Tag Archives: desert

March 29: “Not my will”, Desert XXX.

 Christina Chase has kindly allowed us to share her recent post, ‘Agony’. After reading these opening paragraphs please follow the link to her blog. Christina would have written especially for us this Lent, but she has been busy with her new book, ‘It’s good to be here’, which is available via Amazon or from the publishers, Sophia Institute of New Hampshire. This photograph shows her before the crucifix in her room, taken by her father, Dan Chase.

How many times have I desperately longed for my life of progressive disability to be different? For countless hours upon hours I have agonized, with teenaged hormones raging, wanting a different path, begging to be released from the nevers of my life, from the crippling confines of my disease. Far too weak and dependent for romantic relationships, I deeply desired the possibility of a husband, of children, of a home of my own, painfully frustrated and sad that it could not be.

In sleepless nights even now, I suffer the agony of simply wanting to swing my legs down from the bed and stand up. I don’t want to be dependent upon my aging parents and wake them in the middle of the night for my comfort, no matter how willing they may be to assist me. So I lie still in the dark as my tears sting and burn my eyes, and I can’t wipe them away with my own hands.

I don’t want my disability, this difficult burden of sorrow and painful loss — I don’t want disease to lay upon me and upon the backs and hearts of the people whom I love.

Follow the link to read the rest of Christina’s post and more about her book.

https://authorchristinachase.com/2020/03/06/agony/

Sophia Instiutte Link:

https://www.sophiainstitute.com/products/item/its-good-to-be-here

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26 March: Saint Joseph in the Desert (XXVII)

This image of the Holy Family comes from Africa, though not Egypt, the part where Joseph led his wife and child at such short notice to preserve Jesus’ life. Although his feastday was last week, we did not want to interrupt Pope Francis’s train of thought by posting this reflection on the 19th. And it sits well just after the Annunciation which took place not long before the Flight into Egypt.

Here is Joseph the refugee, suddenly grown to superhero status, protecting his family with wisdom. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, but the man was not acting alone:

Behold an angel of the Lord appeared in sleep to Joseph, saying: Arise, and take the child and his mother, and fly into Egypt: and be there until I shall tell thee. For it will come to pass that Herod will seek the child to destroy him.

Who arose, and took the child and his mother by night, and retired into Egypt. Matthew 2:13-14.

There will be times that we just have to get through, so daunting they may seem before the fact; a truly desert experience. But with God’s grace we become, like Joseph, superheroes for a while, though it may not feel like it, leading our dear ones through the encircling gloom.

I have no doubt that whenever he heard the story of the flight into Egypt, Jesus will have seen his dad as a superhero. Let’s pray for the grace to step up and don the hero’s cloak whenever anyone needs help, even if it’s just a couple of lost souls unsure of how to find their way through town.

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19 March, Desert XXII: Travelling with Pope Francis 3: The healing power of repentance and forgiveness

Pope Francis, in this final extract from his 2019 Lenten message, tells us that the traditional Lenten disciplines should be teaching us to love creation, not despise it.

Creation urgently needs the revelation of the children of God, who have been made “a new creation”. For “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The path to Easter demands that we renew our faces and hearts as Christians through repentance, conversion and forgiveness, above all by fasting, prayer and almsgiving.

Fasting, that is, learning to change our attitude towards others and all of creation, turning away from the temptation to “devour” everything and being ready to suffer for love, which can fill the emptiness of our hearts. Prayer, which teaches us to abandon idolatry and the self-sufficiency of our ego, and to acknowledge our need of the Lord and his mercy. Almsgiving, whereby we escape from the insanity of hoarding everything for ourselves in the illusory belief that we can secure a future that does not belong to us. And thus to rediscover the joy of God’s plan for creation and for each of us, which is to love him, our brothers and sisters, and the entire world, and to find in this love our true happiness.

Dear brothers and sisters, the “Lenten” period of forty days spent by the Son of God in the desert of creation had the goal of making it once more that garden of communion with God that it was before original sin (Mark 1:12-13; Is 51:3). May our Lent this year be a journey along that same path, bringing the hope of Christ also to creation, so that it may be “set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

Let us not allow this season of grace to pass in vain! Let us ask God to help us set out on a path of true conversion. Let us leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and turn to Jesus’ Pasch. Let us stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them. In this way, by concretely welcoming Christ’s victory over sin and death into our lives, we will also radiate its transforming power to all of creation.

  Francis

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18 March, Desert XXI: travelling with Pope Francis 2: I want it all and I want it now!

Buy, buy, buy!

