Tag Archives: crowd

18 September: Still here.

Sharp eyes, Kentish or not, will have seen the Tabernacle or Aumbry to our left of the Altar. Jesus is sacramentally present here. We were a little late in the day to be able to linger anywhere in Saint David’s Cathedral; the crowd was beginning to press, but we can sit quietly and ponder these words of Sion Aled Owen in his meditation on The Accidental Pilgrim. Sometimes it’s easier to have heart aflame in a quiet moment than a crowded one.

And here you are
diverted by curiosity from the Coastal Path,
seeking some solace on a vacation rainy day
or on a taster tour from your ship
granted an hour to inherit centuries.
Or coming with heart already aflame
to claim the shrine’s promise.

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5 December: Through a glass darkly.

The Louvre Gallery in Paris has an exhibition of works by Leonardo da Vinci, marking 500 years since his death, and Jeanne Ferney went to review it for La Croix newspaper. But her visit was spoilt, not so much by the press of the crowd in the galleries as by the sheer number of cameras and phones pointed at every work.

Over the past few years I have deliberately taken my phone to capture some of the pictures in this blog, but the fact that Mrs T is often standing and waiting for me suggests that I am actually looking at objects rather than just notching up another dozen photos to add to the blog or impress my family. (They are rarely impressed by their father’s exploits.)

Any regular readers will have noticed that some photos reappear from time to time, while the connection between  picture and reflection can appear quite tenuous. Sometimes this is done  by the writer or the editor to give a totally different angle on the words, sometimes you may not see the world quite as we do! We do not always seek so much to illustrate as to elucidate. And sometimes the picture is the starting point, of course.

We hope not to give a contrary message to the day’s short reflection; nor do we want to spoil other people’s in-the-moment enjoyment of art works or landscapes or flowers by huffing and puffing over a picture and getting in their way; and we don’t want to lose the ability to see with our eyes because we are looking through a lens! Sometimes a mind’s-eye picture is a lasting joy, but a lens-eye picture can grow on you, as this one has on me; taken in a cavern in Poland, I did not expect it to come out at all. It still sets my mind wondering.

Let’s pray for the grace to see ourselves as others see us, especially that Other who is Our Father. And may we never get in his way by our dawdling and sightseeing. This Advent may we see and follow the star that leads us to the Child of Bethlehem.

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November 22: The King VI, Back to Pilate.

arch.people2

Pilate is trying to finish with this troubling case. But he cannot shake it; it goes on and on. At the suggestion of releasing Jesus, the crowd erupts into violent, near-riot behaviour. They begin to scream for Jesus’ death. It becomes clear to Pilate that there is no ‘sane majority’, and no one wants this Jesus to be released. They want Barabbas, the thief and murderer, to be set free, not Jesus. Yet it is also Pilate’s opinion that Jesus is nothing more than a preacher, with no political aspirations at all. What is going on? Pilate is a superstitious man and he is beginning to feel odd (see John 19:8). What gods are frowning here, skewing this situation? His scalp is tingling with a weird anxiety that makes his blood run cold. He feels caught up in something uncanny, even preternatural.

Pilate tries to satisfy the crowd’s blood-lust by having Jesus taken to be scourged. Afterwards, the soldiers torture him psychologically and physically by mockery, and by making thorn branches into a crown and forcing it down on his head; they put a purple robe on him and make exaggerated bows before him, saying ‘Hail King of the Jews,’ He is slapped in the face. But it is still not enough for the crazed crowd. Pilate does not particularly like Jesus, but even less does he like the way things are going. He knows that whatever happens, the situation has become big enough to be talked about and remembered afterwards. He is anxious about how this will affect his reputation. Pilate tries again. He says to the crowd, ‘Look, I am going to bring him out to you to let you see that I find no case against him.’ And Jesus is brought out in his now physically weakened and bloodied condition, dressed in the purple robe and wearing the thorn-crown. Jesus says nothing. Pilate says, ‘Here is the man.’ Instead of being moved by Jesus’ brokenness and his manifest harmlessness, the crowd’s thirst for Jesus’ death intensifies, and their shouts for his execution increase in volume and violence.

Now Pilate’s pulse really begins to race. The situation continues to feel eerie to him. His fears increase, as the text says (19:8). He calls Jesus to him again in private and probably peers at him intensely. Anyone else in Jesus’ position would have one objective only: to save his own skin. But Jesus is astonishingly serene. What is this man about, Pilate wants to know? Jesus waits. Pilate obscurely detects the existence of a conflict on a level he is not accustomed to dealing with. He has rarely, if ever, taken seriously matters pertaining to the spirit world and is completely lost now.

Where do you come from?’ Pilate finally asks. His question doesn’t really make sense. He knew that Jesus was from Nazareth. But Pilate has begun to realise that Jesus is entirely different from the man he thought Jesus was. Pilate is thrashing about in the sea of his mind, grasping at anything that seems to float, struggling with waves of deep perplexity and dread.

