Tag Archives: courage

25 April: None but the brave.

Image result for road signs old people crossing

Often and often I’d seen her, on the opposite side of the road, making for the little supermarket, walking stick in hand, eyes fixed ten yards in front of her, seemingly intent on the journey rather than the goal. It would not have been appropriate to call out a greeting, and I was not at all sure she would remember me from church.

Today a man was talking to her as I drew abreast, but she seemed to be dismissing him. But no sooner had he gone his way than she seemed to be staggering. I crossed and greeted her by name: ‘Mrs K, you seem to be in difficulty.’ Enough to win her confidence, she took my arm and we made a somewhat erratic progress to the shop. ‘I always get a taxi back.’

No sooner were we through the door than an assistant had scooped her away and into a chair. Mrs K got her shopping list out and the young woman was soon finding her groceries, and no doubt arranged for the taxi to come and take her to her door.

Let us be grateful that shops can still be human-friendly and serve with a smile; thank you Flavia! But I also want to salute the sheer bravery of Mrs K, stepping out on a cold morning, facing the danger of falling or losing the energy to make it to the shop (and then what?)

There are many people living with disability or weakness who nonetheless are witnesses to life and indeed to something beyond earthly life. Keeping going, day after day, can be disheartening, and if there is nothing to look forward to, then why bother?

But, we are Easter People. At the end of John’s Gospel we read how Peter saith to Jesus: Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith to him: So I will have him to remain till I come, what is it to thee? follow thou me. (John 21:20-21) Jesus and Peter were talking about John, the beloved disciple, but his words apply to most of us Christians today: we are called, not to martyrdom, but to remain until he comes, watching like the wise bridesmaids, and to follow him to the wedding feast whenever he calls us.

 

 

 

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23 April: Looking After Jesus

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Sister Johanna finds treasure in Luke’s Gospel when she spots her own name and investigates further.

With Jesus went Mary, surnamed the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their own resources.                                                                                                                                      Luke 8: 2-3

This short passage from the Gospel of Luke is one that I have not really thought much about, until now. Today I was taken by the reference to Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and wondered why Chuza was mentioned, and what light this might shed on the text. After a bit or research, I discovered that this is the only reference to Chuza in the New Testament, and nothing is known about him except what is said here in this passage. But, surely, at the time Luke’s gospel was written, his name must have meant something. No one, not even St. Luke, name-drops without wanting to impress. And if I think about it, I can see what is probably being implied here.

Herod was not a man to be trusted. He was no friend of Jesus, and the term, ‘that fox’, was used by Jesus of Herod (Lk 13:32) as a put-down, and a bold one, for Herod was an important man and held power over Jesus – or at least, he held a certain kind of worldly power over him. He could, and eventually did, collude with the powers that crucified Jesus.

And Chuza was ‘that fox’s’ steward. As steward, Chuza was also rather important. Scripture scholars say that the exact nature of a steward’s job is no longer known, but it is thought that Chuza was probably a kind of chief administrator of Herod’s entire establishment, and not a mere domestic manager. He was in some way the man who made all the practical decisions at the palace and was responsible for its smooth running. The fact that Chuza’s name is dropped into this text would suggest that his name was well known by Luke’s audience. Eyebrows might rise on hearing that Joanna, wife of the famous Chuza, was known to be both a disciple of Jesus and one of his benefactors.

The text also suggests that Joanna was taking a risk, both on her own behalf and that of her husband, in publicly following this upstart Jesus – ever a controversial figure to those without faith, who had not yet learned to love and revere him. Herod would not approve. But, neither Joanna nor Chuza seem to be bothered by that. Jesus is worth the risk. What eventually happened to Chuza? The text doesn’t say. But we have established that his relative fame would not have been an advantage for Joanna. She carries on anyway, despite the risk.

What else do we know about Joanna? Joanna had been healed by Jesus. She is now dedicated to caring for Jesus and is one of those who provide for him and his companions. She gladly associates with Mary Magdalene, who had been freed from seven devils. Reputations linger, and surely Mary Magdalene was still regarded by many as a highly dubious character. Joanna doesn’t care about that either. Mary Magdalene had been healed, and so had Joanna. They were companions. Joanna was for Jesus and no one would stop her. Caring for Jesus was much more important than playing it safe. Caring for Jesus more important than caring for herself. She and the other women are loyal to Jesus and courageous.

