Tag Archives: Church

28 May: a Little Child shall lead them, Before the Cross XXVI.

Elham Church, Kent.

We walked to Elham on the recommendation of our daughter; we were not disappointed. Firstly, to find the King’s Arms open and ready to sell us good beer which we enjoyed in the square in the full Spring sunshine. And then there was the church, also open, ready to sell us good second-hand books, and ready to give us plenty to reflect upon.

These Easter Lilies were placed before a Madonna and child, but a very Paschal, Easter-minded Madonna and child. Two years ago we looked at a portrait of Mary and baby Jesus in a pieta-like pose, and I urge you to revisit that post now, to complement this one.

That old post considered two paintings from the studio of Rogier van de Weyden, of the mid-XV Century, the Madonna and a Pieta. In each Mary is tenderly holding her son, whose pose as a baby matches that of his lifeless corpse. This is not what our artist in Elham has in view. Jesus may be four years old here, a boy, not a baby, but still dependent on Mary and Joseph for everything.

The boy is very much alive, yet he is standing as if practising for his work on the Cross. He is lightly supported by his mother; at this age he can walk for himself, but that gentle uplift is reassuring. As for Mary, not for the last time she ponders these things in her heart, the heart pierced by the sword of sorrow.

Jesus is about to step forth from her lap. Any parent will know the excitement and trepidation of following a small child, where are they going, what dangers can we perceive that they do not? But letting them lead us is part of growth for the child and also for the parent who is offered the chance to see the world through fresh eyes.

Mary could not prevent the death of Jesus on the Cross but she was there to welcome him on the third day. Isaiah tells us that a little child shall lead them: may we follow him through all life’s trials to our resurrection in his Kingdom.

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24 May: Mother of God, intercede for our souls.

These prayers from the Catholic Greek Melkite Church open a different way of seeing Mary for Westerners like me. Please take this opportunity to pray for all the people of Lebanon, where many Melkite Christians live alongside other Christians, Muslims and Druze, all of whom would earnestly desire to live in peace.

The mystery hidden from all eternity that the angels could not know  was revealed to those on earth through you, O Mother of God, when God became incarnate without  mixing (of the two natures) and accepted the Cross out of obedience for our sakes and Adam was raised and our souls saved from death. 

You gave birth without a father on earth to him who was born without a mother in heaven,  a birth beyond understanding and hearing,  So intercede, O Mother of God, for our souls. 

Two prayers from the Melkite Liturgy, Theotokion for Saturday, 4th mode, and Tuesday  morning Theotokion, 1st mode, translated by Kenneth Mortimer and published on The Pelicans website.

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23 May: Pentecost

Homily by Fr Stefan Acatrinei

I posted this homily in the dark days of January; it was a relief to read of a great gathering of the faithful when that had been impossible for almost a year. Whatever restrictions we are under when Pentecost day comes, enjoy reading Stefan’s homily! Will

Dear brothers and sisters,

We celebrate today the feast of Pentecost which is also the birthday of our mother, the Church. Mothers enjoy giving gifts than rather just receiving them. Actually, the only gift which they really enjoy, according to my own experience (and I guess this is universally valid), is the presence of their children. So, here we are: to please Her with our presence and let Her make us happy with Her teaching.

I don’t know how you find today’s readings, but the atmosphere described by the Acts of the Apostles (2: 1–11) is very familiar to me. This familiarity is not due to the fact that I’ve studied the New Testament, nor it is because I know Jerusalem, for I’ve never been there, but simply because I’m living in Canterbury. The author of the reading says that there were “devout Jews from every nation under heaven”, and he mentions 16 different nationalities. To be honest, I don’t think that we have in Canterbury people from “every nation under the earth”, but I’m quite sure that we have representatives from more than 16 countries. Right now in our chapel, I know people from at least 11 different nationalities; and then if we take into account those who will attend the next Mass, this total number of people is increased. This parallel makes me see a certain similarity between what was going on in Jerusalem, nearly 2000 years ago, and what is happening here right now in our own city, but, of course, that’s not the point. So, we should explore a little more.

