Tag Archives: death

5 April, Palm Sunday

Today we’d put out the flags, as Caernarfon did to welcome us (and thousands more tourists) a few years ago. 2,000 years ago it was palms and cloaks that were actively waved – not just left out in all weathers – as Jesus came to town. But by the following Friday nobody would have wanted the Romans to see the national flags and emblems on their buildings. Jesus had become dangerous to know.

The Plantagenet Kings whose castle commands this view would have looked askance at the scene, and their spies would have filled the castle governor’s ear with more or less factual accounts of the latest prince to arise to rally the Welsh. Pilate would have heard about Jesus before Palm Sunday but the parade of the King of the Jews did not lead to his immediate arrest. Pilate thought he could contain this uprising before it got very far.

By Friday festival fever was worrying a hypersensitive elite who valued the shaky Pax Romana as it applied in Judea, offering them status and privilege and allowing the Temple worship to continue according to the Law. Verses from the Psalms and the Prophets that challenged the idea of sacrifice were dismissed in their turn by the priests of the Temple.

For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Ps 51: 16-17

 

Jesus’s heart was broken, his body too, though not his spirit. His death completed his lifelong passion. It is all of a piece, as the Pieta tells us – the baby we saw Mary cuddling at Christmas is the One she cradles briefly before his burial. But today, knowing he is riding into difficult times, he is the King the crowd were waiting for.

Image from Missionaries of Africa
Strasbourg Cathedral

So let’s put out the flags in our hearts, and wave our palms for our King! And let’s hope we can distribute palms from the backs of our churches should we be banned from gathering to celebrate Holy Week and Easter.

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Pam Dodds RIP

Pamela in 1981 at Faith House by Cathy Davis

Zoom calls have quickly become a part of the ‘new normal’, and I’ve even now participated in my first zoom remembrance service.

Pam Dodds was born in Canterbury in 1958 and she came, in 1981, to live at Faith House, the newly-opened L’Arche house in Canterbury. I moved into Faith House at the start of 1989 and in May of that year, there came L’Arche UK’s first ever Korean assistant and the woman who was to become my wife, Yim Soon.

Pam sadly died alone flat on March 22nd, and there were 37 of her friends gathered for the service, some from L’Arche, some from St Thomas’, the Catholic church in Canterbury where Pam was a well-known and well-loved member. Indeed there were about 40 people present as some of the zoom windows had two people in them. How Pam would have been touched by so many people coming together to sing, to pray and to share memories of her. It was lovely to see old faces, all of us brought together by Pam.

When it got to my turn I explained how my bedroom at Faith House had been directly underneath Pam’s and mentioned, rather diplomatically, that I knew well what Pam’s favourite records were. The reality was that Pam would play the same 3 records very loudly: and not just the same 3 records but the same bits of the same 3 records: very loudly! I liked Pam, and I wasn’t really bothered by her ‘feistiness’, and I suppose I must have found a way to cope with the noise coming from above (human beings are very adaptable, which we are finding at the current time of coronavirus).

Pam didn’t find it easy to live with others and in the early 90s she announced that she wanted to leave L’Arche and was supported to move into her own flat. She retreated somewhat into her own (rather troubled) world in the ensuing years and I was delighted when in recent years L’Arche was approached by social services to see if Pam could be given a bit of support again. It was decided that Pam would spend a couple of hours each week with Yim Soon, so Pam came to our house on Tuesday afternoons and she and Yim Soon would drink tea and eat cake and chat and watch a few episodes of  ‘Last of the Summer Wine’. And Ian, one of those at the service, told of how excited Pam was when she visited him in Yorkshire and he took her to Holmfirth where the show was filmed and how they had tea in ‘Sid’s café’.

Occasionally I would be working from home on a Tuesday and it was special to connect again with Pam and she always asked how my mum was and she always gave me the latest news from her old friends Janet and Maurice. And I would enjoy hearing the raucous chuckles coming from the living-room as Pam watched her favourite sit-com.

Pam counted many Catholic priests amongst her circle of acquaintances, and was in regular correspondence with several bishops. I was once chatting with her outside Canterbury Cathedral following a big ecumenical service and she spotted Derek Warlock, then Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool. Pam grabbed me and pulled me over to introduce me to her old friend Derek! And she was so happy when another old friend Nick Hudson, who had been an assistant priest in Canterbury in the late 80s, was made a bishop.

