Tag Archives: desert

August 16: Famous first words.

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Let’s stay in Egypt for today: that’s the one link with yesterday’s post, though we are some way west of the Great River, in the desert, in 1942.

As a Church we should learn from whoever can teach us. We could certainly benefit from a few lessons in leadership, so how about this as a new boss’s address to his staff, who were feeling the emotions on the signpost above?

You do not know me. I do not know you. But we have got to work together; therefore we must understand each other and we must have confidence in each other. I have only been here a few hours. But from what I have seen and heard since I arrived, I am prepared to say, here and now, that I have confidence in you. We will then work together as a team, and together we will gain the confidence of this great army and go forward to final victory in Africa.

That was General Bernard Montgomery assuming command of the British and Empire 8th Army in Egypt. Things had been going badly for a while before that.

His driver Jim Fraser, who took him around the front-line units recalled: ‘One could feel the confidence of the troops getting stronger, they were told what was going to happen and when it was going to happen. I must admit that I felt dead, dead chuffed when driving round the forward unit positions with the lads cheering and shouting, ‘Good old Monty!’

Monty believed that his ‘civilians in uniform’ should have sight of the big picture and they responded to that. Peter Caddick-Adams1 points out that logistics and intelligence also played their part in the victorious campaign. The role of Military Intelligence could not be revealed until recently when secret papers were opened up to scholars and journalists, but Monty’s confidence in his troops built their confidence in him and in each other. That is leadership. That inspires.

1Peter Caddick-Adams, Monty and Rommel, Parallel Lives. London, Preface, 2011. pp 284-285; 300-301.

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15 March, Human Will X: No permanent city here.

 

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The future Archbishop Arthur Hughes is front centre above with fellow Missionaries of Africa in 1934 just before he left Europe for Uganda, where he would later be posted to Gulu. Here are some thoughts of his on carrying out God’s will and the joys and hardships he experienced in the process. He is writing to his parents. Missionaries of Africa are commonly called White Fathers because of their habit.

I stayed in Gulu until on the 27th March 1942 I got a telegram from the Mombasa  [Apostolic] Delegation asking me to go to Abyssinia.

Like a true White Father I obeyed instantly and the very next morning at nine was crossing the Atura ferry on my way back to Rubaga en route for the coast and Abyssinia. I will not hide from you that I found it a wrench leaving Gulu and the journey was rather sad in a way: but missionaries have no permanent city here and sadness is not part of our life and certainly not part of mine. The will of God must rule our life and in carrying out that will we find our greatest joy.

I left Rubaga the following Wednesday and went to Mombasa to await a boat for Berbera. I arrived in Berbera on the 6th May and went up by military convoy through Somaliland to Ethiopia.[1] The journey through Somaliland has no attractions: poor old Somaliland being for the most part a most appalling desert with an amazing number of camels (more than I ever saw in North Africa). We stayed for a few days at Lafaruk: an appalling camp in the desert while our convoy was in formation.[2] Once you rise up towards Jijiga the country becomes green and then becomes cold – too cold for my liking. The famous Mahda Pass is stupendously beautiful and then the first view of the town of Harar is really rather lovely. It’s a very old town; really a sort of Turkish[3] town amongst the hills.

From Harar to Diredawa you have thirty miles of sheer beauty amongst the mountains – a most wonderful road winds round the hills and above you on the heights you can still see the remains of the ancient camel tracks over which tradition has it that the Queen of Sheba travelled when she went from Ethiopia to the Holy Land in the days of King Solomon… At Diredawa I left the military convoy and the good Officers with whom I had made friends on the way and took the Littorina electric train to Addis.

From the 12th May to the 12th August I stayed in Addis with of course occasional trips to other places rendered necessary by my work.

…  I must confess that I did not like the Ethiopian climate. I found it too high for me (it is nine thousand feet up in most places) and I was there in the rainy season and found it most unpleasant after sunny Uganda. It simply rains unceasingly for three or four months and is most unpleasant and always cold. I found this very painful indeed. Also I was there only on a temporary mission and there was not as much to do as I should have liked. It was therefore a very great delight to me when on the 29th July I got a letter from Archbishop Dellepiane in the Congo[7] writing to inform me that the Holy Father had decided to confide in me the control of the Apostolic Delegation of Egypt and Palestine.

