Tag Archives: death

13 May: Young Saints.

somers.town. pentecost.jpg

Some readers will remember that I like St Aloysius’ Church near Saint Pancras station in London. This window, with Mary at the centre of the Apostles on Pentecost morning arouses mixed emotions though. It is good to see a clear theology of Mary’s place in the Church, receiving the Holy Spirit with – I wish I could say ‘with everyone else’ – but it is with the Apostles only, not the 120 people who were gathered together. Perhaps the artist felt that the picture was crowded enough already, but where is Mary Magdalene, Johanna, the other women and where is John Mark, Paul’s future assistant that he would call his ‘son’ (Colossians 4:10)? He is usually identified with the boy who ran away naked from the garden on Maundy Thursday night, as well as with Mark the evangelist. It was to his mother’s house that Peter went after the angel sprung him from prison. (Acts 12.12) She was another Mary.

The window is not diverse enough to represent the first Church, though a few minutes looking through the clear glass out into the street would assure any visitor that St Aloysius’ is in the midst of diversity today. But there should be more women and more young people in that window!

Saint Aloysius was a Jesuit novice when he died in Rome aged 23, after catching plague from nursing the victims of an epidemic. Not an inappropriate neighbour for Saint Pancras, who was martyred for his Christian faith at Rome on 14 May 304, at the age of fourteen. John Mark, Aloysius and Pancras, young men who were saints. Worth remembering them, and young women saints like Agnes, Lucy and Therese, as we approach the great Synod of Pope Francis. Today’s young Christians are as capable of witnessing to the Gospel message as their parents, grandparents, distant ancestors, and the clergy. Let’s hear their voices.

Keep them in your prayers!

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1 May: Christ at Emmaus.

Goldwyn Smith, a 19th Century Professor of History at Oxford, commented: The lines on the two disciples going to Emmaus convey pleasantly the Evangelical idea of the Divine Friend. Cowper says in one of his letters that a man who had confessed to him that though he could not subscribe to the truth of Christianity, he could never read this passage of St. Luke without being deeply affected by it, and feeling that if the stamp of divinity was impressed upon anything in the Scriptures, it was upon that passage.

It is a favourite passage for many, one we have reflected upon in Agnellus Mirror – do a search for Emmaus – and one to return to gladly. William Cowper’s work is more than pleasant, it is respectful toward the two disciples, bringing out their humanity and friendship, and shows the courtesy of the stranger who gathered up the broken thread, and opened their eyes and ears.

   It happen'd on a solemn eventide,
  Soon after He that was our surety died,
  Two bosom friends, each pensively inclined,
  The scene of all those sorrows left behind,
  Sought their own village, busied as they went
  In musings worthy of the great event:
  They spake of him they loved, of him whose life,
  Though blameless, had incurr'd perpetual strife,
  Whose deeds had left, in spite of hostile arts,
  A deep memorial graven on their hearts.
  The recollection, like a vein of ore,
  The farther traced enrich'd them still the more;
 They thought him, and they justly thought him, one
  Sent to do more than he appear'd to have done,
  To exalt a people, and to place them high
  Above all else, and wonder'd he should die.
  Ere yet they brought their journey to an ends,
  A stranger join'd them, courteous as a friend,
  And ask'd them with a kind engaging air
  What their affliction was, and begg'd a share.
  Inform'd, he gathered up the broken thread,
  And truth and wisdom gracing all he said,
  Explain'd, illustrated, and search'd so well
  The tender theme on which they chose to dwell,
  That reaching home, the night, they said is near,
  We must not now be parted, sojourn here.—
  The new acquaintance soon became a guest,
  And made so welcome at their simple feast,
  He bless'd the bread, but vanish'd at the word,
  And left them both exclaiming, 'Twas the Lord!
  Did not our hearts feel all he deign'd to say,
  Did they not burn within us by the way?" 
 William Cowper (1731–1800) 

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30 April: Ramadan ends tomorrow!

Bishop Claude Rault, Bishop Emeritus of the Sahara, shared this prayer by an early Muslim mystic, Rabi’a al Adawiyya, (717-801). It is a prayer that anyone could make their own. Bishop Claude has devoted his life to being present in dialogue and neighbourliness with the Muslims of Algeria, and to the study of Islam.

Oh my God,
if it is through fear of hell fire that I adore You,
then burn me in hell fire.
And if it is through hope of Paradise that I adore You,
then chase me out of Paradise.

But if I adore You simply for Yourself,
Do not deprive me of Your eternal beauty.

Oh my God,
all my desire in this world is to remember You
and all my desire for the world to come
is to encounter You.
That is how it is for me
but You: do whatever You will.