What does Jesus think of their dedication? Does he thank them? Oh, yes. St. Luke’s gospel tells us later that Joanna and the other women received a reward from Jesus. In fact, we see that Jesus expresses his gratitude in the most profound way possible. After Jesus’ crucifixion, Joanna appears again; with her are Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James. They are the first visitors to the tomb of Jesus. They go there intending to carry out the ritual anointing the body. What actually happens to them there is that they become the privileged three who converse with angels. They – these women who took risks for Jesus, who were loyal to him, who provided for his material needs – they are the first recipients of the astounding news that Jesus was alive, risen from the dead. They are the first to know, the first ones to experience the joy of knowing. And not only that, St Luke tells us that they are the first ones who actually remembered Jesus’ own words about his resurrection which he spoke when he was alive. They are the first to understand those words.

And this tells us something else about Joanna and the other women: they were attuned to Jesus’ teaching all along. This understanding they have after his death will be the carry-over from their profound grasp of his teaching before his death. They are, therefore, well chosen to be the first messengers of the Good News to the Eleven. This is Jesus’ way of thanking them, honouring them, showing his love for them and healing them of the deep sorrow his death would have caused. He reaches the most profound places in their hearts with the reality of his resurrection. This is indeed a gift.

This short text, one that I had not really pondered before, has messages of joy. It tells us that Jesus sees everything we do for him, sees our loyalty, sees the risks we take for him, sees the understanding we have of his teaching, sees the way we remember his words. He is grateful every time we embrace his word, every time we give generously to him and his followers. He will repay in ways we cannot imagine now, any more than the women imagined that they would see angels when they went to the tomb. Jesus will repay with currency from his risen life and reach us, raise us up on the deepest possible level of our being.

SJC

Image: Missionaries of Africa.

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2 April, Desert XXXIV: Fear 5.

To most of us it would not be a desert, but a street of slightly run-down 19th Century workers’ houses, not enhanced by the yellow lines or the parked cars. But on this occasion? Well, it was the parked cars that drew me to the street, because I was one-to-one teaching Bradley, who was working for a geography project. This particular task involved surveying cars in different areas of town to discover where the newer and the older ones ‘lived’.

What we eventually did was not quite what I intended. Bradley would not walk down this street in case we should meet a local who would beat him up for trespassing on his territory. ‘They’ll get me later, even if they won’t attack me with you here.’ It was the same story in the other streets I attempted, so we ended up comparing railway, supermarket and seaside parking, but not walking down that street.

Jesus surely felt afraid when he said: ‘Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death, And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.’ (Matthew 20:1819)

But he set his face for Jerusalem. Let’s pray for the grace to surmount our fears and follow him in our daily lives.

(A few months later Bradley moved 200 miles from home to take up an apprenticeship in a town he did not know! Perhaps the little challenges prepared him for that much bigger one.)

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Going viral VII: See you soon.

Thanks to L’Arche Ipswich for this.

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7 March, Desert X: Fear 3.

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From The Life of Saint Teresa*

It must be carefully noted – and I say this because I know it by experience – that the soul which begins to walk resolutely in the way of mental prayer and can persuade itself to set little store by consolations and tenderness in devotion, and neither to be elated when the Lord gives them, nor disconsolate when he withholds them, has already travelled a great part of its journey. However often it may stumble, it need not fear a relapse, for its building has been begun on a firm foundation.

Yes, love for God does not consist in shedding tears, in enjoying those consolations and that tenderness which for the most part we desire and in which we find comfort, but in serving him with righteousness, fortitude and humility. The other seems to me to be receiving rather than giving anything.

As for poor women like myself, who are weak and lack fortitude, I think it fitting that we should be led by means of favours: this is the way that God is leading me now, so that I may be able to suffer certain trials which it has pleased his majesty to give me.

I have to admit to lacking fortitude at times, but Saint Teresa admits the same weakness, so I am in good company! But amid the circling gloom ‘God is leading me now.’ 