I ended my sharing about Pam with a favourite memory, also on a clerical theme. My friend Richard arrived at L’Arche as an 18-year-old in April 1989 and was living at Little Ewell, another of the houses of L’Arche Kent. His House Leader Maria sent him over to Faith House one day for a visit. Richard was in the middle of his Goth phase, and so this young guy turned up wearing black jeans, a black shirt, large black winkle-picker boots, hair standing up, and around his neck a huge cross. Pam didn’t always take kindly to new people but she was all over Richard: the reason, it turned out later; she thought he was a priest!

Thank you Pam. Your life was a gift. May God bless you.

Eddie Gilmore

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1 April: Ecce Homo

This figure of Christ, rising from the dead, taking his first, painful breath, is on the tomb of Saint Dominic in Bologna. The tomb was carved by many of the great and the good of Italian art of the time.

On the tomb there are many busy figures, but Jesus is rising all but unseen; a reminder that he was deserted by almost all his followers on Thursday night, and now here, on Sunday morning, he is alone. Perhaps he would rather take those first breaths alone? As a real man he must have been confused, as Mary Magdalene will be shortly when they meet in the garden.

By the time John and Peter get to the tomb, Jesus is long gone. It will take him an eternity to get used to being alive. He needs to touch his hands, to remove the thorns, and to keep on breathing: oh joy! A ghost does not have flesh and blood as I do.

But where are his friends? Confused, just a bit late, not quite up to speed. As we are. Were it not for the nail marks we would think he was standing on Pilate’s balcony. He is not dead though, nor marching unto his death. He is about to march away from death, and calls us to follow him, even through death’s dark veil.

Let us live this Holy Week in the light of Easter. Ecce Homo: Behold the Man: Christ is risen!

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31 March, Desert XXXIII: It’s good to be here.

Christina has kindly allowed us to use an extract from her book, which we thoroughly recommend; find it on Amazon or through the publisher’s link below. But for now, take a step into her personal desert.

The yearly losses of strength and abilities – lifting up my arms, feeding myself, brushing my own teeth, breathing without labour – these are the hardest things to bear … The circumstances of my life altered my childhood, undermined my teenage years, and rendered me into an adult who is completely dependent upon others for everyday survival. My body has been wracked with the pain of angry weeping, my bones crying out with shuddering grief, and my mind seized with the heartache of my life. And yet …

I am not bitter.

I pine for independence, for a family of my own, and I mourn the physical losses, the sickness, the shortened lifespan. And yet … I am very glad to be here.

Why am I glad? I ask myself. Even I wonder at how I can be the generally content, grateful and joyful person that I am. Over and over I have asked myself why I, cripple that I am, continue to have a deep love for life.

Why?

Because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.*

* See Psalm 139:14.

Christina Chase, It’s Good to be here, Sophia Institute Press, 2019, pp6-7.
https://www.sophiainstitute.com/products/item/its-good-to-be-here – to order the book from the publisher.

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28 March, Desert XXIX: Proverbs 21.3, More acceptable to the LORD.

poperinge.2

To do righteousness is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

PROVERBS 21:34

This postcard was sent during the Great War from Poperinge, a village in the small enclave of Belgium that was not overrun by the Kaiser’s armies. You may be able to see where the censor obliterated the town’s name for security reasons.

‘Pop’ was a place of rest for allied troops, and an Anglican Chaplain had an open house there. His name was Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, alias Woodbine Willie, from the pungent cigarettes he distributed far and wide.

He had the reputation of a poet, often writing in dialect, as he does here. This is from a longer poem, ‘Well?’, describing a soldier’s dream of the Last Things. We include it here since it challenges any smugness that we might have accumulated during our ‘Lenten Observance’ – the man is in the ultimate desert place – or so he feels.

How would you answer that ‘Well?’

For more about Woodbine Willy, see Remembrance Sunday 2015: Woodbine Willie

And day by day, and year by year,
My life came back to me.
I see’d just what I were, and what
I’d ‘ad the charnce to be.
And all the good I might ‘a’ done,
An’ ‘adn’t stopped to do.
I see’d I’d made an ‘ash of it,
And Gawd! but it were true.

