Tag Archives: Cross

16 February. Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLVIII: Brother Ruffino 5, the beautiful sermon.

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The folk of Assisi beholding Saint Francis in the self-same guise as Brother Ruffino, made mock of him, deeming that he and Brother Ruffino had grown mad through overmuch penance.

Saint Francis entered into the church where Brother Ruffino was preaching these words “Dearly beloved, flee from the world and put away sin; render to others their due, if ye would escape from hell; follow the commandments of God, in loving God and your neighbour, if ye would go to heaven; do penance, if ye would possess the kingdom of heaven.”

Then Saint Francis went up into the pulpit, and began to preach so marvellously of the contempt of the world, of holy penitence, of voluntary poverty, and of the desire of the kingdom of heaven, and of the nakedness and shame of the passion of our Lord Jesu Christ, that all they that heard the preaching, men and women in great multitude, began to weep most bitterly with devout and contrite hearts; and not there alone, but in all Assisi was there that day such weeping for the passion of Christ, that never had there been the like.

And the people being thuswise edified and comforted by this act of Saint Francis and Brother Ruffino, Saint Francis re-clad Brother Ruffino and himself and so re-clad, they returned to the House of Portiuncula, praising and glorifying God, that had given them grace to overcome themselves, by the contempt of themselves, and to edify the little sheep of Christ by good example, and to show how greatly the world is to be despised. And on that day so much did the devotion of the people towards them increase, that he deemed himself blessed whoso could touch the hem of their garment.

Let’s pray that Brother Chris’s work in Zimbabwe is prospering. Lord hear us.

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2 February: The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

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The Nunc Dimittis Canticle is recited every night in the Catholic Church; in Anglican churches, such as Canterbury Cathedral, it is sung during Vespers. It is originally the Song of Simeon; the old man was overcome with joy and peace when he met the little scrap of humanity that was ‘the Salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples.’

That was the easy bit when I was asked to play Simeon in a mystery play at Canterbury Cathedral three years ago. My grandson was already too big for the part but the doll we borrowed did not steal the scene. I could concentrate on the Baby, the Father -and then Mary.

It is a massive shift of key as the prophetic revelation finds utterance, and yet we know it is true: a sword will pierce her heart – indeed there is a tradition of the seven sorrows of Mary. I had to come down from my great joy in an instant and look into Mary’s eyes with an overwhelming compassion that was neither mine, nor yet Simeon’s, but the Father’s.

Thirty years after the Presentation that compassion would be brought to practical life by John.

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This window from Saint Mary’s in Rye, Sussex shows Mary, almost blind with grief, following her adoptive son by the hand. She turns her back on the apple tree of temptation and stumbles trustingly towards the Vine.

The empty Cross is a point of light against the night sky: sorrow will be replaced by joy, overturning the order of Simeon’s vision. This is a John’s Gospel window. We also see the Great Bear in the stars. If a star told of his coming, this constellation points to the North Star by which we can find our way to him.

I am the way.

Anyone who wants to follow me must take up their cross daily and follow me.

 

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25 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Day 8: The Lord is my light and my salvation

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The Lord is my light and my salvation (Psalm 27:1)

  • Psalm 27:1-4

  • John 8:12-20

Starting point

Over the past eight days the churches of Indonesia have helped us consider difficult situations facing the world. Many of these have raised questions of justice. The Church has been complicit in many instances of injustice and, through that complicity, we have damaged our unity and diminished the effectiveness of our witness to the world. Christians gather for common prayer, professing common faith and to listen for God’s voice. Although the many injustices wound us, we do not lose hope, but are called to action. The Lord is our light and salvation, the stronghold of our lives. We do not fear.

Reflection

Hope

Forgive us how we’ve devalued you:

‘We live in hope’ and yet don’t hope to live,

‘Hope so’, when we have none in our hearts.

Show us who you really are:

disturb the deathly ease of our despair

and give us the courage to embrace your pain:

impudent in the face of hate,

unrelenting under oppression,

daring to resist the entropy of division.

Goad us to take up that felon’s cross

whose agony

laid empty the grave.

Prayer

God our hope,

we praise you for your loving kindness.

Uphold us when we are about to give up,

show us your light when all around seems dark.

Transform our lives that we may bring hope to others.

Help us to live united in our diversity as a witness to your communion,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

one God now and forever. Amen.

Questions

  • How has Jesus empowered you to witness to what is right?

  • Where in the life of your church or group of churches do you most need the gift of hope?

  • What is your best hope for your community?

