Tag Archives: education

May 14. What is Theology Saying? LI: Jesus did not compete with others.

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austinWhen we are aware that our meagre resources seem ill suited to the enormous responsibility of mission, we are not in an unfortunate situation, rather are we not best suited for what is being asked of us? Jesus had none of the attributes proper to power in his own day. He was not outstanding by his technical competence, he did not shine because of his education or cultural training. He did not try to present logical arguments, to compete with others engaged in similar processes.

Jesus walked around unarmed and defenceless, and that is how he wanted to be. He wanted to reach people at the level of common humanity, to be relevant to the lowliest. The fact that so many responded to him suggests his success. Unarmed, with nothing to defend allowed him complete openness to truth. But it is clear that to be at the complete service of truth involves weakness and vulnerability. This also reveals the real nature of sin. Without this pre-eminence of truth being shown to us such things as lying, manipulation and the like would remain hidden under various degrees of respectability: “It is better to have one man die than to have the whole nation destroyed” – John.11.50.The helplessness of the victim is all too apparent.

But without such vulnerability Jesus could not have spoken to the hearts of ordinary folk. If his words were undercut by fear and by respect for the “strong”, playing it safe, then his work and his preaching would have been no more than an aid to help people integrate into the prevailing culture. This would have been true even if he had preached rebellion, since rebellion is little more than the last step in trying to integrate people.

AMcC

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April 26: What became of the fish?

brocaghschoola[1]

This was Brocagh School in County Leitrim, close to the Irish border, in 1969. A year or so later the little 2 classroom schools would be all closed down and a new school built in Glenfarne village. The assistant teacher was leaving anyway to get married! So this is an historic photo graph! As seminarians (student priests) we went two and two to the little schools and gave the children an RE lesson each week.

It was Mrs McCormack who gave me a valuable lesson, thanks to Joe McHugh, down there in the front row. One week after Easter we had John’s story of the breakfast by the lake after the miraculous catch of fish, and Peter’s final declaration of faith; I felt the lesson went well. I had the ultimate visual aid close at hand in the lake: Lough MacNean.

The children drew some remarkable pictures, but Mrs McCormack drew my attention to Joe’s in particular: come here now, Joe, what’s this in the corner? – It’s Saint Peter’s lorry, Miss, come to carry away the fish. I’d missed the lorry completely; I’d not interpreted the shapes he’d drawn in 20th Century terms.

What she knew, but I did not, was that Joe’s family had recently acquired a lorry which was Joe’s pride and joy, so of course St Peter would have had his lorry ready to take the fish to market. The story made sense to Joe, and has always made more sense to me as a consequence; thank you Joe, wherever you are.

An earlier version of this true story appears in thepelicans.org.uk website, Gallery p356.

MMB

Here, for the record are names of the children as far as their neighbours could remember them. Back Row: ——, Paddy McManus, John McManus, Jimmy Peckanham, ?Junior McHugh, Sean McGivern, Sean Clancy, Thomas Kelly, Ann Keany, Bernadette Clancy; 2nd Row: ?Teacher —— Agnes O’Hara, —— Breege Campbell, Bernadette Kelly, Kitty Cullen, Lily Pechenham, Owen O’Hara, Marie O’Hara, ——, Ann Brady, Ann McHugh, Ann Kelly, ?Mrs McCormack; 3rd Row: Josephine Clancy, —— McPartlin, ——? Gerry Clancy, ———, ———,———, Veronica McHugh, Geraldine McGuire, ?Teresa Keany; Front Row: Bridget McManus, Noel McManus, Ann Kelly, ——, Joe McLoughlin, Joe McHugh, Hugo Clancy, Margaret McGuire, Damien McGuire, Rosaleen McLoughlin (Thanks to Olivia O’Dolan, Mary Brady-Timoney, her sisters Kathleen Brady- Keaney and Bridget Brady – Fitzpatrick; Ben McHugh and Clancy family

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31 March. Before the Cross XVI: Repenting of Sanctions

 

cross.dreifontein (2)

Friar Chris writes to us from Zimbabwe, where he has been teaching. Thank you Chris, you have certainly had a fruitful time back in Africa! We are grateful for your sharing it with us and for inviting us to reflect on these issues. Agnellus’ Mirror is here for all manner of reflections!