A throng ‘o faces came and went,
Afore me on that shore,
My wife, and Mother, kiddies, pals,
And the face of a London whore.
And some was sweet, and some was sad,
And some put me to shame,
For the dirty things I’d done to ’em,
When I ‘adn’t played the game.
Then in the silence someone stirred,
Like when a sick man groans,
And a kind o’ shivering chill ran through
The marrer ov my bones.
And there before me someone stood,
Just lookin’ dahn at me,
And still be’ind ‘Im moaned and moaned
That everlasting sea.
I couldn’t speak, I felt as though
‘E ‘ad me by the throat,
‘Twere like a drownin’ fellah feels,
Last moment ‘e’s afloat.
And ‘E said nowt, ‘E just stood still,
For I dunno ‘ow long.
It seemed to me like years and years,
But time out there’s all wrong.

What was ‘E like? You’re askin’ now.
Can’t word it anyway.
‘E just were ‘Im, that’s all I knows.
There’s things as words can’t say.
It seemed to me as though ‘Is face,
Were millions rolled in one.
It never changed yet always changed,
Like the sea beneath the sun.
‘Twere all men’s face yet no man’s face,
And a face no man can see,
And it seemed to say in silent speech,
‘Ye did ’em all to me.
‘The dirty things ye did to them,
‘The filth ye thought was fine,
‘Ye did ’em all to me,’ it said,
‘For all their souls were mine.’
All eyes was in ‘Is eyes, – all eyes,
My wife’s and a million more.
And once I thought as those two eyes
Were the eyes of the London whore.
And they was sad, – My Gawd ‘ow sad,
With tears that seemed to shine,
And quivering bright wi’ the speech o’ light,
They said, ”Er soul was mine.’
And then at last ‘E said one word,
‘E just said one word ‘Well?’
And I said in a funny voice,
‘Please can I go to ‘Ell?’
And ‘E stood there and looked at me,
And ‘E kind o’ seemed to grow,
Till ‘E shone like the sun above my ead,
And then ‘E answered ‘No
‘You can’t, that ‘Ell is for the blind,
‘And not for those that see.
‘You know that you ‘ave earned it, lad,
‘So you must follow me.
‘Follow me on by the paths o’ pain,
‘Seeking what you ‘ave seen,
‘Until at last you can build the “Is,”
‘Wi’ the bricks o’ the “Might ‘ave been.”‘
That’s what ‘E said, as I’m alive,
And that there dream were true.
But what ‘E meant, – I don’t quite know,
Though I knows what I ‘as to do.
I’s got to follow what I’s seen,
Till this old carcase dies.
For I daren’t face the land o’ grace,
The sorrow ov those eyes.
There ain’t no throne, and there ain’t no books,
It’s ‘Im you’ve got to see,
It’s ‘Im, just ‘Im, that is the Judge
Of blokes like you and me.
And boys I’d sooner frizzle up,
I’ the flames of a burning ‘Ell,
Than stand and look into ‘Is face,
And ‘ear ‘Is voice say – ‘Well?

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March 25: Rejoice!

 –

Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favour!

Luke 1:28

These are the words spoken by the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary when he first appears to her at the annunciation. He commands: “Rejoice!” In a fallen world, where her holy Child will suffer, where he will die, in a world which will never easily or fully accept the story now beginning to unfold before the young woman’s eyes, and in which her own role will be very nearly as dangerous, crucial and sorrowful as the Messiah’s own role, in this circumstance Mary is commanded by a heavenly messenger to rejoice.

Doesn’t this raise an important issue for us, the faithful? It is easy to dismiss these words, and not allow their full impact to echo in our mind. It is easy to see them as applying to the Mother of Jesus, but not to us. But her joy should be ours. Why isn’t it?

There is a rather punitive undertow to received spirituality that is suspicious of joy, that labels Christian joy out of touch with reality, insufficiently engaged with the world’s suffering victims of poverty, disease, hunger, disaster, war, injustice. That says accusingly, ‘The Messiah has not eliminated any sufferings. What good is he? Why rejoice?’

Yet the angel commands the young Mary to rejoice. He doesn’t merely invite, or suggest. His words are much stronger than that. He utters a divine injunction, a non-negotiable absolute. He is an angel, after all. He can’t be wrong about this. He knows what he is doing and saying. Let this fact settle for a moment or two.

