent – and the flowers! For some who are isolating that might have been the last time they saw family and friends; if it hadn’t been our visit to see our son in Manchester in February, the last time he was down was Christmas last year, and certainly when we saw any of our extended family, as I am sure it is for many … and for so many across our country, and around the world, Christmas this year will be without a loved one. I do wonder what it will be like this year – I do hope we are allowed to sing by then!!
When we lived in Faversham, there was a board I passed every day that said “Christ is not just for Christmas, but there all year” . This is so true, we have Christ with us as a real and living presence 24/7; Rev Mark spoke about this in Sunday’s sermon (on website), from the passage from Romans 6:1-11, in our baptism we die with Christ to be born again with Christ – a new creation; that is why sometime a font is referred to as a womb (in the Roman liturgy the font is designated the “uterus ecclesiae,” ) – when a baby is born, it emerges from the waters of the womb, and wrapped in a blanket – when the person who has been baptised ‘comes up out of the water’ – or usually water poured over the head these days, though many do’ especially in the Baptist church, have full immersion. In the liturgy today, the baby is wrapped in a white blanket immediately after having water poured, with the words “you have been clothed with Christ. As many who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ”; with an adult I use a white scarf.

God Bless, and please do keep safe, keep connected and keep praying
Jo🙏🙏🙏
Rev Jo Richards Rector of the Benefice of St Dunstan, St Mildred and St Peter, Canterbury

The Roman font at Milan, where St Ambrose baptised St Augustine and his son Adeodatus by immersion, Easter 387.

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15 February: If Music be the Food of Love

Another post by of the London Irish Chaplaincy, one of the L’Arche Kent diaspora; just a day too late for Valentine’s!

 

I was struck by two recent comments about the power of music, one from a 99-year-old Kerry woman; the other by a young man from Belfast.

I’d written in my last blog, also about music, how I was looking forward to a couple of carol singing events in care homes just before Christmas. One of them, at St Teresa’s in Wimbledon, particularly stood out. Paul, Rory and I were joined by one of our lovely volunteers, Christine, who’s originally from Dublin and who faithfully comes every Friday to chat to the mainly Irish residents. I’d planned a repertoire of Christmas songs, both old and new, but as we were waiting for everyone to arrive I decided to warm up with some Irish songs. It was immediately clear that this was a group who didn’t need any warming up. Everyone was both moved by the music and moving. Feet were tapping and arms were waving as people sang along to the familiar tunes. Sheila from Kerry had requested ‘The Galway Shawl’ in honour of a recently arrived Galwayman and I happily began with that, in honour too of my own Dad. And then for Sheila I did a couple of songs from Kerry: ‘The Black Velvet Band’ and ‘Golden Jubilee’. For the Dubliners present we sang ‘Molly Malone’; and for the several people from Cork (I remarked to the wonderful Sr. Pat, the Director, that the name of the home should be renamed St Finbars!) there was ‘Whiskey in the Jar’ (not literally, I’m afraid!). The house was absolutely ROCKING (and anyway, who needs whiskey to have a good time!). I slowed it down with ‘Sweet 16’, before launching into the Christmas set. It was quite simply the most joyful and uplifting experience imaginable.

One of the Cork ladies confided to me later that she was normally quite shy but had so much enjoyed the singing and dancing. And as for Sheila, she said (and I remembered it word for word, it was so heart-warming):

“We were expecting carol singers and then you fellas turned up! The singing was heavenly. You had us lifted out of our chairs and flying through the air like angels. You’ve made our Christmas perfect.”

We’re looking forward now to our second St Brigid’s concert, at St James’ Church Piccadilly on January 31st. There will be a host of talented performers, ranging in age from the young people of the London Celtic Youth Orchestra to the more mature members of the Irish Pensioners Choir. One of those on the bill, Belfast-born actor Anton Thompson McCormick just wrote to me to say:

“31st will be a delight, people coming together and celebrating the good things – how else to start the decade?”

