Tag Archives: conversion

24 March: Alfred at Heaven’s gate; Gates VII.

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The Alfred Jewel by Mkooiman, CC BY-SA 4.0

In this extract from Chesterton’s Ballad of the White Horse, King Alfred (r 871-899) is facing defeat at the hands of pagan Vikings and the loss of his Kingdom of Wessex, England. He prayed and received a vision of Mary, mother of Jesus, ‘Our Lady’. Two more extracts follow as part of our Gates series.

          Fearfully plain the flowers grew,
          Like the child's book to read,
          Or like a friend's face seen in a glass;
          He looked; and there Our Lady was,
          She stood and stroked the tall live grass
          As a man strokes his steed.

          Her face was like an open word
          When brave men speak and choose,
          The very colours of her coat
          Were better than good news.

          She spoke not, nor turned not,
          Nor any sign she cast,
          Only she stood up straight and free,
          Between the flowers in Athelney,
          And the river running past.

          One dim ancestral jewel hung
          On his ruined armour grey,
          He rent and cast it at her feet:
          Where, after centuries, with slow feet,
          Men came from hall and school and street
          And found it where it lay.

          "Mother of God," the wanderer said,
          "I am but a common king,
          Nor will I ask what saints may ask,
          To see a secret thing.

          "The gates of heaven are fearful gates
          Worse than the gates of hell;
          Not I would break the splendours barred
          Or seek to know the thing they guard,
          Which is too good to tell.

          "But for this earth most pitiful,
          This little land I know,
          If that which is for ever is,
          Or if our hearts shall break with bliss,
          Seeing the stranger go?

          "When our last bow is broken, Queen,
          And our last javelin cast,
          Under some sad, green evening sky,
          Holding a ruined cross on high,
          Under warm westland grass to lie,
          Shall we come home at last?"

This should not be read as a chauvinist or xenophobic text: two of Alfred's generals were Mark, a Roman still living in Wessex, and the Welshman Colan. And Alfred defeats the Danish invaders, but also converts them to Christianity and comes to a peace settlement with them. But that is in the future that he cannot see. Part of Mary's answer runs:
          "I tell you naught for your comfort,
          Yea, naught for your desire,
          Save that the sky grows darker yet
          And the sea rises higher."

Suffering, despair, fear are the gate to 'home at last'. 

                                                                      Read more about the Alfred Jewel, mentioned in the 4th verse here.


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24 November: Lines written in Uncertainty

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The lights are shining dimly round about,
The Path is dark, I cannot see ahead;
And so I go as one perplexed with doubt,
Nor guessing where my footsteps may be led.

The wind is high, the rain falls heavily,
The strongest heart may well admit a fear,
For there are wrecks on land as well as sea
E’en though the haven may be very near.

The night is dark and strength seems failing fast
Though on my journey I but late set out.
And who can tell where the way leads at last?
Would that the lights shone clearer round about!

These lines were written by the artist Aubrey Beardsley in 1891, 7 years before his death from consumption, and 6 before his reception into the Catholic Church. It chimes with Newman’s ‘Lead Kindly Light’. Beardsley’s sensuous life clearly did not satisfy him; but he produced startling images such as Salome with the Head of John the Baptist.

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March 23, Desert XXV: Open our hearts to hear God’s call

Mary Mother from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury

If you look at the chest of the Infant Jesus you will see a hole where a decorative heart was fixed when the Jesuits were here. A baby loves his parents and family without words. We can have an loving and sincere dialogue with God without words also – unless you become as little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)

Pope Francis ends his Lent Message 2020, by insisting again on the Easter, or Paschal reason for Lent, and by asking Mary within the Communion of Saints to pray for us to open our hearts.

I ask Mary Most Holy to pray that our Lenten celebration will open our hearts to hear God’s call to be reconciled to himself, to fix our gaze on the paschal mystery, and to be converted to an open and sincere dialogue with him. In this way, we will become what Christ asks his disciples to be: the salt of the earth and the light of the world (cf. Matthew 5:13-14).

FRANCIS

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20 March, Desert XXIII: Travelling with Pope Francis 4; let yourself be saved over and over again.

Today we read from Pope Francis’ 2020 Lenten letter; the crucifix is by Constantina.

I would like to share with every Christian what I wrote to young people in the Exhortation Christus Vivit: “Keep your eyes fixed on the outstretched arms of Christ crucified, let yourself be saved over and over again. And when you go to confess your sins, believe firmly in his mercy which frees you of your guilt. Contemplate his blood poured out with such great love, and let yourself be cleansed by it. In this way, you can be reborn ever anew” (No. 123). Jesus’ Pasch is not a past event; rather, through the power of the Holy Spirit it is ever present, enabling us to see and touch with faith the flesh of Christ in those who suffer.