When I was a teenager, I recall sanctions being imposed against the illegal continuation of a British colonial regime in Rhodesia. Struggles were taking place to replace that outdated structure and form a new nation, Zimbabwe, and by 1980 that had taken place. I also remember wondering how ordinary citizens can cope when many items which we consider to be essential are made unobtainable. When do sanctions become a big hammer used to crack a nut? How can anyone prevent them from becoming one more version of bullying?

This is a relevant question when the churches pass through a repeated catechetical exercise for newcomers to Christianity, which we call Lent. The danger is always the practice of frowning intensely about all the wrongdoings of the human race, but not seeing the changes of heart which need to be the true ‘penitence’ of a change of heart in ourselves. Letting go of our approval of strong arm tactics must often be an aspect of welcoming God’s peace and grace into our lives. Sanctions still exist in the southern African country of Zimbabwe, imposed not only by the United States, but also by the European Union. They seem to be a mode of coercion, not against a right-wing white-domination system, but against a mild version of socialism which happens to question the neo-conservative consumerist programmes favoured by the large market monopolies achieved by commercialist manufacturers. These are generally manufacturers who have done least to extricate the cultures of the world from environmentally-destructive practices.

I do not intend to compose an argument in favour of every governmental alliance built up technologically by the government of Zimbabwe. Geopolitics is an aspect of human circumstances which pervades news broadcasts but which mostly cannot be turned around by churches, even in their most valid calls for charity. Nevertheless, the current school student-led world-wide protests concerning the destruction of environments, which lament that we ignore paths that consider climate change, are genuine appeals for understanding grace and peace. Greater sensitivity to what makes sustainable community, not just sustainable industries, is a challenging and valid concern to introduce to our prayer lives.

In Zimbabwe at the beginning of 2019, a large increase in fuel prices was imposed, leading to rioting, six hundred arrests and a combination of woundings and deaths. With 90% unemployment, this added to an already existing awareness of shared vulnerability for great numbers of the country’s inhabitants. The effects of the sanctions only worsened the realities experienced by the most vulnerable. The cyclone which hit Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique in the middle of March brought flooding, with hundreds made homeless and a possible two hundred deaths. Lack of fuel has its further impact on limits to emergency services. I think for English readers, one factor which might capture the character of the problem is this: when there are raids or beatings, a call made to the police is likely to be met with a question, ‘when can you drive to the police station and pick up the police and bring them to the scene?’ That is an effect of crudely introduced sanctions, which seem to be an illegal measure for the sake of Western domination.

There are areas which feel these effects most, and others, especially for those with some kind of job, where an unimpressive but vaguely ‘normal’ level of daily existence continues to operate. Good numbers of Catholics continue to get to their nearest churches and celebrate the Eucharist as a community gift of solidarity. The teaching and training of young men to help the celebrations to be vibrant, kind, and compassionate continues to be taken on by a seminary and by a college in Harare which is nurturing members of several religious congregations. It takes time to acquire the kinds of perceptive insight and concern which make a genuine pastoral charism deepen and become evident. I have been spending three months teaching this group of young men, at Holy Trinity College.

The parish of the Nazareth House sisters next to the college has a strong lay commitment to developing genuine community gifts and relationships. The students are also involved in running prayer services and giving talks at a number of parishes, forming a network of Christians with shared convictions and sympathies. I try to explore connections between church history and theological developments, especially Vatican II, with them. One student asked me what the reasons are for the well-known decline of European Christianity. I explained it in terms of a lack of real understanding of community bonding and its qualities of transforming awareness. I said that those single diocesan priests who do have a sense of community are moved around with no respect for the needs and wishes of a local congregation. At the same time, where religious orders have been able, with slightly larger numbers, to create a good presence as a communal empowerment focus, they may not be known by believers living twenty miles away, so helping their good charism to spread to other areas will often not take place at all easily.

I have been staying with one of these student groups, the Franciscans, who are present now in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia as well as Zimbabwe. This group struggles to win new members, and has increased its ties of Franciscan commitment across the region since the late 1950s. I lived with the friars in the Zimbabwe custody residence, half an hour’s walk from the College.