[1] Berbera was the principal port in British Somaliland. The road to Ethiopia is being rehabilitated with European aid: http://somalilanddevelopmentfund.org/news/75-official-launch-of-lafaruk-berbera-sheikh-road-rehabilitation-project

[2] The British had a POW Camp for 35,000 Italian soldiers; its desolation can be imagined from the background to the Lafaruk Madonna by Giuseppe Baldan. Did Fr Hughes celebrate Mass before this triptych? No doubt the convoy was a precaution against guerrillas. http://scottishchristian.com/the-maize-sack-masterpiece-that-symbolises-hope-in-africa-over-60-years-on/ . Accessed 4/11/2016.

[3] Harar had been a Moslem city-state.

[4] Where he was Apostolic Delegate – http://www.catholic-hierarchy.org/bishop/bdell.html

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Just Say No!

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A homily worth reading!

Just say No

Follow the link to Fr Christopher Shorrock’s wake-up call as we start Lent.

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February 17: The Healing Gift

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Only two of the gospels encourage us to see our prospect of celebrating new life as something which began when Mary’s child was a presence in Israel. The gospels begin with the death and resurrection of the Saviour. However, this is a saviour who has been incarnated before he was excarnated. The vulnerability of fleshed existence was for him a struggle to celebrate, because of the layers of heart and mind consciousness, which every child finds difficult to coordinate. None of us is sure what kind of new life God wants us to celebrate, when we acknowledge there are genuine gifts of forgiveness and healing, for instance. We feel our way, half-blind, to a greater awareness of how God acts through us. We seek to be less blind.

We are to be grateful that Jesus’ temptations, re-dramatising the Hebrew Exodus in him, were his solidarity with our half-blind condition. So was his journey with his parents through the desert to find refuge in Egypt. He beckoned to the first followers to challenge their often childish fears by feeling closer to his mission, and the courage it required. When a child beckons to us, asking us to give our full loving attention to them, we must smile with delight at such trust. Our smile of delight at oneness with the wholeness of love in Christ is the gift we need, both for our own healing, and for becoming sources of healing for others. We must delight at the potential which God has made present in each new stranger entering our lives. If we love their potential, we also love the healing which makes it real.

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May 15: Pentecost: The Breakthrough

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Many years ago, in my hometown, I had a powerful experience while riding on a bus. I don’t know why I was taking the bus that day, as at that time I drove a motorcycle, nor do I recall where I was going…but, really, all of that is beside the point. The experience I had, while staring aimlessly out the window, remains fresh in my memory, even decades later.

Now, please, don’t misunderstand what I am about to write – as if it were a claim to some privileged mystical experience. Rather, it came in the form of a daydream; a sparkling thought, caught up with an image, all in an instant…that made me blink then smile and begin the first of many re-plays. What occurred was a kind of visualisation that I have come to call the ‘breakthrough’; a great, shattering, re-arranging, expansive, irresistible, all-encompassing force pulsing through a billion shards of what seemed like brightly coloured stained glass, all rushing forward and constantly re-configured in near-endless patterns of dazzling complexity and creative expression. It was also immediately apparent that the thrusting force was purposeful, even rational, and, above all…exuberant.

I reckoned right away that it must have been a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

Over the years I have remembered and cherished that image, tried (with varying degrees of success) to represent it in art, and have also discerned it in some others’ experience as well. As I have done so, many different dynamic aspects of the fundamental breakthrough have emerged. The first is scriptural and that is of a Triune God on the move; nearly peripatetic, even mendicant. This has always been obvious in terms of the Second Person of the Trinity, first in terms of the explosive creative agency of the Word and then through the itinerant ministry of the Incarnate Word; preaching and working miracles on the many byroads of Palestine- the foxes have holes and the birds build nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. But what of the other Trinitarian Persons? The Holy Spirit blows like the wind, wherever he wills, defying all of our attempts to place God within perceptible perimeters or even (God forbid!) a box. He also dances and flickers like tongues of flame; dead, static religion has no place in that raucous Kingdom. What of the Father? Moving, always moving with his desert people in the great covenantal Ark; a mendicant God for a pilgrim people, sparkling with the guiding light of shekinah even in the dark nights of weakness and despair.

And like Siva in a very different religious tradition, that Spirit of wind and fire, ever moving- siempre adelante– can unmake as well as make. But God being God is necessarily all in all and utterly good. When Love unmakes it is only to pave the way for the exhilaration of renewed freedom. Thus, St. Paul in Ephesians 2:14, For he himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall… I have seen many a wall tumble and, when it is the work of Christ attested by the Holy Spirit, people invariably look up, rubbing weary eyes in wonder at undreamed of promise…fulfilled.

TJH

 

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Saturday 13th February: Follow the divine physician!