* In ‘The Complete Works of Saint Teresa of Jesus, Tr E. Allison Peters, London, Sheed & Ward, 1944, p68.

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28 February, Desert III: Serve Him there with good courage.

Traveler

We return to the letters of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal. On August 21 last year we read of her own times of dryness of heart: here she is writing to one of her sisters to encourage her when she feels nothing. She is being led through the desert whether she likes it or  not, but she is on a safe road.

Oh! but yes; just a word for my Little One. I beg of you, my dearest Sister, not to trouble about what you feel or do not feel—this I say once for all. Serve Our Lord as it pleases Him, and while He keeps you in the desert serve Him there with good courage. He made His dear Israelites spend forty years there, accomplishing a journey that they could have made in forty days. Take courage then, and be satisfied with saying, and being able to say, though without relish, “I wish to live wholly for God and never to offend Him;” and when you stumble, as is sure to happen (be it a hundred times a day), rise up again by an act of confidence. Do likewise towards your neighbour, be content with having the desire to love him, or desiring to desire it, and to procure for him all possible good, and, opportunity given, minister gently to him.

In short take bravely the road in which God leads you—it is a safe one, although you may not have all the light and satisfaction you would like; but it is quite time to abandon to Our Lord all these plans and desires, and to walk blindly, as divine Providence wills, believing that it will lead you aright.

Image from FMSL

Collected Letters of St Jane Frances de Chantal

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20 January, Church Unity Week: Unusual Kindness III.

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This year’s reflections for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity were prepared by the Churches in Malta and Gozo. We are sharing elements of their prayers, but follow the link for the full resources for personal or community prayer.

Naturally, the Maltese Christians draw our attention to the story in Acts 27-28 of how Paul, a prisoner in chains, was among a group who survived being shipwrecked on Malta.

Paul standing forth in the midst of them, said: be of good cheer. For there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but only of the ship … there shall not an hair of the head of any of you perish.’ (27:22, 34).

Reflection

Keep up your courage when the storms of life wash you up on an unexpected shore.14, 

Keep up your courage, take barricades down, welcome the stranger, become the guest.

Keep up your courage, listen to the other, seek to understand; disagree agreeably.

Keep up your courage when the ship runs aground, prepare a new vessel, chart another course.

Keep up your courage, stowaways, castaways: whatever our crew, it’s all hands on deck, creation made new.

Prayer

God of mercy, lost and disheartened, we turn to You.

Instil in us Your hope and courage.

May our churches strive for the unity for which Your Son prayed on the eve of His passion.

We ask this through Him who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.

Amen.

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18 November: The King II, Pilate and Jesus Meet.

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We are preparing to look at the relationship between Jesus and Pontius Pilate with a view to exploring the theme of power as it emerges in the relevant texts of the Gospel of John (18:1 – 19:22). I would like first to summarise the passage immediately preceding the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus. In John 18: 1-11we are told that Jesus had been arrested in the evening by a cohort from the Roman garrison, and a group of guards sent by the chief priests and Pharisees, all with weapons and torches – essentially, a lynch-mob. Jesus handles the mob with courtesy, cooperation and courage. Nonetheless, they bind him and, no doubt, shove and frog-march him to the palace of Annas, the high priest. Annas, probably realising after a short exchange with Jesus that he was out of his depth and could not possibly win in a dialogue with him, sends Jesus on to the next questioner. This will be Pontius Pilate and Jesus is sent to the Praetorium – his palace.

Pilate does not meet with Jesus until he meets Jesus’ captors – a rather unsatisfying encounter, I suspect, as far as Pilate is concerned. Jews were not allowed to go into the inner court of the Praetorium on pain of incurring ritual impurity, so Pilate must meet Jesus’ captors outside – a concession which must have rankled. But he complies, and questions them about the reasons for Jesus’ arrest. According to the text, they claim at this point simply that Jesus is a criminal and deserves death, and that they are not allowed by their religion to pass the death sentence. They do not specify what Jesus has done to deserve it (see Jn. 18:28-32). Pilate, none the wiser for this exchange, must now question Jesus about the reasons for his arrest.