The experience of mercy is only possible in a “face to face” relationship with the crucified and risen Lord “who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20), in a heartfelt dialogue between friends. That is why prayer is so important in Lent. Even more than a duty, prayer is an expression of our need to respond to God’s love which always precedes and sustains us. Christians pray in the knowledge that, although unworthy, we are still loved. Prayer can take any number of different forms, but what truly matters in God’s eyes is that it penetrates deep within us and chips away at our hardness of heart, in order to convert us ever more fully to God and to his will.

In this favourable season, then, may we allow ourselves to be led like Israel into the desert (cf. Hosea 2:14), so that we can at last hear our Spouse’s voice and allow it to resound ever more deeply within us. The more fully we are engaged with his word, the more we will experience the mercy he freely gives us. May we not let this time of grace pass in vain, in the foolish illusion that we can control the times and means of our conversion to him.

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29 January: Little Flowers of Saint Francis LXII. Brother Conrad’s gentle persuasion.

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Brother Conrad of Offida, having come on a time as a guest to the House of Offida, the brothers prayed him, for the love of God and of charity, to admonish a young brother that was in that place, the which bore himself in a manner so childish and unruly and ungovernable, that he disturbed both old and young of the community in the divine office, and for the other observances of the rule cared little or naught.

Wherefore Brother Conrad, in pity for the youth and at the prayers of the brothers, called the said brother aside and in fervour of charity spake unto him words of admonition so effective and devout, that by the working of the divine grace he suddenly changed in his behaviour from a boy to an old man, and became so obedient, and gentle, and careful, and devout, and thereafter so peaceful and serviceable, and so studious of all virtue, that, as at the and first all the community had been disturbed by him, so were they all content with him and comforted, and loved him exceeding well.

A while after his conversion the youth aforesaid died, sith it was the will of God; whereof the said brothers were sore grieving.

These young Zimbabwean Novices are enjoying community life.

 

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14 August: Saint Maximilian Kolbe

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One of the residential houses at the lamented  Franciscan International Study Centre in Canterbury was called, quite simply, Kolbe. It remembered a Polish Franciscan Saint, whose feast falls today, the day of his death and the eve of the Assumption of Mary.

Brother Maximilian had a lifelong devotion to Mary and encouraged others to follow this way to her son. He set up an organisation the ‘Militia of the Immaculate’

To pursue the conversion to God of all people, be they sinners, or non-Catholics, or unbelievers, in particular the freemasons; and that all become saints, under the patronage and through the mediation of the Immaculate Virgin.

That all become saints! He founded a publishing house and radio station, using technology to preach the Word and ‘pursue the conversion of all people’. Not surprisingly, much of his output was disliked by the Nazis after they invaded Poland. At the same time he was helping refugees, including Jewish people to hide from the Nazis.

His arrest was inevitable, as was his removal to Auschwitz. There he stepped forward to replace a married man with a family who had been picked out to die of starvation. When Brother Maximilian was too long in dying he was given a lethal injection of carbolic acid.

His remains were cremated the following day.

Following his canonisation he has been recognised as a patron saint of drug addicts; I am sure most of us have known, or known of, someone to recommend to his prayers.

 

 

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13 August, V is for Verulam: hospitality and its unlikely consequences

Verulam is the other, old name for Saint Alban’s, a city about 30 km to the north of London. Its Cathedral was founded as an abbey in Norman times, and owes its survival to eventually become a cathedral to the people of the town who bought the building in 1553, following the dissolution of the monasteries.

Verulam, or Verulamium had been a Roman city, with baths, theatres, a market and barracks. Alban lived there in the time of Emperor Diocletian, the great persecutor of Christians. He himself was not a Christian but his lodger Amphibalus was a Christian priest. Alban saw how he lived and prayed and was moving towards his own conversion when the authorities came to arrest his guest. By swapping clothes with Alban, Amphibalus escaped.

Alban, though, was arrested and brought before the magistrate who urged him to sacrifice to the Roman gods by burning a few grains of incense, but he refused and declared to the magistrate that he was a Christian, even though he had not been baptised. He was executed in Amphibalus’ place, the first known martyr of England.

