Tag Archives: compassion

25 November, Little Flowers of Saint Francis LVIII: Brother Simon 1, the distressed novice.

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ABOUT the beginning of the Order of Saint Francis and while he was still alive, there came into the Order a young man of Assisi, the which was called Brother Simon: him God adorned and endowed with so much grace, such depth of contemplation and elevation of mind, that all his life was a mirror of virtue.

Brother Simon, when he set him down at table, before he took food for the body, would take for himself and for others spiritual food, speaking of God. Through his devout discourse on a time was converted a young man of San Severino, the which in the world was a youth exceeding vain and worldly, and was of noble blood and much delicate of body; and Brother Simon receiving the said youth into the Order, put his secular clothes aside in his own charge; and the youth abode with Brother Simon to be taught by him the rules of the Order. But the devil, that striveth to thwart all good, assailed him with so fierce a temptation and so grievous a thorn in the flesh, that in no wise could he resist the same; for the which cause he went to Brother Simon, and said unto him: “Give me back my clothes that I brought with me from the world, for I can no more endure this temptation of the flesh.” And Brother Simon having great compassion on him, said: “Sit here with me a little while, my son”; and he began to speak with him of God in such sort that all temptation left him: and when after a time the temptation came back and he asked for his clothes again, Brother Simon drove it away with speech of God. And when this had been so full many a time, at last one night the said temptation assailed him so grievously, even more than it was wont, that for naught in the world could he resist it, and going to Brother Simon, demanded of him again all his secular clothes, for that in no wise could he longer stay. Then Brother Simon, even as he was wont to do, made him sit down beside him; and as he spake to him of God, the youth leaned his head upon the breast of Brother Simon, for sorrow and distress of soul. Then Brother Simon for the great pity’s sake that he had, lifted up his eyes to heaven and prayed, and as he devoutly besought the Lord for him, he was rapt in God and his prayer was heard: whenas he returned to himself again, the young man found himself altogether freed from that temptation, as though he had felt it never a whit.

The fire of temptation being thuswise changed into the fire of the Holy Spirit, for that he had
drawn near unto the burning coal, to wit, unto Brother Simon, he became altogether inflamed with the love of God and of his neighbour; in so much that on a time a malefactor having been taken who was to have both his eyes put out, he, to wit, the youth aforesaid, for pity’ a sake went boldly unto the governor, and in open council, and with many tears and humble prayers besought that one of his eyes might be put out and one only of the malefactor’s, for that he might not be deprived of both. But the governor and the council beholding the great fervour of the charity of this brother, forgave both the one and the other.

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May 2: Laudato Si! A lost world of compassionate agriculture

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I found this passage when I was researching a plantation-owning family in Trinidad. The author is Gerard Besson, a cultural researcher from the island. Here is describing how the agricultural sector of the economy has changed since the Second World War, although the changes had been cumulative since the Abolition of Slavery in 1833. The whole article  is interesting reading and appropriate the day following the feast of Joseph the Worker, here leading his family to Egypt.

An important factor that has impacted on identity was the end of the agricultural sector. (Besson means a diverse agriculture which has largely given way to big sugar plantations.)

People see the agricultural sector from the perspective of today. And they only see Indian people – the world of the cane farmer. In truth, the agricultural sector in the past was enormous. It included a lot of black and French Creole and mixed people. It existed for some 200 years. But the ending of the agricultural sector was one of the things that undermined notions of identity which were built through the 19thcentury and into the first half of the 20th century.

One of the effects of the loss of the agricultural sector is a more  compassionless  society. Because when you have hundreds of thousands of people, whether they are Indian people, white people, mixed people or African people, who are devoted to the bringing up of livestock, who are devoted to gardening, market gardening, vegetable planting, to cocoa and coffee and so on, you have people who have a lot of love for their animals and for their plants. You have to love your donkey!

So when you move hundreds of thousands of people out of that world of compassion, you create an increasingly compassionless society.

Let us pray that we may love our world, and become people who have a lot of love for the animals and for the plants that share our gardens and neighbourhoods. Lord, Fill us with compassion for a bruised world; help us to see where we can make a difference, and to do just that. For your love’s sake, Amen.

Laudato Si!

A well-loved little donkey from Amsterdam. MMB

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March 16. Before the Cross III: the Centurion, 2.

