Tag Archives: Church

September 12. Before the Cross XXIII: above the Altar

st.thomas.reliquary2.Let us read this small crucifix is in the Martyrs’ Chapel at Saint Thomas’ Church, Canterbury. Christ wears an alb – the cord or cincture around his waist makes this clear. Alb, of course, means white, the colour of the baptismal garment, the colour worn by the saints in Heaven in Saint John’s Book of Revelation, the colour worn by the priest at Mass. So this is a Eucharistic Cross. Christ is shown as a priest and a king. his crown a royal one, no longer one of thorns. His hands are raised to heaven, even as they are nailed to the cross, in a gesture familiar from the Mass. his face, like his body, is serene: he looks down to us even as he offers our prayers with his sacrifice to the Father.

But there is another dimension to this particular cross. Do not be completely distracted by it if you visit our church, but beneath the crucifix is a reliquary with Relics of Saint Thomas of Canterbury.

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There are two relics in the reliquary above the altar. That on the right contains a small piece of Saint Thomas’ vestment in which he was buried, and the one on the left one of the Saint’s  finger bones. The bone was brought to Canterbury on 20th December 1953 by Dom Thomas Becquet, a collateral descendant of Saint Thomas and Prior of the Abbey of Chevetogne, Belgium. It is thought that these small relics were removed from Canterbury in 1220 by Cardinals from Rome who came to witness the translation of Thomas’ remains to the new shrine in the Cathedral.

So the statue of Christ can be seen as offering the martyrs’ blood to God with his own: not  just Thomas but three Reformation Martyrs with local connections, Saints Thomas More, John Fisher and John Stone. Nearby is a relic from halfway across the world: a vestment worn by Saint Oscar Romero. In an exchange of gifts, this came to Canterbury for another bone of Saint Thomas sent to the Cathedral of San Salvador. The man who brought about this link between two cities with martyred Archbishops was Fr John Metcalfe, a local priest working in El Salvador. We are all one family.

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28 August: Saint Augustine on Love I.

Saint_Augustine_and_Saint_Monica

Yesterday we celebrated the mother; today the son, Saint Augustine of Hippo. Here is the opening of his sermon on love, his text being 1John 4:4-12.

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome [the false spirits]: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

To all the faithful seeking their own country, this world is as the desert was to the people of Israel. They wandered, seeking their own country: but with God for their guide they could not wander astray. Their way was God’s bidding. For where they went about during forty years, the journey itself is made up of a very few stations, and is known to all. They were delayed because they were in training, not because they were forsaken. By temporal work we are exercised, and by the temptations of this present life we are trained.

And so, if you would not die of thirst in this wilderness, drink charity. It is the fountain which God has been pleased to place here lest we faint on the way: and we shall more abundantly drink thereof, when we have come to our own land.

Now to speak of the words of the lesson, what other thing heard ye but concerning charity? For we have made an agreement with our God in prayer that if we would that He should forgive us our sins, we also should forgive the sins which may have been committed against us. [Matthew 6:12.] Now that which forgives is none other than charity. Take away charity from the heart and hatred possesses it, it knows not how to forgive. Let charity be there, and she fearlessly forgives, not being hindered.

As for this whole epistle of Saint John: see whether it commends anything else than this one thing, charity. Nor need we fear lest by much speaking thereof it might come to be hateful. For what is there to love, if charity becomes hateful? It is by charity that other things come to be rightly loved; then how must itself be loved!

 

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9 August: ‘With clean hands and humanity’

nicaragua bishop

We might think of farmers as having dirty hands, but Bishop Lagos was quick to praise the farming people of Terrabona village for hands that were clean of blood and violence. The price paid for being a Christian can be very high. This post is taken from a Vatican News report by Robin Gomes.

Bishop Rolando José Alvarez Lagos of Matagalpa described how a group of farmers came out and stopped him on the road leading to the village of Terrabona, where he was heading.  They warned him that some armed people were hiding in the trees beside the road, probably intending to target him. A large group of faithful then accompanied him to the place where the paramilitaries were hiding. 