Doesn’t this divine imperative to rejoice, therefore, release something in the heart? Isn’t this truly Good News? The Angel Gabriel not only commands that Mary rejoice, he commands us to do so, also. And in so doing, He gives us permission to release that joy which is hidden in our heart, always just below the surface, always wanting to come out, and which our lugubrious self is always scolding back into hiding. But, just for a moment now, allow this joy to surface. Now, see where it takes you.

SJC

Sister Johanna has returned like a breath of fresh air! Can we whisper an alleluia in Lent? REJOICE anyway!

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Going viral V: cast a cold eye

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is fordwich-grave-skulls-date.jpg

There’s a virus about, so maybe we don’t want to look at skulls or gravestones right now. But Henry Brown of this town (Fordwich near Canterbury) has some fine lettering above his plot as well as the two skulls. Whatever else was wrong in England in January 1720/1, there were skilled stonemasons about, and they needed no W.B. Yeats to urge them to cast a cold eye on death.

The date 1720/1 does not indicate that the mason did not know exactly when Henry Brown left his town. It just shows the confusion that prevailed between England and Continental Europe in the years between Pope Gregory XIII introducing the calendar that bears his name in 1582 and its adoption by Britain in 1752. Although the Gregorian was more accurate and sorted out most of the slippage between the earth’s year and the calendar year, the British were not going to accept this crazy, Catholic, continental innovation. Not in 1720/1 anyway.

Why was I in Fordwich? Despite the virus, I’m still allowed exercise and I was preparing the way for a L’Arche pilgrimage, and Fordwich to Canterbury is the last 5 km stage. No major hazards is the good news!

Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid,   
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago; a church stands near,
By the road an ancient Cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase,   
On limestone quarried near the spot   
By his command these words are cut:  

Cast a cold eye   
On life, on death.   
Horseman, pass by!

W.B. Yeats Under Ben Bulben

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21 March, Desert XXIV, Travelling with Pope Francis 5: giving makes us more human.

Pope Francis continues his thoughts on relationships as the vital centre of Christian and human life.

The dialogue that God wishes to establish with each of us through the paschal mystery of his Son has nothing to do with empty chatter, like that attributed to the ancient inhabitants of Athens, who “spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new” (Acts 17:21). Such chatter, determined by an empty and superficial curiosity, characterizes worldliness in every age; in our own day, it can also result in improper use of the media.

Putting the paschal mystery at the centre of our lives means feeling compassion towards the wounds of the crucified Christ present in the many innocent victims of wars, in attacks on life, from that of the unborn to that of the elderly, and various forms of violence. They are likewise present in environmental disasters, the unequal distribution of the earth’s goods, human trafficking in all its forms, and the unbridled thirst for profit, which is a form of idolatry.

Today too, there is a need to appeal to men and women of good will to share, by almsgiving, their goods with those most in need, as a means of personally participating in the building of a better world. Charitable giving makes us more human, whereas hoarding risks making us less human, imprisoned by our own selfishness. We can and must go even further, and consider the structural aspects of our economic life. As the Church’s magisterium has often repeated, political life represents an eminent form of charity (cf. Pius XI, Address to the Italian Federation of Catholic University Students, 18 December 1927). The same holds true for economic life, which can be approached in the same evangelical spirit, the spirit of the Beatitudes.

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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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8 March, Desert XI: Fear 4.

mercy.ruin

Thomas Merton is living through the hotter part of the Cold War; the Cuban Missile Crisis would blow up a year later; he had cause to be afraid. In the days before this diary entry,* bombers had been flying low over the Monastery of Gethsemane, his home. Thinking about US and world politics aroused:

… my own fear, my own desperate desire to survive, even if only as a voice uttering an angry protest, while the waters of death close over the whole continent.

Why am I so willing to believe that the country will be destroyed? It is certainly possible, and in some sense it may even be likely. But this is a case where, in spite of evidence, one must continue to hope. One must not give in to defeatism and despair, just as one must hope for life in a mortal illness which has been declared incurable.

This is the point. This weakness and petulancy, rooted in egoism. 

Defeatism and despair are rooted in egoism, and they are not necessarily good survival tactics. Let us ask the Lord for a taste of the perfect love that casts out fear and despair

Thomas Merton, Turning towards the World, HarperSanFrancisco, 1996, p162.

Image from CD.

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