Tag Archives: courage

8 November: Borrow’s brolly

Image from Sister Johanna

George Borrow is walking through Wales in November 1854, and does not regard an umbrella as something expendable, to be thrown out when one or two struts have broken! No Bibles for sale this time, but he’s as full of himself as ever. Enjoy his bombast! But we could remind him of Psalm 17:8, ‘Keep me as the apple of thy eye. Protect me under the shadow of thy wings.’ Even when the rain is in your face, the Lord will protect you. If you allow him to.

Rain came on, but it was at my back, so I expanded my umbrella, flung it over my shoulder and laughed.  O, how a man laughs who has a good umbrella when he has the rain at his back, aye and over his head too, and at all times when it rains except when the rain is in his face, when the umbrella is not of much service.  O, what a good friend to a man is an umbrella in rain time, and likewise at many other times.  What need he fear if a wild bull or a ferocious dog attacks him, provided he has a good umbrella? he unfurls the umbrella in the face of the bull or dog, and the brute turns round quite scared, and runs away.  Or if a footpad asks him for his money, what need he care provided he has an umbrella? he threatens to dodge the ferrule into the ruffian’s eye, and the fellow starts back and says, “Lord, sir! I meant no harm.  I never saw you before in all my life.  I merely meant a little fun.”  Moreover, who doubts that you are a respectable character provided you have an umbrella? you go into a public-house and call for a pot of beer, and the publican puts it down before you with one hand without holding out the other for the money, for he sees that you have an umbrella and consequently property.  And what respectable man, when you overtake him on the way and speak to him, will refuse to hold conversation with you, provided you have an umbrella?  No one.  The respectable man sees you have an umbrella and concludes that you do not intend to rob him, and with justice, for robbers never carry umbrellas.  O, a tent, a shield, a lance and a voucher for character is an umbrella.  Amongst the very best friends of man must be reckoned an umbrella.

from Wild Wales by George Borrow.

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3 November: What immortal grief hath touched thee …

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Another lyric of Sappho, translated by Bret Carman. 
Is your heart filled with disillusion at all things human – vanity of vanity, says the preacher (Ecclesiastes 1.2); the Bible, the Word of God, explores the same feelings of ultimate dissatisfaction with things fleeting and desired, as Sappho. But the Lord God is not fettered, as the Olympians were. His love leads, but also seeks out the lost sheep. As Sappho wants to believe, there is a place of safety, where every tear will be wiped away.
Let us pray that those in the depths of disillusion may find freedom in God’s love, and that we may be a light on their path, and be wise beyond words in our dealings with them.
Soul of sorrow, why this weeping?
What immortal grief hath touched thee
With the poignancy of sadness,—
  Testament of tears?
Have the high gods deigned to show thee
Destiny, and disillusion
Fills thy heart at all things human,
  Fleeting and desired?
Nay, the gods themselves are fettered
By one law which links together
Truth and nobleness and beauty,
  Man and stars and sea.
And they only shall find freedom
Who with courage rise and follow
Where love leads beyond all peril,
  Wise beyond all words.
samaritans cards 2019
(from “Sappho: One Hundred Lyrics” by Bliss Carman)

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15 August: Serve him with a perfect heart

 And [God] said to me: Solomon thy son shall build my house, and my courts: for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be a father to him. And I will establish his kingdom for ever, if he continue to keep my commandments, and my judgments, as at this day. Now then before all the assembly of Israel, in the hearing of our God, keep ye, and seek all the commandments of the Lord our God: that you may possess the good land, and may leave it to your children after you for ever. And thou my son Solomon, know the God of thy father, and serve him with a perfect heart, and a willing mind: for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the thoughts of minds. If thou seek him, thou shalt find him: but if thou forsake him, he will cast thee off for ever.

Now therefore seeing the Lord hath chosen thee to build the house of the sanctuary, take courage, and do it.

1 Chronicles 28:6-10

Try substituting ‘Mary’ or ‘daughter’ for ‘Solomon’ or ‘son’. No question of her being ‘cast off for ever.’ Rather she was enfolded in the Lord’s arms at the end.

Image from Assisi, MMB.

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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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