The armed group fled on seeing the crowd. Bishop Alvarez thanked the faithful for accompanying him ‘with their clean hands and humanity’ and confirmed that he had seen people heavily armed with ammunition.  A video proved what the bishop was saying. 

The Bishop of Matagalpa expressed serious concern that civilians were going about with weapons like that of the military and asked the army to make an investigation into their ranks. 

Bishop Alvarez received the solidarity, among others, of Cardinal Leopoldo Solorzano, Archbishop of Managua and President of the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference, who in a brief note expressed his  “fraternal closeness and solidarity” to his brother bishop.

Cardinal Brenes condemned such situations in the country and appealed to the authorities to take all necessary measures and investigate these very serious events and the presence of armed persons.

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25 June: A bridge once crossed by Saint Francis: Relics XVII.

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When I lived in Gap, France, I must have crossed this little bridge more than once. That bed of dry stones can be a torrent when the snows melt on the Charence mountain. But this was midsummer, and George was walking a different path to the rest of the family, and posing in the shadows.

I can’t remember how I learned that St Francis crossed this bridge on his travels to preach the Good News, but it’s not something I’d have made up! Considering the number of bridges he must have crossed, is it all that special, other than because it is very old? How many other good and famous people have used it – apart from our George?

There are fragments of wall in the next street to ours, that were once the garden wall of the Roper family; Margaret, the mother, was Thomas More’s daughter; he came here to Canterbury, and it was here that she brought his head for burial in Saint Dunstan’s church, just up the Whitstable Road out of town.

Flesh and blood that I am, eyes and ears and mouth and nose, I appreciate these unsung links with the past. George, around the time this picture was taken, used to climb up a fragment of the Roman wall of Canterbury on his way home from school every day, and I let him; it’s not as though I’m crazy for relics. But we are one family and, as Jesus himself suggested, the Father can make these stones sing out (Luke 19:40). So let’s listen to them.

Francis was told by God to rebuild the Church; he began with a derelict chapel, and a movement of men and women still follow him today; he was in a hurry to preach Good News when he crossed this bridge. Thomas More lived at another time of turmoil and died a martyr after imprisonment in the Tower of London, away from the Canterbury Bells and other flowers in his daughter’s garden.

I cycle past the Roper’s place without a thought most mornings. I did not think of Francis as I went parish visiting in Gap, but it is good to be reminded that our lives criss-cross with those who have gone before us. If God brought them safe thus far, to Gap or Canterbury or even the Tower, he can surely lead us home.

 

 

 

 

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22 June: Overheard on a journey

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I had been visiting friends a long way from home, and took a train from Western Ontario back towards Montreal and my plane which I almost missed, but that’s another story.

A conference was finishing in one of the towns we passed through, a conference for church ministers. Two, an older man and one as fresh-faced as I was at the time, came and sat behind me. They would be crossing the border back to the US, changing half an hour later to get their plane or connecting train, so I did not hear the whole of their conversation.

I wished, and still wish I hadn’t heard any of it at all, but occasionally it comes back to haunt me. My apologies to any reader who thinks I ought to have kept it to myself.

I can well understand that the ministers would not be talking Scripture or Theology or Hospital Visiting at the end of the conference, unless there had been a truly inspirational speaker! Sport, family, holidays, gardening, I could understand. But what I could not help overhearing would have put me off if I had been one of their flock or someone inching towards faith.

The older man was congratulating his colleague on his appointment to a church that he knew, but rather than advising him about the congregation, the town and their strengths and needs, it was a monologue on clerical ambition and how to fulfil it. ‘In five years’ time you should be looking to be in a much larger, more prosperous church’, the younger man was told. Making a name for himself in the local newspaper (this was 40 years ago), driving newer, larger cars, the message seemed to be that the prosperity gospel was to be lived by example.