Go and Do

(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)

Generate hope by sharing your actions and prayers for justice on the CTBI prayer wall using the #wpcuwall hashtag on Twitter and visit http://www.weekofprayer.org to see the actions others have taken.

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14 December: On fire with all love’s longing.

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For the Feast of Saint John of the Cross, here is one of his spiritual songs. This is taken from ‘San Juan de la Cruz Seven Spiritual Poems’, translated by A.S. Kline, available through Project Gutenberg. 

Song of the Soul that Delights in Reaching the Supreme State of perfection, that is, the union with God, by the path of spiritual negation.

Upon a darkened night
on fire with all love’s longing
– O joyful flight! –
I left, none noticing,
my house, in silence, resting.

Secure, devoid of light,
by secret stairway, stealing
– O joyful flight! –
in darkness self-concealing,
my house, in silence, resting.

In the joy of night,
in secret so none saw me,
no object in my sight
no other light to guide me,
but what burned here inside me.

Which solely was my guide,
more surely than noon-glow,
to where he does abide,
one whom I deeply know,
a place where none did show.

O night, my guide!
O night, far kinder than the dawn!
O night that tied
the lover to the loved,
the loved in the lover there transformed!

On my flowering breast,
that breast I kept for him alone,
there he took his rest
while I regaled my own,
in lulling breezes from the cedars blown.

The breeze, from off the tower,
as I sieved through its windings,
with calm hands, that hour,
my neck, in wounding,
left all my senses hanging.

Self abandoned, self forgot,
my face inclined to the beloved one:
all ceased, and I was not,
my cares now left behind, and gone:
there among the lilies all forgotten.

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7 December: Not a pious pastime.

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I have been reading Abbot Erik Varden’s new book ‘The Shattering of Loneliness, on Christian Rememrance’, and will review it in the next few months. I wanted to share this insight as we come towards Christmas. It follows nicely from Pope Benedict’s ‘sober inebriation’ remark about music, which certainly sustained his spiritual life. On p129.

The Spiritual Life is not, cannot be, a pious pastime. It is premised on a total surrender to the promise and demands of the Gospel. it bears the imprint of the Cross and is charged with the spirit of the risen Jesus.

 

 

 

 

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22 November: The Road to Emmaus V

Easter Sunday

The two disciples aren’t finished yet. They have a few more things to say to Jesus:

…[T]his is not all: two whole days have now gone by since it all happened; and some of the women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, and when they could not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing (Luke. 24:21-24)..

Cleopas and his friend do not seem to be able to remember anything that Jesus had prophesied about himself during his lifetime. Maybe grief and shock had made them forget everything. Maybe Jesus’ prophecies had been so horrifying to the disciples at the time that they simply “blanked” them. But Jesus cannot be faulted for having failed to warn his disciples. He had, on numerous occasions, told them plainly that he would be crucified, and would die and be buried, and then, after three days, would rise from the dead. Neither of the disciples seemed able to recall this now. But Jesus, like the superb healer he is, listens intently in silence while they vent their feelings of confusion and disappointment.

At last, they pause. They have finished their tale. Maybe they are feeling a bit empty now, but surely they know they have been heard – you can always feel it when someone is listening with his whole heart. As a result, they themselves are perhaps better able now to listen than they have been all day. And Jesus does not fail to make use of this opportunity. He is bold and forthright:

You foolish men! So slow to believe all that the prophets have said! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer before entering into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself (Luke. 24:25-27).

We are not told what the disciples did while Jesus spoke to them. Presumably, they continued to walk along as he talked. They seem to have been reduced at last to silence. What was this experience like for them? I imagine that they must have gone through a swift succession of feelings, beginning perhaps with dismay over being called foolish and slow. But no doubt they moved quickly to a state of some amazement at the stranger’s penetration into the situation they had described to him, and from there into a state of wonder, joy and even to a feeling of hope that they could not understand immediately. Here at last was someone who could make profound sense of everything that had happened. Here was someone who was picking up the shattered pieces of their lives and making them whole again.

Happily, this is an experience that I can say I know about also, even as I know of the distress and bewilderment that these two disciples had felt. Jesus never abandons those who love him and seek him sincerely, even if we seek him wrongheadedly. Perhaps especially then. Perhaps this endears us to him.

In my experience of discipleship, enlightenment does come. Eventually. Or, at least, partial enlightenment comes. And, by the time it comes, I am usually so happy to have it that I will accept it thankfully in any form. But, as is the case in this story, full enlightenment – the recognition of the Jesus himself in a new form – usually comes to me later, when reflecting on my experience through prayer. The disciples here are enlightened enough to be loath to part with this wonderful stranger, but that seems to be all they know. They don’t see yet that he is not a stranger.