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The second part of Rupert’s reflection on the Crucifixion.

The Centurion by Rupert Greville.

Luke’s Gospel records that it was on seeing the signs that followed Jesus’s death that the centurion declared him to be “a righteous man”. It seems likely to me that he might also have witnessed the conversation between the two thieves and Jesus, and that if he had heard it, he would not have been unmoved by Jesus’s extraordinary compassion.

We led him out beyond the city gate

Onto the hill, where women wept for grief,

And mockers jeered and spat with studied hate;

We nailed him there, with either side a thief.

 

Our dismal task, on raising up the three,

To watch them writhe and die in sickening pain;

But now a thief, bound fast against his tree,

Enrolled himself in this Messiah’s reign.

 

A merciless morning sun in that place of death

Had welded wounds to wood; scourged back with torn skin

Glued, then prised away each laboured breath;

Now all was dark. He turned his face to him.

 

He spoke as one who knew him, one who cared,

And promised paradise with him that very day;

In shameful death he blessed! I stood and stared,

Seized by the power of what I’d heard him say:

 

Words of life. But I Rome’s servant sworn –

A lifeless soul, unmoved by death or pain:

That cold indifference died, and hope was born

There on that hill and in this man we’d slain.

Rupert Greville is a member of the L’Arche Kent Community.

The print that illustrates yesterday’s post and today’s can be found in the public domain at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 

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February 21. What is Theology Saying? XLVII: What if Jesus had not lived?

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Jesus was not just a good man who founded a great religion. He is the Son of God, sent on a mission to transform the world by changing individual lives. Imagine for a moment what your life would be like if this wonderful life hadn’t appeared.

For two thousand years, followers of the loving Christ have carried his compassion and care to peoples everywhere. Nations have been won through his love. The majority of hospitals and other ministries of compassion around the globe have been launched in his name. Where there has been devastation through natural disasters, wars, or famine, people filled with God’s love have run to alleviate human suffering via the Red Cross, World Vision, and thousands of other agencies. Where would our world be without the love of Christ as expressed through his people?

What is our relationship with our world – with government, foreign policy, political parties..? Christianity is concerned not only with religion but with all human relationships between persons and groups – large or small. It is as much concerned with war, peace, poverty and race issues as it is with holy living [preacher stick to your pulpit]. It is concerned because these are the relationships that shape our lives; our way of living together and accepting our common destiny.

In Apostolic times the writers believed that history had more or less come to an end with Christ, and the Second Coming was imminent. This was no time to worry about politics and economics. They were to preach about the world that was on its way. They knew that Jesus had resisted all attempts to align him with the Zealots, who wanted to establish God’s kingdom through war and aggression. Jesus had said his kingdom was not of this world, he could not establish the kingdom using any kind of force.

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20 November: The Road to Emmaus III.

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And it happened that as they were talking together and discussing it, Jesus himself came up and walked by their side; but their eyes were prevented from recognising him. He said to them, ‘What are all these things that you are discussing as you walk along?’ They stopped, their faces downcast (Luke. 24:15-17).

This is something new. Someone comes along and walks ‘by their side’. We know, because the gospel tells us immediately, that the stranger was Jesus, but the two disciples are clueless as to the identity of this person. Why don’t they recognise their dearest friend? Why don’t they fall all over themselves embracing him? This is a question I find impossible to answer. But it is certainly another of those experiences I have had any number of times in my life.

As I muddle along through the difficulties in my life, trying to understand what seems incomprehensible, someone, or something unexpected enters my life. At times, the unexpected has come in the form of a person – a new relationship is formed. At other times, the unexpected has taken the form of a new responsibility, or set of obligations that cause me to refocus my energies and open myself to new ideas. Do I always recognise Jesus himself walking by my side in these experiences? Well, no. Not immediately.

Many times, something new is mediated through the liturgy of the Church. I am a Catholic Benedictine nun. As such, I am in church at least seven times a day for the liturgy or private prayer. This is a real encounter with the living God. But am I always sufficiently alive to this experience? Again, I must confess that I’m not. Instead, I can be preoccupied by my own thoughts, my own version of my experiences, my own hopes and disappointments.