By the way, why were those people in Jerusalem? The author tries to give us a clue, by telling us they were “devout Jews”, but he refuses to give an exhaustive answer to our question. Anyway, being told that they were devout, it is not difficult to presume that some were there to fulfil a religious obligation, because Pentecost was the second of the three great Jewish Feasts; others were there to celebrate the completion of the harvest and to thank God for it, or just to pray, to ask for help from God; some, perhaps, were there for business reasons or out of curiosity, or ambition. Anyway, whatever their motives might have been, one thing is certain: they all were driven by the powerful, though invisible, engine which can generate both positive and rewarding feelings, or negative and unsatisfactory feelings, named by us as “desire”. Saint Paul though, in today’s second reading, says that every person can be led either by a spirit of slavery or by the Spirit of God (Romans 8: 8–17). This is wonderful.  It means that everybody is free to follow one of two guides.

A good example would be to look at our seraphic Father, St. Francis. We know that his life was abundantly animated by this energy, which we call desire. Since childhood he sought to develop the desire for human glory, which was seen by him as the only way to happiness. His ambition and the economic possibilities he received from his father nourished his humanity and directed him towards that end, but instead of finding happiness, he experienced a terrible disappointment, which led him to rethink. Once he identified and experienced the right desire, which led him to taste real happiness, he never ceased to recommend it to his friars; he writes: “that above all, they should wish to have the Spirit of the Lord working within them” (Later Rule X, 8)

You may ask, what does all of this have to do with us today?  We are baptized and confirmed and have the Holy Spirit of God dwelling within us. We are totally immersed in the life giving Spirit of the Resurrected Jesus.  What does this entail?  St. Paul gives us a comprehensive explanation.  In his first letter to the Corinthians, he speaks about the variety of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In chapter twelve, he says that the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, fear of the Lord.  Indeed that makes us powerful people. However St Paul also insists that all these gifts are for the benefit of helping others, for building the community of the church.

I hope that you don’t mind if I refer to St. Francis of Assisi again. We all know that he was asked by Christ to rebuild His church, a mission which he, actually, carried out by making use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Towards the end of his life, he wanted to share the secret of his success with the generations which would follow him, so he wrote it down in his Testament: “no one showed me what I should do, but the Most High Himself revealed to me that I should live according to the form of the Holy Gospel” (Testament 14).

Dear brothers and sisters, I guess, we all know what it means to be faced with a challenging situation, I mean to have to make important decisions for our own life or for the lives of our beloved ones. Where do we look for advice? Saint Francis, wanting to help the beginner on their spiritual journey, used to say: “If they ask advice, the ministers may refer them to some God-fearing brothers” (Later Rule II, 8). Counsel and fear of the Lord are gifts of the Holy Spirit and Jesus gave us this guarantee concerning these gifts: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything” (John 2:26).

Now, unlike the devout Jews from Jerusalem, we have not been gathered here by any strange sounds of wind blowing, but I strongly believe that we have been driven here by the same Spirit. We are in this chapel not just to fulfil a religious obligation, but out of love for Him, the third person of the Blessed Trinity, Who is eager to make a new dwelling within us.

Fr. Stefan Acatrinei OFM

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14 May: Mary with the disciples

somers.town. pentecost
St Aloysius, Somers Town, London.

Half-way through May and this blog has no mention of Mary … not very Catholic! But here she is, in the midst of the Church, such as it was in those days after the Ascension. One of the team.

This picture, shot through clear stained-glass windows, shows us a glimpse, not only of the first Church receiving definitively the Holy Spirit, but also of the noisy, diverse corner of London that St Aloysius’ serves. The church itself stands above street level, an Upper Room, slightly removed from the noise of traffic.

Visitors from many parts call in, perhaps between trains at Euston or Saint Pancras terminals. Find out more about the church and parish here.

I am always happy when I find it open; some people feel uncomfortable in modern churches, but this was designed to celebrate the Vatican II liturgy and brings everyone close to the altar. If you have a few minutes between trains, you too may just find it open! And Mary, filled with the Spirit, ponders all these things in her heart, and unites her Son’s disciples in the Upper Room, be it in Jerusalem or Somers Town.

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12 April: The Fire Gone Out.