Pilate leaves them, returns to the inner court of the Praetorium, summons Jesus and begins a highly revealing exchange with him. We see here two men who could not possibly have been more different. Pilate, with an abruptness suggesting that he is an important, busy man, asks Jesus the only question that could have any real interest to him, or any bearing on his judgement of Jesus: ‘Are you the king of the Jews?

Immediately, we see that the issue for Pilate is power, but he must hope that Jesus’ power is a trumped up affair, threatening to no one. He had probably encountered mad prophets before – they were not unusual in the Judea of Pilate’s day. So, Pilate’s question would, Pilate hopes, set such a prophet up to expose himself as a rant-and-rave religious fanatic. A wild-eyed diatribe on Jesus’ part would be most useful to Pilate and enable him quickly to dismiss Jesus as long-winded but essentially harmless; then Pilate would be free to move on to the more important business of the day. It is easy to imagine the slightly mocking tone of voice in which Pilate asked his question, much as one might use to a rather ill-behaved child, perhaps, or to someone whom one has already mentally pigeon-holed as not worth taking seriously. Pilate feels secure, powerful at this stage. Accordingly, his treatment of Jesus belittles him. We will examine Jesus’ response to this tomorrow.

Pilate went out to the street to meet the Jewish leaders.

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11 October: Undeterred; Feast of Saint John XXIII.

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When the future Pope John XXIII was Apostolic Delegate in Istanbul, he and other priests and religious were restricted in the ministries they could live out. This reflection from his retreat in 1939 shows that he was undeterred; a missionary witnessing by his life rather than by preaching to the local people.

Every evening from the window of my room, here in the residence of the Jesuit Fathers, I see an assemblage of boats on the Bosphorus; they come round from the Golden Horn in tens and hundreds; they gather at a given rendezvous and then they light up, some more brilliantly than others, offering a most impressive spectacle of colours and lights. I thought it was a festival on the sea for Bairam1 which occurs just about now. But it is the organised fleet fishing for bonito, large fish which are said to come from far away in the Black Sea. These lights glow all night and one can hear the cheerful voices of the fishermen.

I find the sight very moving. The other night, towards one o’clock, it was pouring with rain but the fishermen were still there, undeterred from their heavy toil.

Oh how ashamed we should feel, we priests, ‘fishers of men’2, before such an example! To pass from the illustration to the lesson illustrated, what a vision of work, zeal and labour for the souls of men to set before our eyes! Very little is left in this land of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Debris, sand, seeds… We must do as the fishermen of the Bosphorus do, work night and day with our torches lit, each in his own little boat, at the orders of our spiritual leaders: that is our grave and solemn duty.

1Bairam: Turkish name for festival; Eid fell in November in 1939, as did Archbishop Roncalli’s annual retreat.

2Matthew 4:19

I was reminded of this photograph of Porthmadog harbour, a world away from the Bosphorus.

follow this link  to a report on the Apostleship of the Sea’s Mass in Southwark. As Archbishop Roncalli reminded himself, the Church was founded upon boatmen; we owe it to them to support the often forgotten seafarers of today.

John XXIII ‘Journal of a Soul’,  Geoffrey Chapman, 1965, p234.

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5 October: May we be missionaries too.

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Following yesterday’s reflection on Pope Francis’s prayer for the Holy Spirit to bring about a new dawn of Mission, we have ‘An Extraordinary Month of Mission’ during October, as a response to Pope Benedict XV’s call to Mission ‘Maximum Illud’, a hundred years ago.

This prayer for the month is at the Missio Website.

God our Father, when your Son Jesus Christ rose from the dead, he commissioned his followers to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’.

Through our Baptism you send us out to continue this mission among all peoples.

Empower us by the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be courageous and enthusiastic in bearing witness to the Gospel, so that the mission entrusted to us, which is still far from completion, may bring life and light to the world.

May all peoples experience the saving love and generous mercy of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Not much to add to that! Except that we will need courage and enthusiasm to bring love and mercy to the people around us, and perhaps courage most especially when the enthusiasm is slow to get into gear. It happens.

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