Continuing Pope Francis’s 2019 Lenten Message

2. The destructive power of sin

When we fail to live as children of God, we often behave in a destructive way towards our neighbours and other creatures – and ourselves as well – since we begin to think more or less consciously that we can use them as we will. Intemperance then takes the upper hand: we start to live a life that exceeds those limits imposed by our human condition and nature itself. We yield to those untrammelled desires that the Book of Wisdom sees as typical of the ungodly, those who act without thought for God or hope for the future (2:1-11).

Unless we tend constantly towards Easter, towards the horizon of the Resurrection, the mentality expressed in the slogans “I want it all and I want it now!” and “Too much is never enough”, gains the upper hand.

The root of all evil, as we know, is sin, which from its first appearance has disrupted our communion with God, with others and with creation itself, to which we are linked in a particular way by our body.

This rupture of communion with God likewise undermines our harmonious relationship with the environment in which we are called to live, so that the garden has become a wilderness (Genesis3:17-18). Sin leads man to consider himself the god of creation, to see himself as its absolute master and to use it, not for the purpose willed by the Creator but for his own interests, to the detriment of other creatures.

Once God’s law, the law of love, is forsaken, then the law of the strong over the weak takes over. It leads to the exploitation of creation, both persons and the environment, due to that insatiable covetousness which sees every desire as a right and sooner or later destroys all those in its grip.

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16 March, Desert XIX: Detached lives

crux (427x528)

In the hands of the wicked

Revisiting ‘The Imitation of Christ’ after many years, in my Grandmother’s 1936 edition, I realise that it is very self-centred. Here Thomas A Kempis takes the Desert Fathers and Mothers as examples of the Christian life; ‘They hated their lives on earth that they might have life in eternity. ‘ Is that what the Lord asks of us? Do we have to be strangers to the world in order to be intimate friends of God? I think not. Walking in charity and patience surely demands that we live in the world, and love the people in it and indeed the whole of creation, and our own life in it. Loving God’s creation which we can see, is to love the God we cannot see. Love of creation, rather than contempt for it, will bring us back from the brink of destruction. But here is The Imitation: I hope the time spent reading it is profitable!

Consider the lively examples set us by the saints, who possessed the light of true perfection and religion, and you will see how little, how nearly nothing, we do. What, alas, is our life, compared with theirs?

The saints and friends of Christ served the Lord in hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness, in work and fatigue, in vigils and fasts, in prayers and holy meditations, in persecutions and many afflictions. How many and severe were the trials they suffered — the Apostles, martyrs, confessors, virgins, and all the rest who willed to follow in the footsteps of Christ! They hated their lives on earth that they might have life in eternity.

How strict and detached were the lives the holy hermits led in the desert! …  They used all their time profitably; every hour seemed too short for serving God, and in the great sweetness of contemplation, they forgot even their bodily needs …

Strangers to the world, they were close and intimate friends of God. To themselves they seemed as nothing, and they were despised by the world, but in the eyes of God they were precious and beloved. They lived in true humility and simple obedience; they walked in charity and patience, making progress daily on the pathway of spiritual life and obtaining great favour with God. They were given as an example for all religious, and their power to stimulate us to perfection ought to be greater than that of the lukewarm to tempt us to laxity.

Taken from the translation by Aloysius Croft and Harold Bolton, Digitized by Harry Plantinga, planting@cs.pitt.edu, 1994. This etext is in the public domain.

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13March, Desert 16: Surviving the Waste Places of Homelessness

campers s mildreds

The sight above, taken in January, is troubling and it is repeated across Canterbury and indeed elsewhere in Britain: homeless people camping out in all weathers. It’s clear from the picture that people have tried to help them with bedding and the tent that they are using. But talking to someone who is involved with the churches’ work, it is also clear that some people, including these campers, do choose not to accept all the help available to them.

About the same time as I took this photo I was talking to a companion of Emmaus in Dover. I was in an Emmaus community while studying in France many years ago, and it seems many things continue from those days, and indeed from the 1940s, when Abbé Pierre started the organisation near Paris. Working for the community is an important part of regaining one’s self respect.

The man I  spoke to has become a spokesman for the community. He described how, once he was on the street, he too was unable to take the hand reached out to him. It was months later that he was persuaded to give the community life a try, and it was a life saver. Now he is something of an ambassador, better able than many to get alongside those who do – and those who don’t – use the services that the churches and charities, as well as the local council, can provide. ‘And perhaps in a year or two, I’ll move on; I’m not ready yet.’ Meanwhile, practical help to cope with supported or independent living is part of Emmaus’s service; this can include help to work for qualifications that employers will recognise.