But rather than berating myself for having missed the obvious so often, perhaps this story teaches that this is a fairly typical experience for disciples to have. It happened to Cleopas and the other disciple on the road to Emmaus. It happens to me. I am not alone here. Furthermore, the Lord knows what we are like, and does not leave us in our wrongheadedness any longer than necessary. We can be hopeful in a way that the two disciples couldn’t be, for we can remember that in this story, Jesus takes the initiative and helps the disciples. He came up and walked by their side. He comes up to walk with us, too. We will explore this further tomorrow.

 

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13 September: ‘We thought we were set.’ Shared table XXV.

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The BBC Website includes a section on The People’s War, memories of the conflict from all over the world. It is worth visiting to learn how bad and how good people can be in times of stress, conflict and danger.

George Nolan Johnston was in the British army in the Middle East, sent on a long and apparently pointless journey culminating in a crowded train with no opportunity to get food or drink. Did the officer who organised it not know the men could not get food, or did he just not care?

Here is an extract from Mr Nolan Johnston’s story, but do read the rest of it.

We arrived at a way-side station in the sand. A fleet of trucks waited for us, we were transported some miles west into the sun, and dumped on the side of a desert road. Our patch was beside an east-west tarmacadam road bordered to the North and South with sand. The patch was equipped with open ablutions and latrines. We had neither food nor tents.

Shortly after we arrived a dispatch rider arrived on a motorbike. He bore a message from the officer in charge of the next camp, which was a mile up the road. If we cared to walk up, he would supply us with tea and sandwiches, he apparently had been similarly dumped a week prior to us. We were really starving so we queued up with our tummies rumbling and mugs at the ready. The last few yards were torture and when we got a full mug of sweet tea and a large thick corned beef sandwich, we thought we were set. Never before or since have I enjoyed anything better. We were so very much grateful to the unknown officer.

Compassion, imagination and sharing.

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September 2: Another mini pilgrimage

Clock-watching again, trains will not wait for one passenger, I only had time for a quick visit to Manchester’s Hidden Gem, Saint Mary’s Church in the city centre. What a difference since my last visit when it was tired and dirty. All was clean and well-loved.

The Norman Adams Stations of the Cross were new to me – it shows how long since you were here, said NAIB2. I had time for a five minute walk around the Stations before making for Piccadilly Station and the walk home. Another time I feel I could visit just two or three stations here. No need to describe the feelings they awakened in me, except for the word com-passion.

I close with two paragraphs from Friar Austin’s series of posts on the Eucharist. The stations are not a substitute for the Sacrament, but should lead us to it. This post was published on July 20.

The Eucharist is the mystery of God’s graciousness and our salvation. Transubstantiation is a word for something we cannot understand, something beyond the competence of human language; to claim to capture it is to nullify the challenge to attune the way we live so as to address the cry of the poor. Augustine [who used the word Transubstantiation] says we are present not to satisfy personal needs [or commandments] but to be attentive and proactive to the cry of the poor. We cannot appreciate Transubstantiation if we by-pass the challenge for personal change.

The Eucharist is the real presence, not just a memorial ritual. It is Presence there for our presence, so that what is in him can be in us. Jesus does not stand-in for us, but invites us to get involved. We cannot receive the Eucharist in passive ways – the fruit of the Eucharist is one community allowing God’s love to be felt in our world.

For any armchair pilgrims, you can find the stations on the church website. Click on each thumbnail to enlarge it.

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19 July, What is Theology Saying? XIX: The Eucharist 6, A Call to Simplicity

winchester crucifixWhen Jesus began his ministry he didn’t expect it to lead to this – it wasn’t the goal of his mission. What he challenged us with was totally radical – the way of non-violence, of not needing someone to blame. His death reveals both the compassion of God and the reality of sin. Faced with Jesus, his contemporaries, chosen as hearers of the Word – panicked. The Gospels don’t present the leaders as particularly evil; they used arguments we are still using ourselves – prudence, common sense, self-defence… This is why sin is so appalling, showing how our normal and accepted ways of living are so corrupt that they crucify the innocent – legally.

Some would argue for a proper distinction to be made between religion, politics and social living. Jesus didn’t invite people to be poor, but to be poor in spirit – detached enough from whatever possessions to notice the poor man at the door. There is no love for a hungry person which leaves the person still hungry – it is pointless to show how much is being spent here and there – when the poor remain unfed, unclothed and unhoused. The very point of the Eucharist is to free people from the oppression of such evil. It is naïve to think we help poor people simply by becoming poor ourselves. Our call is to simplicity – simple means uncomplicated, and is not synonymous with easy.