The Fire Gone Out


Our church is smallish, homely, as it should be,
A rectangular box
Light-filled by generous windows.
Spirit-filled by generations of plain-speaking villagers.
A second-hand, twice-loved,
No-nonsense northern chapel in the hills
Complete with gallery and organ of course!
No room for side chapels
No nooks and crannies in which to construct an Altar of Repose.
Needing to take over from Saint Joseph
His small shrine to the left of the Sanctuary.
We can move over,
Those who stay on
To keep company with the Lord
On the night road from the room to the garden,
From the garden to the High Priest
In the midst of rabble,
Torches, weapons, noise,
Police!
While our church, now stripped, 
Leaves us a few hours more
In his presence.

But tomorrow, when all we have remembered
In ritual, prayer and song,
When we have reverenced his image,
Received his Gift …
Then is it empty. 
And helpless, what can we do?
In this emptiness
That echoes with the sound of his leaving?

The door left open,
The table bare
The light extinguished,
The fire gone out.

Come and see,
	Just come and see!

Remember how it was
Before it became Good Friday.
The comfortable familiarity,
His everpresence … 
Withdrawn now into pain,
Rejection, abandonment.
For in the darkness we have abandoned him.

Oh how is our church empty!

Now … We gather in the darkness,
Knowing our loss
And drawn to the emptiness,
Relight the fire,
Set the table,
Restore the light.

Christ, our light!
Thanks be to God!

Hearts renewed in hope
Reach for the light.

Christ our light!
Risen.

Our light-filled
Spirit-filled box!
Our church in the hills!

Sheila writes that this piece is ‘Pre-Covid, by several years – Is this how we will date things in future?’ The previous two poems were new ones. Her little church in the hills is as she describes it, is it not? A light-filled, Spirit-filled box, where the Lord can camp for a while – who are we, even Yorkshire folk, to build Him a house? But he will fill the space when we set the table.

https://www.sacredheartparish.org.uk/

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7 April, Gates X: Given in memory.

Hundreds of times I have cycled past this gate, rather fewer times have I walked past Saint Mildred’s church on my way to work at L’Arche’s Glebe garden. This morning I had to stop and fix the church’s banner that had come adrift in a high wind; and I found myself beside the gate and able to read its dedication.

I had little to do with Saint Mildred’s church before I returned to L’Arche some ten years after the gate was given, and I never knew the Dinnages; as the years pass by there will be fewer and fewer who have any memory of them. How many are like me, in passing by without thinking?

Well, here are a few thoughts.

The gate opens into the area where the cremated remains of parishioners are interred. It is at the East end of the churchyard that surrounds the church on three sides; all but the North. The East is where the sun rises, where the light comes into the world, day by day, so naturally enough churches were aligned East to West, with the altar at the East end and the congregation facing that way. The people laid to rest here will be facing the rising sun and the Risen Lord, despite looking towards a multistorey car park, the old gas works and a wall that is a graffiti hot spot.

If Joan and Leslie Dinnage are likely to be forgotten as the years roll by, I’d guess that most of those beneath the tombstones to the rear of the picture are known only to particularly assiduous local historians. Yet the Lord will call them home, as here he leads Adam and Eve away from the gates of Hell.

Strasbourg Cathedral

In Christian solidarity, otherwise known as the Communion of Saints, let us pray for Joan and Leslie; for all laid to rest in St Mildred’s churchyard, and all those who have died from the covid infection.

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27 March: Unexpected building materials

I leant my bike against a buttress of Saint Mildred’s Church while I closed the garden gate. I returned to find myself looking at this stretch of the north wall which I estimate was strengthened in the 19th Century. The course of limestone at the top of this picture is level, top and bottom, being made of identical blocks. To get the top level the bottom had to be level, of course; difficult with flints and reused lumps of limestone, requiring some adjustment. We can see here that the builders used sherds of roofing tile, thin slivers of flint – and oyster shells! I have seen them used in a garden wall before, but never expected to find them holding up a church.

Perhaps many of the people who really hold up the church – ordinary, decent people like Naomi and Ruth – go unnoticed, but their neighbourly prayers and works help to keep the rest of us on a level. Let’s be grateful for them.