SJC

 

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12 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus VI: Healing Friendship Offered to All

stmaurice.pilgrims

But wait, what’s going on? There is some restlessness in the crowd now. The people seem dismayed. The ones nearest Jesus’ group have sent the perplexing message around: Jesus has gone to stay at a sinner’s house! How shocking! It can’t be true! Now the crowd is straining to see what is happening. Zacchaeus is too short to be seen clearly, but it’s clear enough that Jesus is smiling, and some of his closest companions are looking happy. One is even wiping his eyes. They see them preparing to leave together, and yes, they see that Zacchaeus is the centre of attention. Naturally. But look – yes, Zacchaeus is actually being embraced by some of Jesus’ friends. They seem to be speaking to Zacchaeus with expressions of relief and gratitude. Relief? Gratitude?? Because of Zacchaeus?? And Jesus and his friends are all heading in the direction of Zacchaeus’s house. The atmosphere in the crowd quickly becomes more hostile, and angry people are beginning to surround Jesus and his newly enlarged group. They don’t understand. That villainous chief tax collector, whom they all despised and had relegated to the outermost edges of their lives, is suddenly in the inner circle of this holy man’s friends. What is this?

But now, Zacchaeus is ready. He hears the bewildered comments and knows that it is up to him to do something, to act, to explain. Jesus is now his friend, and he is Jesus’ friend, and Zacchaeus has already decided on the changes he will make in his life. He declares his promise to Jesus with conviction – and it feels so wonderful, so free to declaim the words, Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ The bystanders have fallen silent.

Zacchaeus pauses, panting a bit. He knows Jesus understands the full import of his declaration: it means that now I am a new man. I have a new identity; I am the friend of Jesus, because Jesus has befriended me. Jesus did this completely out of the blue, not as a reward for any good deeds of mine for I had no good deeds. He offered his friendship because he is friendship, he is love. Jesus saw through my facade, my fake bravado, saw beyond the unscrupulous tax collector, the cheat, the bully – he saw through all that, he saw the hurt, frightened child. And now he sees my human potential and his friendship has healed me. Jesus confirms this in his words:

Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham, for the Son of man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’

These words of Jesus are directed to Zacchaeus, primarily, but they are also words for the angry bystanders. They, too, need healing from their wound of self-righteousness, from their various facades of self-sufficiency and bravado. Jesus is here re-teaching the crowd the message that he repeats so often during his minstry: he has not come for those who suppose themselves to be righteous, capable and therefore deserving of God’s blessings. He has come for the lost, the rejected; he has come for the wounded – physically and emotionally. That refers to Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus knows it. That also refers to the crowd standing around Jesus in Jericho – and they are a bit slower to grasp the point.

If we are honest, we know that this refers to us, also. We need to be needed by Jesus. And we are. Jesus longs to be in a relationship of deepest friendship with us. His relationship with Zacchaeus can give hope to all who realize that they are precisely in Zacchaeus’s position.

SJC

(MAfr African Pilgrimage, St Maurice)

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8 March. Zacchaeus and Jesus II: The Chief Tax Collector.

tagliacozzo

There is seemingly an unimportant phrase at the end of the first sentence of the gospel passage from Luke (19:1-10) given in yesterday’s posting. If you missed it, I recommend scrolling back to it. There are a few words in the beginning that are very easy simply to skim over. The text tells us that Jesus was going through Jericho when ‘…suddenly a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance.’ It’s the words ‘made his appearance’, that are so telling, I believe. They are an English interpretation of the original Greek text, rather than a literal translation of the Greek words, but I believe the translators of the New Jerusalem Bible are using the phrase in order to introduce the reader subtly to the theme of suffering in Zacchaeus’s life. There is a sub-text in these words. Usually when we say So and So “made his appearance” we are smirking. We are putting a negative spin on the words because we are talking about someone who is not very likeable, someone whose actions may have harmed us or a person we love, someone who never enters a public scene without having some ulterior motive. The phrase implies, “Oh no. What’s he doing here?” On this particular occasion a crowd has gathered in order to see Jesus, who was known to be a holy man and a healer. This is an occasion in which a dishonest person and a swindler would not be expected even to be interested.

And, yet, Zacchaeus – a chief tax collector, as the Greek text tells us – was there. Tax collectors were notorious in Jesus’ day for being dishonest, callous, thieving characters, who took more money than they had a right to, in order to line their own pockets. These were Jews who were employed by Rome, the occupying power, and who were therefore considered by devout Jews to be apostates from their own faith, and loyal to ‘the enemy.’ Zacchaeus was no different. If anything, he would have been considered to be worse than many tax collectors, an ‘arch-enemy’, because as chief tax collector, he was in charge of a whole district, and doubtless was responsible for ensuring that those under him did not become too lenient toward those owing tax money. And this man ‘makes his appearance’ – here, of all places.

The people in the crowd probably glance at Zacchaeus warily, then exchange looks with one another. Maybe the only thing that prevents some of the men in the crowd from confronting Zacchaeus is the thought that this, after all, is an event in which a holy man will be present. It would not do to have a brawl. In any case, Zacchaeus had power to ruin anyone who made his life difficult. So, the people in the crowd try to act as though Zacchaeus isn’t there.