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Isaiah 59: 9b-14; Psalm 83; Luke 5: 27-32.

 

mercylogoToday is the fourth day of our forty-day journey through the wilderness of Lent. Today, the prophet Isaiah tells us that God repays each one in kind. When we bless others, especially those who have spiritual, physical and material needs, God in turn blesses us.

When the Pharisees challenge Jesus’ behaviour in eating with public sinners, Jesus’ defence is very simple. A doctor doesn’t treat the healthy, but the sick. A true physician seeks the healing of the whole person- body, mind and spirit. Every one of us is sick in our own way, so Jesus is here for us. What are we waiting for? Let us go to Him as broken and fragile as we are for He will make us whole. Jesus came as a divine physician and as a good shepherd to care for us and restore us through Him to the Father.

St. Paul says all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). We need to thank the Lord for the great mercy that He has shown to us and endeavour to seek the good of all and show them mercy and kindness. If we give our bread to the hungry, and relief to the oppressed then our light will rise in the darkness. The Lord will always guide us and give us relief in desert places. We will be called ”breach-menders”. May we be ready, like Levi, to forsake all things to follow Christ, who calls us every day.

May we receive grace in this Year of Mercy so as to be merciful to ourselves and to our neighbours. May Our Lady Queen of Mercy pray for us. Amen.

FMSL

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January 15th – Places for Praising God

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It is significant that, as Christians rather suddenly came to be in charge of aspects of society, rather than being oppressed, early in the fourth century, some saw that power would corrupt their church life. As rulers supervised the gatherings of bishops, many saw their clergy growing rich and comfortable. Monasticism grew fast at that time, in reaction against distortions of the gospel focus on the weak and the outcasts. Withdrawing from the corrupt close dealings with politicians seemed like the only path to integrity for hermits like Anthony of Egypt and the communities of Pachomius. Living is remote settings was not needed in order to define how the Trinity acts, but to make praise and wonder the core Christian experience.

Syrian monks also withdrew from political careerism. At the same time they looked for occasions to preach about the need for social improvement across their neighbourhood. Closeness to God increased their ability to see problems clearly and speak prophetically.

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A third version of monastic community was developed in the Latin West of the Mediterranean. St. Augustine realised that, while breaking free from powerful ambitions was crucial for authentic Christianity, this could be achieved by a community based within the circumstances of city life. Praise and wonder should be made real and available to the lay Christians of a busy town setting.

Thus the European Middle Ages had two versions of religious life. Benedictines and Cistercians modified the Egyptian pattern. Friars were closer to Augustinian engagement with the laity.

CD.

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13th January – Using Images Well

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In a thirteenth century Franciscan preacher’s guide, one of the early Christian desert monks quoted is Ammonas. He is seen as a practical guide to virtue. But research now provides us with fourteen letters written by that Egyptian Christian, containing a well-considered spirituality (Letters of Ammonas, Chitty trans., SLG Press). Perhaps images of a ship might encourage worshippers to think about Jonas, and images of a vine trellis to be aware of the Passiontide readings. However a deeper reflection can also be developed. Ammonas, in the fourth century, spoke symbolically of a ship with two rudders. One represents early fervour in conversion, peaceful and persevering. The second represents a better fervour, able to struggle in a great contest, with “patience that is unperturbed.”

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Having both these rudders will mean the conversion can travel a great distance, ignoring all passions such as our craving for flattery. Other images can fit in with this. “If any man love the Lord with all his heart and… soul… and might, he will acquire awe, and awe in him will beget weeping, and weeping joy, and joy will beget strength, and in all this the soul will bear fruit. And when God sees its fruit so fair, He will accept it as a sweet savour…. For thus the sweetness of God will provide you with the greatest possible strength.”

These desert hermits had consulting rooms too. They were not simply turning their back on human needs. The same is true of certain Franciscans, such as Giles, who lived as hermits.

CD.

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Tuesday January 5th – Evagrius of Pontus

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Today, the Eve of the Epiphany, is the anniversary of a protégé of the Cappadocians, the desert monk and spiritual writer Evagrius of Pontus (345-399). Evagrius pays tribute to Gregory in the prayer with which he concludes his handbook, the Praktikos: ‘This is what we have discovered by the grace of the Holy Spirit in our gleaning through the harvest of ripening grapes. But when the high Sun of Justice shines upon us and the grape is ripened, then will we drink its wine which ‘gladdens the human heart’, thanks to the prayers and intercessions of Gregory the just who planted me, and of the holy fathers who now water me and by the power of Christ Jesus our Lord who has granted me growth. To him be the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

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