SJC

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21 November: The Road to Emmaus, IV; they do not know they are praying.

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The disciples on the road to Emmaus do not recognise Jesus. But, as always, Jesus does not seem to be at a loss – I doubt he was surprised in the least. He knew who he was dealing with, knew what they needed. He therefore draws them out to begin with. He asks them what they had been talking about: ‘What are all these things that you are discussing as you walk along? They stopped, their faces downcast’ (Luke. 24:17). How poignant this is for me. The One who knows all things, delicately asks these two dull-eyed, dreary men to tell him what they had been discussing. Surely, Jesus knows that in asking that question, he is asking not only for an account of recent events; he is also saying covertly, Tell me what is making you so downcast. He is giving them another opportunity to hash everything through. But this time, it will be different. Cleopas and the other disciple do tell Jesus all about their experience. But they are not merely talking to each other now, pooling their bewilderment and sorrow. They are talking to the Risen Lord.

This, perhaps, is the first prayer to the Risen Jesus that any of the disciples had made. The two here don’t know it at the time, but they are praying, telling Jesus all about it, placing their hurts and disappointments before him – and not, incidentally, without a little dig: “Then one of them, called Cleopas, answered him, ‘You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.”

Yes, haven’t there been such times in my life? Haven’t I often said something similar to the Lord – and I do not even have the excuse of not recognising him. Haven’t I said something like, “What are you about, Lord? You don’t seem to see what is going on!” I can just hear the incredulity in Cleopas’s voice, the tones of bitterness:

You must be the only person staying in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have been happening there these last few days.’ He asked, ‘What things?’ They answered, ‘All about Jesus of Nazareth, who showed himself a prophet powerful in actions and speech before God and the whole people; and how our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and had him crucified. Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free.

There it is, the monumental wrongheadedness: ‘Our own hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free.’ Whatever the disciples had managed to learn from Jesus during his earthly life, all the gospels bring out that there was one thing they never seemed to grasp: that Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world, and his power would never be exercised after the manner of earthly rulers and politicians. On the contrary, his kingdom was within, and the revolution he would bring about would change us as individuals on the level of our hearts. These interior changes would draw us into a community of believers, united by faith and hope in Jesus, and in love of him. In this community each person would strive to be the servant of the others. Power games or displays of domination would have no place whatever in his kingdom.

Why didn’t they get that? The same reason I don’t get it, I suppose. Oh, I might not be so silly as to think that Jesus will snap his heavenly fingers and change world-scale politics. But, what about the petty politics I have experienced in my own little world? Haven’t I fumed about them? Don’t I find myself secretly hoping that Jesus will ‘fix’ all that? And when he doesn’t, don’t I struggle with dismay and anger? We are slow learners.

SJC

 

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18 November: The Road to Emmaus – Seeing Salvation, I.

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Greetings again to Sister Johanna, who has been reading Saint Luke and letting the Word speak to her. Thank you, Johanna, for sharing with us! 

The complete story of the Road to Emmaus is told only in the Gospel of Luke (Lk 24:13-32). It is a well known account of two disciples making a journey on foot from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. One of the disciples has a name. Cleopas. The other is forever unnamed. A man whom they do not recognise finds them and walks with them. Because of this man, they have an experience that changes everything, that re-orients them vocationally, humanly – on every level. I love this story. Yet, whenever I read it, I feel a strange ache inside. I feel that I am there, with Cleopas – I am the other one, the unnamed one; I am walking down that dreary, hot and dusty road.

As a Catholic, I am accustomed to hearing this story proclaimed in the liturgy during the Easter Octave; then, later in the Easter season, it comes again, this time on a Sunday. It is an important story. It is one of the stories about Jesus appearing after his death. It tells us that the Lord is Lord, and that he is risen from death. But this story has many levels, and teaches things in addition to the glorious fact of Jesus’ resurrection. It has a lot to say about what discipleship can feel like not only at Easter time, but all the time. It deserves to be revisited outside the liturgical season of Easter in order to appreciate just how many aspects of the ordinary Christian life it addresses. It is a lengthy story, but I would like to look at it a bit at a time in a series of posts.

It begins like this:

Now that very same day, the two of them were on their way to a village called Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking together about all that had happened (Luke 24:13).