+ Claude Rault, Jesus, l’Homme de la Rencontre, Marseille, Publications Chemins de Dialogue, 2020, p31.

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29 April: The deaths of Gerontius and others

Passion flowers speak of the resurrection

A little while ago on BBC Radio the composer, Sir James MacMillan, was discussing Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, based on Saint John Henry Newman’s poem. In his exploration of the oratorio he recalled his experiences as a young altar server, experiences I could share. Gerontius, he said, lays out the Catholic attitude to death and the world to come in ‘most beautiful music’.

He and I, in Scotland and England, served at funerals where there were many mourners, and in a few cases where there were one or two, even none; so many of our fellow Catholics then had left home and family to come to the United Kingdom. (Thank God for today’s regular parish midday Mass in Canterbury, where there is always a good-sized congregation to support the bereaved!)

Most of the people Sir James and I helped to bury would have been hurt by the Second World War, and knew suffering and death intimately. Loss of faith and friends, great sorrow, compounded in this new bereavement. The First World War had undermined Elgar’s faith, said MacMillan, yet he still composed this searingly beautiful music, giving form to the feelings of mourners.

Children had been more aware of death, even in the 1950s and 1960s. I can see myself, holding the processional cross beside an open grave, as a red-headed Irishman, tears streaming down his face, laid to rest the tiny coffin of his twin babies.

It’s no use saying I should have been protected, prevented from witnessing that. I disagree: I am sure Fr MacDermott was wise to ask me to serve, to represent the Church, the body of the second Adam, the Crucified whose image I was carrying. Far rather having to cope with that intimate vision than the callous slaughter of the innocent of Ukraine.

The hymn ‘Praise to the Holiest in the height’ is taken from the Dream of Gerontius; the oratorio can be found on Youtube.

1 Praise to the Holiest in the height,
and in the depth be praise:
in all his words most wonderful,
most sure in all his ways.

2 O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
a second Adam to the fight
and to the rescue came.

3 O wisest love! that flesh and blood,
which did in Adam fail,
should strive afresh against the foe,
should strive and should prevail;

4 And that a higher gift than grace
should flesh and blood refine,
God’s presence and his very self,
and essence all-divine.

5 O generous love! that he, who smote
in Man for man the foe,
the double agony in Man
for man should undergo;

6 And in the garden secretly,
and on the cross on high,
should teach his brethren, and inspire
to suffer and to die.

7 Praise to the Holiest in the height,
and in the depth be praise:
in all his words most wonderful,
most sure in all his ways.

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26 April: Who should not live?

Leeds University War Memorial, Eric Gill.

It makes no sense that having Down’s syndrome is considered reason enough for an unborn child to be aborted. Not if you know one or two people with Down’s; and as Adam Rutherford reminds us:

None of the worst crimes of humanity … was perpetrated by people with Down’s syndrome … If we truly wanted to reduce the sum total of human suffering then we should eradicate the powerful, for wars are fought by people but started by leaders.

Adam Rutherford: Control: the Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics.

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23 April: lighting a candle. (Going Viral CV.)

Saint George, whose feast falls today, famously rescued a young woman from being devoured by a dragon, not an everyday problem in Canterbury today, but there are many of us nursing sorrow and distress, often unknown to others.

One such is my friend Marie. Though we go into town at about the same time as each other, we may not see each other for months, especially under covid restrictions. I realised not long ago that it had been at least three months since our paths had crossed, and looked out for her often.

Then today, a ring of my bicycle bell and she stopped, just where our ways diverge; ten seconds later and I would have missed her.

After our usual pleasantries, Marie asked, had I heard about Callum. Thinking she meant her great-grandson, I said, no; was he alright? ‘Not little Callum, OUR Callum’: she was talking of her own son. Little Callum’s mother had told me how her uncle had died in his armchair after a family gathering, as the covid restrictions were easing.

Of course Marie wanted to talk about it.

‘It doesn’t feel right, at all’, I said.

‘I speak to him and light my candles, that’s all I can do. But some people are embarrassed to talk to me, they avoid me now.’

‘Well, Marie, I hope I haven’t passed you by without noticing. I would always say hello’.

Lighting a candle, talking to the person who has died, by these actions Marie acknowledges the truth of Easter, of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

Let us pray for all those who have died since last Easter, for those they have left behind. Let us pray for ourselves, that we may shake off covid-induced avoidance of human contact and use any opportunity to offer an ear and a few words of comfort, rescuing our friends from the dragon of loneliness and loss, step by step.

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21 April: Safe.