I could not believe my ears; this man clearly felt he was safe on the train, nobody could hear him. Did he believe that Jesus preferred his gospel to that of Saint Francis, or a poor Baptist preacher, supporting a church in a run down suburb or rural settlement? Was he idealistic as a young man? Where did his zeal go?

Lord, send us priests and holy priests!

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21 June: Corpus Christi II. Enough and to spare

feedig 5000.ethiopia.rome

This picture hangs in the Generalate – the headquarters – of the Missionaries of Africa in Rome. It was painted in Ethiopia. We see, at left, the boy trustingly bringing the loaves and fishes to Jesus, who receives them with open arms and a look of encouragement, eye-to-eye. To the right, a crowd of people sitting on the grass, with two of the disciples offering food to them; a few of the 5,000. The two people about to be fed look dubious, wondering what exactly is happening; most of the others are watching those being fed, but one person’s eyes are on Jesus. In front are six of the baskets of left-overs.

Ethiopia is a country that has known famine more than once in my lifetime, and its share of oppression and authoritarian rule. The question then is, ‘Why should the people trust Jesus to feed them freely and without strings?’ ‘Let’s see what happens’, I imagine them saying. ‘Can we be sure he’s genuine?’

Jesus depended on the disciples to bring his gifts to the people. Today he depends on us. Are we dependable? Are we transparent enough for people to trust us? The Church has to do her work, Christ’s work, and we cannot leave it to the identifiable ‘professional’ members, clergy, religious if we want to get that work done.

May we take and eat. May we take strength from the Eucharist to meet our sisters’ and brothers’ needs, and to rebuild Christ’s church. After all, it was built up by those disciples who did not understand what was happening, even as they played their part in it. Let’s not worry, ‘what is this among so many?’

 

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11 June, Pentecost: blowing, blowing, blowing.

 

somers.town. holy spirit

Cardinal Maradiaga is one of Pope Francis’s close advisors. He recently told a Spanish magazine:

“The Holy Spirit continues to blow. It does not take a siesta or go on holiday.”

But perhaps we sometimes need a siesta or holiday to allow the Spirit to blow a few cobwebs off our hearts and minds!

I sometimes pass St Aloysius, Somers Town when going by train via London.

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Praying with Pope Francis for the Church’s Mission

door, Francis, Bangui Advent 2015 (Radio V)

During June we pray with Pope Francis that priests, through the modesty and humility of their lives, commit themselves to an active solidarity with the world’s poorest people.

When disciples of Christ are transparent in heart and sensitive in life, they bring the Lord’s light to the places where they live and work.
– Pope Francis

After an appeal by a Mill Hill missionary, we acquired a Red Box for collecting small change which is sent to help the Church’s mission where our solidarity is needed. We had one when I was growing up, but I hadn’t seen one for years! We received the Missio  magazine this week from which this post is taken. More to follow.

 

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June 10, Our Lord in the Attic III. Pentecost: best gift of God above.

 

amsterdam.attic.dove

Last September I promised to return to the hidden Catholic church – hidden in plain view – in Amsterdam. I didn’t expect it to take so long!

Here is one of its treasures. This dove hovers over the sacristy, just above where the priest would have vested for Mass. In itself the carving is a prayer, raised by the sculptor and whoever placed it here. It also invites those who see it to prayer, especially the priest who would be preparing to proclaim the Word.

Here then is a verse from the Pentecost hymn, Veni Creator Spiritus:

O guide our minds with thy blessed light,
With love our hearts inflame;
And with thy strength, which never decays
Confirm our mortal frame.

We can make those words our own this Pentecost, and pray that all pastors and ministers – ourselves included – may have hearts aflame when they go among God’s people.

 

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Pilgrimage Day 2

 

A short walk, nearly all downhill, brings us to Barfrestone, a tiny village where L’Arche Kent began life 40-odd years ago. The village church, with its curious carvings of musical canines, is some 800 years older than that. We then tack across country to the miner’s village of Aylesham, walking over the top of the coal fields and taking a breather at St Mary’s church Nonnington.

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