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12 March: Ordinary decent people.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is crypt-640x481.jpg

We looked at Ruth and Naomi yesterday: ordinary, decent women who encountered an ordinary, decent man in Boaz; and the rest is history. That story must have been going through the back of my mind, because my eyes were open to an embodiment of ordinary decency as I saw her pushing her walking aid up the hill towards her parish church.

Margaret stopped to chat to three different acquaintances within 200 metres, in my case just a quick greeting as she was already in conversation with someone else. On other occasions she will be walking Basil her Maltese terrier, or giving him a ride on the trolley; or else sitting outside her favourite cafe on the square with a long coffee and a short cigarette, chatting to any who pass by.

There is a ministry of friendliness which doesn’t exactly fit the Gospel accounts of the Works of Mercy, but has elements of several of them. I can imagine Margaret saying: Lord, when did I see thee and befriend thee?

And the Lord could play back a few scenes from her life and say to her: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me. And upon such rocks I will build my Church.

Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee?Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee?

And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.

Matthew 20:37-40

We should not pass over those all-but invisible, non-charismatic, ministers of the Good News who bring it to people without preaching; who can say ‘I love you, God loves you’ without those words coming anywhere near their lips. And by no means all of them have any church affiliation at all. Let us thank God for them.

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March 4th: Let us now praise famous women.

4 St Kyneburgha

In recent years Mrs T and I have only seen Peterborough Cathedral from the train. Modern ticketing make it difficult to break a journey for a minipilgrimage or just to stretch your legs. So let’s join Cathedral guide Ann Reynolds as she tells the story of Saint Kyneburgha, who helped found the monastery on this site in AD 653. England and Wales had many redoubtable women church leaders in those times: surely the DNA is still in our women’s veins?

This way for Ann Reynolds’s article. It’s a good read.

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19 February: Charity and Ostentation

Dr Graham BeardsCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Out of six churches in Birmingham, three bear the names of the donors [including St Philip’s, above, now the Cathedral] … The gifts, which the benefactor himself believes are charitable, and expects the world to believe the same, if scrutinized, will be found to originate from various causes–counterfeits are apt to be offered in currency for sterling. Perhaps ostentation has brought forth more acts of beneficence than charity herself; but, like an unkind parent, she disowns her offspring, and charges them upon charity.

Ostentation is the root of charity; why else are we told, in capitals, by a large stone in the front of a building–“This hospital was erected by William Bilby, in the sixty-third year of his age, 1709.” Or, “That John Moore, yeoman, of Worley Wigorn, built this school, in 1730.”–Nay, pride even tempts us to strut in a second-hand robe of charity, left by another; or why do we read–“These alms-houses were erected by Lench’s trust, in 1764. W. WALSINGHAM, BAILIFF.” Another utters the word charity, and we rejoice in the echo. If we miss the substance, we grasp at the shadow.

Sometimes we assign our property for religious uses, late in the evening of life, when enjoyment is over, and almost possession. Thus we bequeath to piety, what we can keep no longer. We convey our name to posterity at the expence of our successor, and scaffold our way towards heaven up the walls of a steeple. Will charity chalk up one additional score in our favour, because we grant a small portion of our land to found a church, which enables us to augment the remainder treble its value, by granting building leases? a man seldom makes a bargain for heaven, and forgets himself. Charity and self-interest, like the apple and the rind, are closely connected, and, like them, we cannot separate one without trespassing on the other.

In contributions of the lesser kind … [we do not] fear our left hand knowing what our right hand doth, our only fear is, lest the world should not know it.

This superb edifice (Saint Philip’s Church, now Birmingham Cathedral) was begun by act of Parliament, in 1711, under a commission consisting of twenty of the neighbouring gentry, appointed by the bishop of the (Lichfield) diocese, under his episcopal seal.

From An History of Birmingham (1783) by William Hutton.

William Hutton seems to have cast a very cold eye over the benefactors of his home town! But perhaps we can learn from the 18th Century about doing good without the trumpets blaring in the market place. The benefactor, Hutton says, believes he is being charitable, when he’s actually showing off. This Lent, how am I kidding myself?

St Philip’s will always have a special place in our family for it was there that my cousin Margaret was ordained deacon and priest. Pray for her and all ministers in this time of uncertainty. Lench’s Trust is still providing housing for elderly people in Birmingham.

MMB

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