Now that very same day….’ The same day as what? It’s the day that is three days after Jesus’ death on Friday – three days after a shattering Friday that no one had yet learned to call “good”. This third day is the one we now know as Easter Sunday, but in this gospel passage no one had learned to use that designation either. For Jesus’ disciples, that ‘same day’ is just the next day in a series of tragic days. Jesus, their master, their beloved rabbi, their dearest friend, had been crucified like a criminal on the Friday before. And now, he was dead. His ignominious death seemed to augur only one thing: that no one would ever take any of his teachings seriously or believe any of his claims. His kingdom would simply never be established. The disciples were confronted now with death’s finality, its apparently locked and barricaded door. There is no bargaining with death. The dead are irretrievable. The grieving have no choice but to accept the loss of the deceased person, as well as the unique world that person represents. That is what the disciples were struggling with on that day.

How often has discipleship been like that to me? How often has Jesus seemed to be, well, “dead” and lost to me? Yet, I can also say that this state, although I know it well and truly, has never been a permanent one for me. Jesus is full of surprises – as the disciples will soon re-discover.

That same day, surprising things began to happen that the disciples did not know what to make of. Tomorrow we will begin look at them.

SJC.

Franciscan friends on the road to Canterbury.

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November 10: Remembering

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I came across this little Staffordshire souvenir figure under a church war memorial last November. A hundred years on, it’s difficult to understand who would design such an ornament, or who would have bought it. As boys I remember us getting more run-of-the-mill designs for my mother’s collection, but we once gave her a Great War tank model, not thinking of the loss of life and all the human suffering it represented.

But what does this figure represent, other than a present from Bishop’s Stortford? Is the soldier a killer or a victim? Brave or resigned, or hoping for a ‘Blighty’ wound to get himself sent home for a month or two? Did it remind its first owner of a loved one lost? And how did it feel to see it if you were a returned front-line soldier, after the War? Pure white was not very often seen amid Flanders mud.

Caught in that moment when he goes Over The Top to kill or be killed: how do we bring this to God? This is not man-for-man fighting – the machine gun that may get him will be many yards away, and unless it comes to bayonets he won’t see the one he kills.

Perhaps it is fitting to put him down, as the parishioners did, in front of the Cross on the War Memorial; without a word, with the poppies around him.

What can we say? With our current weaponry we have no right to feel morally superior. Piloting deadly drones from hundreds of miles away or threatening to press the red button; or indeed having others do so in our name: lives on ‘our side’ are not at risk as those going over the top were.

Father forgive us for we do not want to know what we do.

 

 

 

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6 November, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXXXIII: Two Gentlemen of Bologna, 2.

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How Saint Francis delivered one of them from a sore temptation

Brother Rinieri devoutly and faithfully served the brethren, dwelling in great sanctity and humility: and he became Saint Francis’ close familiar friend. 

A while after, God suffered a very grievous temptation to arise within his soul: and he being in anguish and tribulation thereby, afflicted himself with fasts, with scourgings, with tears and prayers, both day and night: but for all that he could not rid him of that temptation; but
oftentimes abode in great despair, sith he deemed himself thereby abandoned of God. While he was in such despair, as a last remedy he minded to go to Saint Francis, thinking thus within himself: “If Saint Francis will look kindly on me, and show himself mine own familiar friend, as is his wont, I believe that God will yet have pity on me: but if not, it will be a sign that I shall be abandoned by God.” So he set out and came t0 Saint Francis, who at that time lay
grievously sick in the palace of the bishop of Assisi; and God revealed unto him all the manner of the temptation and the despair of the said Brother Rinieri, and of his purpose and his coming.

And straightway Saint Francis called Brother Leo and Brother Masseo, and said unto them: “Go ye out at once to meet my little son, most dear to me, brother Rinieri, and embrace him on my behalf and salute him, and tell him that among all the brothers that are in the world I love him with especial love.” So they went, and found Brother Rinieri on the way, and embraced him, saying unto him whatsoever Saint Francis had bidden them say. Whereby such consolation and sweetness filled his soul that he was as one beside himself: and giving thanks to God with all his heart, he went on and came to the place where Saint Francis lay sick.

And albeit Saint Francis was grievously sick, yet when he heard that Brother Rinieri was coming, he got up and went to meet him, and embraced him very sweetly, and said: “My little son, most dear to me, Brother Rinieri, among all the brothers that are in the world, I love thee, I love thee with especial love.” And this said, he made the sign of the most holy cross upon his brow, and kissed him thereon; and bespake him again: “My little son, most dear, God hath suffered this temptation to assail thee for thy great gain in merit, but if thou no more desire this gain, then let it be.” O marvel ! as soon as Saint Francis had said these words, incontinent departed from him all temptation, as though in all his life he had felt it not a whit, and he remained altogether comforted.

 

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