We come to the Eucharist to be involved in ways of everyday living that will bring change. We have the gift of the Sacraments to help us do this. It is easy to miss the point of the Sacrament of the Eucharist by seeing it as a very special ceremony celebrated in but distinct from everyday living. There can be no intimacy with God without seeking the well-being of others – we are told the Second Commandment is like the first; which cautions about eating and drinking unworthily – 1Corinthians 11.27.

Grace is not a commodity God has to give to those who do what they are told to do. In fact, it is not something – it is relationship. It is an invitation to intimacy along with the gift of courage to say yes. Grace cannot be seen but gracefulness can, in heightened sensitivity to the needs of others. We can love our own family to the exclusion of others, likewise for one’s country – but such is not love since love knows nothing of exclusions. Love means openness – no matter who no matter where. See this expressed in the way the local folk in Germany turned out to welcome the migrants. This is Eucharist beyond the table. We relate to God as community, because it is only in community [no matter how small] that relationships happen. We have little experience of covenant relationship with God when so many human hungers go unnoticed.

AMcC

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July 15: What is Theology saying today? XV: The Eucharist 2; mystery not magic.

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Gate to Jesus Hospital, Canterbury

The Eucharist is Mystery; mystery is not magic. Magic supposes there is no explanation or understanding – no way of entering-into the reality; whereas mystery invites participation in an encounter. This means a way-in to something greater than we are. Mystery is not something I can’t know anything about – but something can’t know everything about. How ludicrously wrong to say you can’t tell me anything about him – as if I can fit into my tiny mind everything about another person – when I can’t even know all about myself. Interesting to ask ourselves why did Jesus ask – who do people say I am?

To say we enter into something greater – to be with someone who can appropriately say we whereas I can only say I! What is happening for this to become my experience? The basic action of the Eucharist is sharing – not just eating. The experience this addresses in me is my experience of hunger. To be human is to be hungry, in the sense that I need more than myself to live fully – as well as food and drink, I need companionship and compassion… so many human hungers persuade me that I cannot be self-fulfilled. With all possible human hungers in mind – this is what Jesus means by I am the bread of life. Our Western culture persuades us that meal-times are essential and always available. There is no such thing as meal-time for the vast majority, who eat whenever food, affection and compassion are available.

If I am never hungry in any of these human hungers to the point of starving, it is unlikely that I feel for those who are permanently there. Compassion requires me to enter into the suffering of another simply because that is where they are [this makes sense of the ancient discipline of fasting before communion]. The obvious way to know about hunger is to be hungry. Hunger is intrusive; will not allow us to get on with anything else until it is attended to. When God created hunger he created a blessing – opportunity to experience so many good things. God created more than enough ways to satisfy every possible hunger – the fact of so much starvation serves to tell us what we have done with Creation’s good things, enough to make the experience of hunger a curse to be eradicated.

AMcC

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7 April: The Passover Sequence IV. The Evening.

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Saint Mary, Rye, Sussex.

It was darkness

When Nicodemus finally turned up.

With permissions.

With lights,

With tools,

A ladder,

Men.

Helpers so needed.

We had no strength, were exhausted,

Standing for hours

Waiting,

Watching.

It had all been waiting, these past days,

Our conversations muted.

Just being.

And what he seemed to want.

To be.

To be with us.

The love palpable,

Needing.

See …. they have almost released his hands.

When these Romans do a job,

They do it well.

There is no blood left to flow.

These men,

How delicately they support him.

How silent,

The chink of a tool,

A whisper,

As he is laid upon the ground.

So stony,

So blood-soaked

An execution ground.

See …. they remove those thorns,

No blood.

What possessed them to do that to him?

Why ……..?

So near now to Mary’s feet.

She doesn’t stir.

Watching, absorbed within herself,

Gathering her son,

Her pain,

All he has left to her,

Her sorrow.

See …. they clear as best they may

The detritus of the day

And wrap him in the cloth they brought.

They thought of everything!

We can think of nothing,

Except that he is gone

And the great chasm of loneliness we bear.

She moves as he is borne away,

Takes my arm.

Come home,

It will soon be dawn.

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