The image of a carving of the crucified Christ that accompanies this article is in the small chapel of the friars’ residence. It comes from a centre for sculptures at Driefontein, some way outside Harare. We don’t know the name of the carver. I like the restrained honesty of the image. It speaks to me of the gift of Christ’s understanding of human hardship, of the human need for better interactions and interdependency. This is a thoughtful Christ, one who has clearly spent his life perceiving the pains and heartfelt longing of those to whom he brought forgiveness and hope. Although it seemed as though the hope was rejected by those who wanted to see him killed, I see in the face a possible mind, one which looked in love beyond the knee-jerk rejections and sanctions, which grew up like a wall to prevent his message. In his death he was open to the empowerment of his divine Father, the living God of all human aspirations for peace. There is no barrier to risen reality in this face, and no barrier to our risen realities in the gifts which come to us from the God, who heard his prayers, and who brings our prayers too into their realisation.

Chris Dyczek, OFM

Harare, March 2019.

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9 February: Creatures of illusion.

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An outsider would be forgiven for thinking that Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Set of writers and artists led charmed lives. Not so. If we are to believe Woolf herself, it was all a lie: a veneer of self-confidence, achieved by despising other people.
Life for both sexes—and I looked at them, shouldering their way along the pavement— is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle. It calls for gigantic courage and strength. More than anything, perhaps, creatures of illusion as we are, it calls for confidence in oneself. Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to one self. By feeling that one has some innate superiority—it may be wealth, or rank, a straight nose, or the portrait of a grandfather by Romney—for there is no end to the pathetic devices of the human imagination—over other people. Hence the enormous importance to a patriarch who has to conquer, who has to rule, of feeling that great numbers of people, half the human race indeed, are by nature inferior to himself. It must indeed be one of the chief sources of his power.”
{from “A Room of One’s Own (Wisehouse Classics Edition)” by Virginia Woolf, available on Kindle}
Woolf, of course, lived at a time when ‘half the human race indeed’ in the West was gradually gaining what we now call human rights: the vote, schooling and higher education, owning and administering property and so on. Woolf was far better placed than most women to grasp these opportunities, but she seems to have felt, if not to have totally acknowledged, that she was to an extent living a lie. How else can we describe ‘the feeling that one has some innate superiority’ over others?
Her suicide could be construed as a rational response to the despair such a position masks; rational if you see no God, no created order to show that you are as a little child, to offer sustaining help. 
Let us pray for all who feel desperate:
Lead Kindly Light amid th’encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on,
MMB

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2 January: Refreshment time.

tea42

A friend of one of my daughters, a Chinese scholar, once posted a picture of her with one of these cups, saying in jest, Here is N drinking tea from 14th Century Yuan porcelain, though this is a 20th Century Staffordshire adaptation of that design.

But this is about tea from Sri Lanka, not China, and the working conditions of the pickers. Pay has long been poor, schooling for the children lacking; and poor pay tempts parents to bring children to work for the few pence they can earn.

USPG’s partners are bringing schools to the children, and they are starting to attend with their parents’ encouragement. People overseas, like us, can help by buying Fair Trade tea.

Here is a prayer from Sri Lanka to go with the tea.

Even as the water falls on dry leaves, and brings out their flavour, so may your Spirit fall on us and renew us, so that we may bring refreshment and joy to others,

I’ll drink to that!

MMB

 

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November 13. Remembrance and beyond

southsea

During the Second World War in Britain, while men were fighting and the war effort seemed to be paramount in people’s minds, in the background other politicians and civil servants were drawing up plans for important areas such as housing, health and education. This time it would be a ‘land fit for heroes’. In the event, prefabricated houses and schools were erected with a speed and in numbers never again seen and the National Health Service came into being.

A better housed, better educated and generally healthier population was the result. But planning can only go so far, as the Times Literary Supplement columnist Charles Morgan pointed out.

In all the plans that are made for the life we are to lead, how seldom is there evidence of any wish that life shall be enjoyed: that it shall be safe – yes; that it shall be instructed, equalised, rubbed smooth, supplied with dustless corners and chromium-plated taps; but that there shall be grace or charm or quiet or gaiety or sweetness or light in it, there is among the sterner planners neither hope nor desire. Utility and sameness are their guiding stars … Their ideal is to make of the art of life what a timetable is to a poem.1

He wrote, of course, from a position of privilege, and exaggerates in his last two sentences to make a polemical point. Certainly I have visited prefabs that have lasted nearly three times their planned lifespan, are light and airy, and well loved by those who have made their homes therein. And G.K. Chesterton considered timetables poetic; especially when they work! And what joy, post-war, when such things could be more or less relied on again!

MMB

Portsmouth, largely rebuilt after World War II

1Charles Morgan, Reflections in a Mirror, London, MacMillan, 1944, p.93.