Not so long ago I was talking to a parish priest who said that he had been in his parish for years and not been invited to a meal with a family – then two came for the same evening! We don’t need to fear the treatment Saint Alban received if we invite a priest to our homes, so go ahead and ask them round. Just don’t serve them meat on a Friday!

Przemyslaw Sakrajda—Martyrdom of St Alban, window in St Alban’s Cathedral.

 

 

 

 

 

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6 August, Little Flowers of Saint Francis LVII: Saint Antony and the fish, 3.

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At these and the like words of Saint Antony, the fishes began to open their mouths and bow their heads, and with these and other signs of reverence in such fashion as best they might, gave praises unto God. Then Saint Antony, beholding this great reverence of the fishes unto God their Creator, rejoiced in spirit, and cried with a loud voice: “Blessed be God eternal, sith the fishes of the waters give Him more honour than do the heretics; and the animals that have no reason pay more heed unto His word than unbelieving men.” And the more Saint Antony preached, the more did the multitude of the fish increase, and no one of them left the place that he had taken. At the which miracle the people of the city began to run together, and among them the heretics aforesaid also drew nigh: the which beholding the miracle so marvellous and so clear, touched to the heart, fell all at the feet of Saint Antony to hear his words.

Thereat Saint Antony began to preach of the catholic faith; and so nobly did he preach that all those heretics were converted, and turned them to the faith of Christ; and all the faithful abode in joy exceeding great, being comforted and strengthened in the faith.

And this done, Saint Antony bade the fishes depart with the blessing of God; and all went thence with marvellous signs of joy, and likewise the people also. And thereafter Saint Antony abode in Rimini many days, preaching and reaping much spiritual fruit of souls.

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26 July. Little Flowers of Saint Francis LIV: The courteous gentleman, 3.

 

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When they drew near unto the courteous gentleman’s house, Saint Francis said to his companion: “Wait here for me a little while, for I fain would first pray to God that He may prosper our journey; that Jesu Christ may be pleased to grant us, weak and poor though we be, the noble prey that we mind to snatch from the world, through the virtue of His most holy passion.”

And this said, he set himself to pray in a place where he could be seen by the said courteous
gentleman; whereby, sith it was the will of God, as he was looking hither and thither, he beheld Saint Francis praying most devoutly before Christ, who with a great brightness appeared to him in the aforesaid prayer and stood before him; and the while he saw Saint Francis for some good space uplifted bodily from the earth. For the which cause he was so touched and inspired of God to leave the world, that incontinent he came forth out of his palace and ran towards Saint Francis, and coming up to him as he was at prayer, he kneeled down at his feet, and with exceeding great fervour and devotion besought him that it would please him to receive him and to do penance together with him.

Then Saint Francis, seeing his prayer was heard of God, and that that which he himself desired, this gentle man was begging for most earnestly, lifted him up, and in fervour and gladness of spirit embraced and kissed him, devoutly giving thanks to God, who had added so worthy a knight unto his company. And quoth that gentleman to Saint Francis: “What dost thou bid me do, my Father? Lo! I am ready to do thy bidding and give to the poor whatsoever I possess, and thus disburdened of all temporal things, to follow Christ with thee.”

And even so he did, according to the counsel of Saint Francis, distributing all that he had to the poor, and entered into the Order, and lived in great penitence and holiness of life and upright conversation.

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25 July. Little Flowers of Saint Francis LIII: The courteous Gentleman, 2.

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Whereby Saint Francis, seeing in the gentleman he was visiting such gentle courtesy and friendliness, and so liberal an offering, conceived in his heart such love towards him, that departing thence he said to his companion on the way: “Of a truth this courteous gentleman would be good for our order and our company, the which is so grateful and bounden unto God, and so loving and courteous to his neighbour and the poor. Know, dear brother, that courtesy is one of the qualities of God Himself, who, of His courtesy, giveth His sun and His rain to the just and the unjust: and courtesy is the sister of charity, the which quencheth hate and keepeth love alive.

Because I have seen such divine virtue in this good man, fain would I have him as my companion; and therefore I desire that one day we return to him again, if perchance God may have touched his heart to desire to go about with us in the service of God; and in this mean time let us pray to God to put this desire within his heart, and give him grace to bring the same to good effect.”

O wondrous thing ! a few days after that Saint Francis had made this prayer, God put this desire into the heart of that gentleman: and quoth Saint Francis to his companion: “Let us go, my brother, to the house of that courteous gentleman; for that I have sure hope in God that with the same courtesy as he hath in temporal things he will give himself up to us and will become our companion”; so they gat them on their way.

Statue of St Francis, Zakopane, Poland

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