In the midst of writing this piece I was sent the copy of a letter addressed to me that had been sent to the ICPO (Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas) office in Maynooth from a man in a prison in the North of England. He wrote:

“After reading your article in the ICPO Christmas newsletter 2019 I was impressed that the guitar you had used for the last 24 years had been put to more good use by taking it into Wormwood Scrubs”, and he goes on to ask if I could come and perform to him and the other 25 Irish prisoners there, explaining that “my friends and I are very keen on the idea and it would give us a more positive vibe to take forward”. He ends with the words “Thank you for sharing your story and in fact your guitar”. I was incredibly touched by that and it shows again that we just never know the impact we might have on somebody’s life.

So as we start another new year and if music be indeed the food of love then let us PLAY ON!!!

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2 January; In the grey Mancunian midwinter.

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Not long before Christmas I took a railway journey across Manchester on one of the darkest days of the year. Since I was visiting my mother for her birthday, I resisted the temptation to continue towards Blackpool North (Pole), but the signaller’s humour was welcome on a bleak morning.

ok not okIt was also good to see this note from Sam on behalf of the Samaritans, who are well aware that this season is not festive for everybody. Sadly, the railway is often a suffering soul’s chosen suicide spot. Sam’s message may persuade someone to ring them, as may the message on many train tickets.

samaritans.ticket nov2017By the time I was making my return journey, the weather had turned from a saturated mist to a greasy drizzle. Walking to Greenfield station with bright LED headlights shining in my face was no joy.

But Saddleworth Catholic church of the Sacred Heart already had their crib on display in the porch. A reminder of the hope that is in us.

Christian or not, we are given the virtue of hope to see us through the dark times. Christian or not, a helpless babe is not hopeless. He or she reaches out in trust. For  those whose ability to trust has been eroded through others’ inhumanity, a word, a smile may make a difference. Few of us will ever find ourselves stepping in to prevent a suicide at the last moment, but we may, all unknowingly, help to do so before that.

From across the main road, my view of the crib was no better than in the photo, but I knew what I was looking at: even in the darkest, murkiest times, there is hope.

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31 December: And a Happy New year!

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I was very taken with this challenge outside one of the local charity shops.

Pope Francis is forever challenging us to ‘live to express’ the love of God for each human being and for all his creation.

So what is your New Year’s resolution? Apply within yourself to find a personal challenge, and give it a go! You might put a smile on your face – or someone else’s.

Happy New Year.

 

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27 December: Look deeper than this pleasant scene.

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Like me, you have probably heard tell of  Saint Francis and the crib but like me, you may never have heard the full story. Follow the link to Friar Jack Wintz’s excellent telling of the story. I won’t attempt to precis his account as I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. I leave you with Friar Jack’s final paragraphs. 

Peace be with you and yours!

Will Turnstone.

Francis would smile at our nice varnished cribs, though he would bless any home that has one. Probably he would prefer those set up outdoors with live animals. And if he were to stand by one and preach today, he might say something like this:

“Look deeper than this pleasant scene. See your God become your food for eternity in a feeding place for animals. See the simple bands wound around the helpless baby, not the embroidered dress. See a man and woman wearing the clothes of the poor. See and smell the animals. Feel the cold and dirt of the cave, lighted only by a little fire. And adore your God, who took a human heart that could know the greatest love and the sharpest pain, arms that could embrace the sinners, the neurotics, the lepers, and hands that could touch cheeks running with tears, and be pierced with nails. Adore your poor and humble God.”

 

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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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December 25, Little Flowers of Saint Francis L: Saint Clare’s Christmas

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It befell on a time that Saint Clare was grievously sick, so that she could not go at all to say the office in church with the other nuns. When the feast of the Nativity of Christ came round, all the others went to Matins: but she remained in her bed ill-content, for that she could not go with the others and partake of that spiritual consolation.

But Jesu Christ, her spouse, desiring not to leave her thus disconsolate, caused her to be miraculously carried to the church of Saint Francis and to be present at the whole of the office of Matins and the midnight Mass, and beyond all this to receive the Holy Communion and then be carried back to her bed.