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11 March, Desert XIV: Unplugged Wednesdays.

judas.strasbourg

Fr James Kurzynski of the Vatican Observatory Website recently wrote about his coming sabbatical retreat. Follow the link to read his reflections before he proceeds to the desert of Arizona. Here is part of his article.

I felt a deep peace about what I would call “detachment Wednesdays.” Wednesday will be a day of silence, encouraging us to not speak verbally, unplug from anything that could distract us, and take a day of restful prayer.

Two weeks age, I gave a presentation about my sabbatical to St. Olaf’s youth in our Faith Formation Program. When I got to the part of explaining Wednesday Unplugged, I told them, “Don’t bother trying to get a hold of me on Wednesday, but do know each one of you will be prayed for that day as I prayerfully take St. Olaf Parish with me into the desert.”

Wednesdays and Fridays are traditionally the more concentrated days of the week in Lent;  ‘Spy Wednesday’ in Holy Week seen as the day when Judas went to betray his Lord; Good Friday when Jesus, his Lord and Ours, died for all our sin. All our sin, as the Sculptor of Strasbourg Cathedral makes clear.

We cannot all dedicate our Wednesdays to restful prayer, any more than Fr James can do during most of his working life, but let us try to find a desert moment to be restful and open to prayer, even if it’s sitting on the bus home, or a quiet cup of tea before going to get the children from school.

Happy Lent!

tea42

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10 March. Desert XIII: Wilderness.

City dweller Robert MacFarlane wondered if there were any wild places left in the British Isles, and he set out to find them. Often enough early Christian monks and hermits had been there before him; to islands and other inaccessible spots.

But what did he mean by wildness? Early in the book he discusses the idea:

Wildness … is an expression of independence from human direction, and wild land can be said to be self-willed land.  Land that proceeds according to its own laws and principles, land whose habits — the growth of its trees, the free descent of its streams through its rocks — are of its own devising and own execution. Land that … acts or moves freely without restraint; is unconfined, unrestricted.’*

Town and city dwellers live in human directed lands, concrete, brick and glass, but also most of the British countryside is farmed, drained, controlled. Can we find wilderness, to use the old Biblical world, without travelling to distant places?

We have to look for it nearer to home, in pockets and cracks. There are the weeds that devise and execute their own growth and spread, like traveller’s joy rooted on railway land. Or there are remnants of countryside, like the plum tree that Abel likes to hide behind; it is surely a sucker from a rootstock left behind when the orchard was grubbed up for housing in the 1960s, since its fruit is insignificant and unpalatable. There are overgrown cemeteries, like that in Mile End, full of life that is quite unexpected in London’s East End.

The wild tries to return, perhaps we should salute it and follow its example to revisit the corner of our heart that moves freely, without restraint: that is open to love, growth and renewal.

*Robert MacFarlane, The Wild Places, London, Granta, 2007, p30.

 

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March 9, Desert XII: Our Mission

The Diocese of Nouakchott covers the desert land of Mauretania. The local population is 99% Muslim, but there is a growing expatriate Christian community under the care of Bishop Martin Happe, a Missionary of Africa.

He wrote at the end of last year:

We in the Diocese of Nouakchott had the joy of living through a special moment of grace, culminating in a big feast: the golden jubilee of our Cathedral of Saint Joseph!

The visible sign of this grace are the two side aisles we have added to our cathedral, since it had become too small on Sundays, and also the new altar in Atar stone which I had the privilege of consecrating on Gaudete Sunday, 15 December, with two bishops, many visiting priests and numbers of faithful. Gaudete! an invitation to the whole Church, just  few days before Christmas, to be joyful. We had the grace to live this joy and taste it in an extraordinary way last 14 and 15 December.

But let’s not forget one thing: each time the Lord gives a particular grace to a person, a community, a people … this grace is always bound up in a new mission! Both the Old and New Testaments are full of examples. So we must not forget that the enlarged and refurbished cathedral has as its vocation to be the place of where the Church of Nouakchott gathers together. I recalled in my homily that the Greek word for church ‘ecclesia’  means a people called together. Here in Nouakchott, we are called together every Sunday to receive once more our mission: to be witnesses to the Love of God for every person. For us, this means first and foremost the Mauritanians, the people who make us welcome and to whom the Lord has sent us.

Wherever we are, we can feel like a voice crying in the wilderness; people are indifferent to the Church, or downright hostile, the faults obscuring the graces for them. But whether our desert is in the sand or in the city, our mission is to be witnesses to the Love of God for every person; first and foremost to the people who welcome us into their lives as neighbours, work colleagues or family. To witness to the Love of God rather than seeking conversions.

 

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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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