That Zacchaeus was ‘blanked’ by the people, that all were complicit in an act of passive aggression against him can be inferred from the text, where it says, He kept trying to see who Jesus was, but he was short and could not see him for the crowd. In other words, the crowd closed ranks against Zacchaeus. They would not let him through. He was a well-known figure not only in Jericho, but in the district. In this setting, had he been a public person of some other profession, with a reputation for kindness and philanthropy, surely he would have been allowed to pass through. A little murmur of recognition would have gone through the crowd, and Zacchaeus would have found a pathway opening up for him, making it possible for him to move forward. But nothing of the kind happens. He is ostracised.

SJC

 

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5 September. Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXXIV: Crowd Control at Rieti.

And when he drew nigh to Rieti, so great a press of people came out to meet him, that he would not for this cause enter into the city; but gat him to a church that lay without the city, it might be a two miles’ space. The city folk, coming to know that he was gone to the said church, ran together for to see him, in such sort that the vineyard of the church was spoiled altogether, and the grapes of it were all plucked; whereof the priest was sore grieving in his heart, and repented him that he had received Saint Francis into the church.

The thought of the priest being revealed of God unto Saint Francis, he let call him, and said: “Dear father, how many measures of wine doth this vineyard yield thee, the year it yields its best?”

Replied the priest: “Twelve measures.” Quoth Saint Francis: “I pray thee, Father, that thou bear patiently with me if I tarry here some days, seeing that I find here much repose; and let whoso will pluck of the grapes of this thy vineyard, for the love of God and me, his poor little one; and I promise thee, in the name of my Lord Jesu Christ, that it shall yield thee twenty measures every year.” And thus did Saint Francis in return for his sojourning there, because of the great fruit of souls that was manifestly gathered of the folk that resorted thither; whereof many departed drunken with love divine, and abandoned the world.

The priest trusted the promise of Saint Francis, and freely gave up the garden unto all that came to him. And it was a marvel to see how the vineyard was all spoiled and plucked, so that
scarce any bunches of grapes were found left.

The time of the vintage came ; and the priest gathered in such bunches as remained, and put
them in the vat and trod them out, and according to the promise of Saint Francis got thereout twenty measures of the best wine. By this miracle it was manifestly set forth, for men to understand, that even as the vineyard despoiled of grapes abounded in wine, through the merits of Saint Francis; even so the Christian people, that had grown barren of virtue by reason of sin, through the merits and teaching of Saint Francis oftentimes abounded in the good fruits of penitence.

People still come looking for God’s Word to be shared with them. African pilgrims at St Maurice; L’Arche at Canterbury, and World Youth Pilgrims in Poland.

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8 May: In the place of God’s presence

ruined abbey

Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it

…this is the house of God, the gate of heaven.

Genesis 28: 16-17

Every place is the house of God, the gate of heaven. Often, when pushed and pulled by noise and movement, it seems God is nowhere – but break the word open and you have the truth: God is now – here.

How do we become awake and receptive to this presence? We might try two things:

The first: To find or create a physical space in our home or environment where we purposefully [and regularly] go to be open to God.

This is likely to be somewhere where we feel at home or comfortable. It could be a corner of a room in the house, where a chair waits, a candle just sitting there invites you to light it and a bible rests ready to restore your soul. Such a space works in a similar way that a church building does. A church is made of bricks and mortar like so many other buildings but you know when you enter why you are going there. Walking in, sitting down, you become open to God who is in that place. The dedicated space in your home becomes your ‘church’; through daily practice you have only to go there to begin the act of prayer.

Your ‘holy’ place could also be a garden shed, a bench in the park where you sit in your lunchbreak, or a place where you regularly walk. What helps is to make your going to whatever space you choose intentional, in just the same way that you choose to visit a friend or family member.

The second: Each day to purposefully seek God in a place that up to now we have found uncomfortable and that seems to work against any sense of God’s presence.

I can think of a few: For example, I rarely enjoy walking along Borough High Street, near London Bridge, where I sometimes work. There is no green of tree or plant to soften the concrete. The pavements are thronged with people walking against the flow of wherever it is I want to get to. The traffic is noisy. Why even try to seek God here? Because God is here and now. So as I walk along I breathe out my hurry and worry, and breathe in God with me. I pause long enough to see the faces that pass me, the cars moving by, the sky framed by the buildings and ask the Lord to help me see well, with an open mind and heart. Perhaps I will hold the line of a psalm as I walk along, dodging those who cannot see because their eyes are trained on the screen of their mobiles.

Where is such a place for you – somewhere that is a regular part of your life? Or perhaps it will be a time of day more than a physical place: perhaps the time when you first get in from work and all the emails are awaiting you, or the commute home on a busy train.

Seek God there, and you will find. It may not be anything dramatic or immediate. God inhabits the ordinary, and moves within the waiting heart.

CC.

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