When the nuns came back to Saint Clare, after the office in Saint Damian’s was over, they said to her: “O our mother, Sister Clare, what sweet consolation have we had on this holy feast of the Nativity! O, would that it had pleased God that you had been with us there!” And Saint Clare replied: “Praise and glory do give unto our Lord Jesu Christ, the blessed One, my sisters and daughters most dear; for that with much consolation to my soul I have had part in all the solemn rites of this most holy night, and even more than ye: sith through the loving care of my father, Saint Francis, and the grace of our Lord Jesu Christ, I have been present in the church of my venerable father, Saint Francis, and with the ears of my body and my mind have heard all the office and the sound of the organs that be there; and in the same place have taken the most holy Communion. Wherefore for such grace bestowed upon me rejoice and give thanks to our Lord Jesu Christ.

How encouraging to read that St Clare was ‘ill-content’ – which I read as grumpy! The day I was preparing this I was quite fed up after days of discomfort, but felt cheered by this story. Interesting that the Franciscans had an organ! Happy Christmas, from Ebenezer Scrooge, sorry, Will Turnstone and the team.

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23 December: Remember the Christmas workers!

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Abel’s mother and grandmother were both off work on Christmas day, which does not happen every year. Nurses are needed!

Abel was more interested in some other Christmas workers: the Orange Army of railway engineers. Far more interesting than whatever the grown-ups were doing indoors. There were twenty or more workers near his grandparents’ house, renewing track and the level crossing. They had a big crane and an assortment of other machines. After lunch he took grandad out to investigate. One of the men came and talked to us; railway workers are often friendly to youngsters who take an interest in their work.

The man was guarding the level crossing and two machines, including this one, caught in the last of the sun. Let it stand for all those working this Christmas, on the railway or in other ways, to make life better for the rest of us.

Thanks to them, all of them!

May they soon enjoy time with their dear ones!

 

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21 December: Don’t forget!

The sticker across the shop window read: Don’t forget yourself this Christmas!

Just what did it mean?

Was the mobile phone company advising passers-by to selflessly throw themselves into making the family celebrations enjoyable for all?

Or was it encouraging the great public to remember to buy themselves that expensive 5G mobile phone?

Or maybe suggesting that, like the man in the first photo, over the next few days we should text someone who would like to hear from us?

Or perhaps like Robert Walker, the Scottish anti-slavery campaigner, we should seize the moment to take time out in the fresh air and be one in our thoughts and prayers with our Creator?

If this were a proper questionnaire, it would now say, tick as many boxes as apply (to you!)

Please follow the link to learn more about the Skating Minister who was so much more than a skating minister.

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20 December, Simon says II: In her.

She said those words, ‘Thy will be done’.

In her God’s gracious will had won.

Simon’s couplet sent me to this painting from Plowden Catholic Church in Shropshire. Mary seems to be having a moment of weariness, such as any parent will have undergone, and her Child seems anxious to comfort her.

Here they are, far from home in Egypt. Is Joseph his own boss, self employed as he had been in Nazareth, or is he out all day, at the beck and call of an employer, who might expect him to work extra at short notice? Does Mary sew or launder to help make ends meet in the big city?

At any point after she said those words, Mary’s life will have had problems. There were many more difficult years after the Holy Family returned to Galilee; if Mary thought her troubles were over, they had only just begun.

Most of her appearances in the Gospels are challenging. Even heartbreaking. She was not mentioned on the day the mob tried to throw Jesus off a cliff near Nazareth, but she must have been there. And so it went on until Good Friday.

Thy will be done: giving birth in the stable probably also meant Mary didn’t have her little home-made layette with her. All her preparations apparently wasted; no doubt some other family  benefited, but she and Joseph had to start from scratch: that gold the Wise Man brought must have come in useful!

Thy will be done: it will be, but it probably won’t be done smoothly!

More from Simon soon!

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