 

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11 November: Poppies for remembering

poppy.bridge

We took a walk in South Manchester, going  to the Fletcher Moss Park along this footpath. Here it crosses over the tram lines; not only has the bridge been decorated with poppies, but where the overgrown verges of the path have been cleared, three local primary schools have sown poppy seeds, ready to come up in the next few weeks. (I was writing this in March, but the poppies did indeed flower during the summer.)

There were poems by some of the children attached to the fence, just out of sight.

On this centenary Remembrance Day, what should we teach them about events that no-one alive remembers? In an increasingly aggressive world, do we say ‘Si Vis Pacem. Pare Bellum’ – ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’? That makes a certain sense, but it is not the way we expect them to behave in the playground.

A sense of injustice can lead to war; but there is also greed. And there is romanticising of self-sacrifice in battle which all too easily prevents the asking of difficult questions. (How dare you suggest my father/brother/son died for nothing.)

There were reasons why our fathers and grandfathers did not speak of their wartime experiences: because romantic it was not. As well as pain, loneliness and fear, a man had to be ready to kill fellow human beings, individually or en masse. Many hated this duty but there was also bloodlust; something we have witnessed, and continue to witness, in today’s conflicts.

Perhaps it’s good to introduce the children to the idea of self-sacrifice, while diverting them from the glorification of war and from the aggressive war games we used to play – in times when the nation had not got the Second World War out of its system. That of course is too easily said, when immersive shoot-up games are readily available on computers and on line. Do these dissipate aggression or reinforce it?

MMB

 

 

 

 

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27 September. Truth telling XI: Due Diligence, or the truth is more interesting than you assumed.

In 2002 I wrote a history of Saint Thomas’s School in Canterbury to mark its centenary in its present building. There had been a few changes of address over some fifty years before that, when the school occupied one inadequate building after another. The parish and most of its families were poor.

The logbook of the school records how one Christmas Mr Henry Hart, of the Red House, gave cloth for the girls to make cloaks to keep themselves warm in wintertime. I knew of two buildings from that time called the Red House; the more likely one was near the shopping centre and close to the present-day Oxfam charity shop, which has a mosaic threshold bearing his name. Very interesting, and duly recorded.

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When I came to revise the story I was already a bit of a silver surfer and typed in Mr Hart’s name, occupation, and trade. I learned to my surprise that he was Jewish, (yet giving Christmas presents) and the first Jewish Mayor of Canterbury. That information was published on a couple of Jewish websites.

I certainly had not suppressed Mr Hart’s Jewishness, I just had not discovered it. In his lifetime the city was much smaller than it now is, and he was a member of the School Board as well as mayor. Everyone knew he was a Jew so nobody needed to record the fact. But it is an interesting fact and it points to something good about the integration of Jews – and Catholics – in Victorian Canterbury.

Keep on asking questions – such as who was Henry Hart. What you discover may be an interesting detail or a vital missing link.

This newer web page tells more about Henry Hart  .

MMB.

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23 June: What became of …

gate,broken (800x487)

Simon had been a pupil at a school where I had once taught: that’s how we got talking about the disaffected lads I had worked with. Not that sunny Simon, whom I knew before I began teaching, ever had an ounce of disaffection in him in all those forty years.

But Luke did. He was ever ready to pick a fight with another child, then try to pin the blame on them when they gave him as much of a pasting as they could before they were stopped. One day he ran away on an outing to London, but was hiding in full view of the railway station cameras, so was soon rounded up.

‘Do you know what happened to these boys?’ asked Mary.

‘Luke’, I said, hesitating; ‘Luke met a teaching colleague years later, when he was a mental health nurse.

‘And then there was Peter, who broke my ribs, aged 11. He was found to have a severe wheat intolerance and was a changed boy when he cut it out of his diet. He completed secondary school at least.

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‘I was called over to a bench on a major railway station by a young man who introduced himself as Alan West – formerly known by two completely different names. “And this is Jill, we’re getting married soon. But I’m not telling my family. Jill’s my family now – and her family accept me.”‘

prison wall

While it’s good to share these positive stories, not all were doing so well when last I heard. Tony, son of a London prostitute, was moved very much against his will and our advice, from a foster family of a different complexion to one that nearer matched his own. He was soon in a secure unit, not allowed out of the new ‘home’ he was assigned by the court. An abuse victim who came to us at 12 was incarcerated at 18 for abusing other children. A lad who won my heart was murdered by his stepfather.