2009-05-04 20.01.43 (800x532)

We don’t tend to recycle old posts but this one, from January six years ago, follows well yesterday’s reflection by Emily Dickinson on the forgotten grave. Mary Webb looked forward to her own grave as a haven from the sufferings of this life, especially from the unkindness of other people. Her face was disfigured by Graves’ Disease which can now be successfully treated and she was sensitive about this.

We began the post with another woman’s death and burial.

We buried our friend Mrs O a few days ago. She had a good send-off, the church comfortably full. I was comforted an hour earlier, to see a rainbow, arched over her house as the rain drifted away into the North Sea. A promise that she will not perish! And the thrush and blackbird were singing.

But here is Mary Webb, feeling downhearted as she writes. May she rest in peace and rise in glory!

‘Safe’ by Mary Webb.

Under a blossoming tree
Let me lie down,
With one blackbird to sing to me
In the evenings brown.
Safe from the world’s long importunity –
The endless talk, the critical, sly stare,
The trifling social days – and unaware
Of all the bitter thoughts they have of me,
Low in the grass, deep in the daisies,
I shall sleep sound, safe from their blames and praises.

That is one of Mrs Turnstone’s favourite poems.

https://wordpress.com/post/willturnstone.wordpress.com/832

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16 April: Void


 VOID


 Great streets of silence led away
To neighbourhoods of pause;
Here was no notice, no dissent,
No universe, no laws.
 

By clocks ‘t was morning, and for night
The bells at distance called;
But epoch had no basis here,
For period exhaled.”

(from “Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete”)

Emily captures some of the bleakness experienced by the disciples after Good Friday. No universe, no laws, no certainty, after Jesus exhaled his spirit with his last breath.

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Good Friday gifts

The solemnity of today will be overwhelmed by the joy of Easter, but there were tokens of the coming feast for those with eyes to see.

Before the sun was properly up I was looking into the back garden. What was that hunched figure inspecting the flowerpots? A hedgehog woken from hibernation and going about its business, ridding us of a few pests. That was enough to mark the day.

After the prayerful L’Arche Good Friday service some of us found our way to the Glebe garden, where a shrine had been built of willow wands. If this was intended to be a place of quiet reflection it soon became a meeting place for people who had barely seen each other during covid; another hint of the resurrection to come.

Flitting across the garden was a brimstone butterfly, a caterpillar died but transformed into a creature of beauty no less wondrous for being totally expected.

Then to my task of adorning the church porch. The Easter garden needed the finishing touches, Mary’s jar of ointment and the grave cloths hidden behind the door (a scallop shell to be rolled to one side). What concerned me was the Easter lilies. We had some in flower the last two years, but it had been touch and go this time. Since today was warm, the first flowers were unfurling to be bright and white on Easter Day.

In the evening down to the Cathedral to hear Faure’s Requiem, with its upbeat finish: May the Angels welcome you to Paradise, may the martyrs meet you and lead you to the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Walking home from the Cathedral in the glowing dusk, under the Easter full moon, three blackbirds, singing their hearts out, serenading the new life hatched in their nests. They will be busy tomorrow, as no doubt will I, but by these tokens and by other sure evidence I know that my redeemer liveth.

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Filed under corona virus, Easter, Interruptions, L'Arche, Lent, PLaces, Spring

15 April, Good Friday: a Compassionate Presence.

Strasbourg Cathedral

Here is an extract from last year’s Good Friday homily of Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark. Every day is somebody’s Good Friday. Let us pray for the grace to respond if it falls to us to be beside them in an hour of need, like Mother Mary, Mary Magdalene and John, silent beside the Cross.

Dear brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ

A few years ago I read an account of medics working on the border between Cambodia and Thailand in the midst of dreadful warfare. With bombs falling uncomfortably near, two doctors, one older, the other younger, attended to wounded refugees. Their first patient was a young woman. She was barely alive, her body almost severed in two by a mortar fragment. The older doctor made a quick diagnosis: ‘I thought there was nothing to be done, he said, ‘and went to another victim. When he looked back, the other younger doctor had knelt down. He was cradling the woman’s head and caressing her hair. In the older doctor’s words, ‘He was helping her to die. He did it very naturally. There was no public, no cameras, no one looking. The bombing continued, and he did this as if he was all alone in his humanity.’ 

Certain events render us speechless. They may or may not be overly dramatic or especially tragic. But some experiences are literally beyond words. There is nothing that can be said to make any sense. There is no difference to be made by talking. The only possible response to some situations is to be present to them: a compassionate presence, a loving presence, a silent presence.

+ John Wilson, Archbishop of Southwark, Good Friday 2021

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