Please pray for them all; may the Good Shepherd seek each one out and bring him home.

We meet another prisoner tomorrow.

MMB

 

 

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June 5: Saint Boniface by Pope Benedict, 2.

Today is the Feast of Saint Boniface.

This great Bishop did not omit to encourage the foundation of various male and female monasteries so that they would become like beacons, so as to radiate human and Christian culture and the faith in the territory. He summoned monks and nuns from the Benedictine monastic communities in his homeland who gave him a most effective and invaluable help in proclaiming the Gospel and in disseminating the humanities and the arts among the population. Indeed, he rightly considered that work for the Gospel must also be work for a true human culture. Above all the Monastery of Fulda founded in about 743 was the heart and centre of outreach of religious spirituality and culture: there the monks, in prayer, work and penance, strove to achieve holiness; there they trained in the study of the sacred and profane disciplines and prepared themselves for the proclamation of the Gospel in order to be missionaries. Thus it was to the credit of Boniface, of his monks and nuns – for women too had a very important role in this work of evangelization – that human culture, which is inseparable from faith and reveals its beauty, flourished.

Although he was getting on in years (he was almost 80), he prepared himself for a new evangelizing mission: with about 50 monks he returned to Frisia where he had begun his work. Almost as a prediction of his imminent death, in alluding to the journey of life, he wrote to Bishop Lull, his disciple and successor in the see of Mainz: “I wish to bring to a conclusion the purpose of this journey; in no way can I renounce my desire to set out. The day of my end is near and the time of my death is approaching; having shed my mortal body, I shall rise to the eternal reward. May you, my dear son, ceaselessly call the people from the maze of error, complete the building of the Basilica of Fulda that has already been begun, and in it lay my body, worn out by the long years of life” (Willibald, Vita S. Bonifatii, ed. cit., p. 46). While he was beginning the celebration of Mass at Dokkum (in what today is northern Holland) on 5 June 754, he was assaulted by a band of pagans. Advancing with a serene expression he “forbade his followers from fighting saying, “cease, my sons, from fighting, give up warfare, for the witness of Scripture recommends that we do not give an eye for an eye but rather good for evil. Here is the long awaited day, the time of our end has now come; courage in the Lord!'” (ibid., pp. 49-50). These were his last words before he fell under the blows of his aggressors. The mortal remains of the Martyr Bishop were then taken to the Monastery of Fulda where they received a fitting burial.

Centuries later, what message can we gather today from the teaching and marvelous activity of this great missionary and martyr? For those who approach Boniface, an initial fact stands out: the centrality of the word of God, lived and interpreted in the faith of the Church, a word that he lived, preached and witnessed to until he gave the supreme gift of himself in martyrdom. He was so passionate about the word of God that he felt the urgent need and duty to communicate it to others, even at his own personal risk.

The second most important proof that emerges from the life of Boniface is his faithful communion with the Apostolic See, which was a firm and central reference point of his missionary work; he always preserved this communion as a rule of his mission and left it, as it were, as his will.

Boniface also deserves our attention for a third characteristic: he encouraged the encounter between the Christian-Roman culture and the Germanic culture. Indeed, he knew that humanizing and evangelizing culture was an integral part of his mission as Bishop. In passing on the ancient patrimony of Christian values, he grafted on to the Germanic populations a new, more human lifestyle, thanks to which the inalienable rights of the person were more widely respected. As a true son of St Benedict, he was able to combine prayer and labour (manual and intellectual), pen and plough.

Boniface’s courageous witness is an invitation to us all to welcome God’s word into our lives as an essential reference point, to love the Church passionately, to feel co-responsible for her future, to seek her unity around the Successor of Peter. At the same time, he reminds us that Christianity, by encouraging the dissemination of culture, furthers human progress. It is now up to us to be equal to such a prestigious patrimony and to make it fructify for the benefit of the generations to come.

His ardent zeal for the Gospel never fails to impress me. At the age of 41 he left a beautiful and fruitful monastic life, the life of a monk and teacher, in order to proclaim the Gospel to the simple, to barbarians; once again, at the age of 80, he went to a region in which he foresaw his martyrdom.

By comparing his ardent faith, his zeal for the Gospel, with our own often lukewarm and bureaucratized faith, we see what we must do and how to renew our faith, in order to give the precious pearl of the Gospel as a gift to our time.

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