Tag Archives: Faith

19 January: Church Unity Week, Unusual Kindness II.

murillo migrants

Image: Migrants waiting by Oscar Murillo, Turner Prize exhibition, Margate November 2019.

This year’s reflections for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity were prepared by the Churches in Malta and Gozo. We are sharing elements of their prayers, but please follow the link for the full resources for personal or community prayer.

Naturally, the Maltese Christians draw our attention to the story in Acts 27-28 of how Paul, a prisoner in chains, was among a group who survived being shipwrecked on Malta.

And when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm lay on us, all hope of our being saved was now taken away. (27:20)

Reflection – Transfusion 

I believe another not Him.

A cup of bitterness taints my being.

My eyes fail me,

I lose the light and my life disengages and halts.

Movement, spied in my darkness frightens then brings relief. I am not dying alone but dying we are.

The battering storm of hope denied, will abandon us to fate.

A flicker flecks my blindness I fall prostrate as flecks materialise into Him, my true and tender Father.

Held in His unbreakable arms I still…

The storm may do its worst.

Slathered in His salve of love, Hope’s transfusion gently renews my being: Do not fear the pain; it sings the song of life.

Prayer

Father, Your precious word illumines our steps and without You we remain lost and disorientated.

Holy Spirit, teach us through Your word and each other to travel our Father’s path together, walking gently on Creation.

May each gathering of Your people in churches everywhere crave Your guiding, consoling and transforming presence.

Give us the honesty we need to recognise when we lose or obscure Your light for others. Give us grace to hold onto You, ready and able to share Your light.hrist’s light

We ask this in the name of Your Son Jesus, who calls us His followers, to be light to the world. Amen.

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9 January, Book Review: My book for Lent 2020, ‘It’s good to be here’.

christina cover.jpg

It’s Good To Be Here by Christina Chase

Review by Maurice Billingsley

Regular readers will remember the thought-provoking posts that our friend Christina Chase has allowed us to share from her own blog, which you can visit from the link. You will understand how I had been waiting to see this book, and I was by no means disappointed on reading it. Christina weaves autobiography and a profound incarnational theology with a love of language and clarity of expression. This will be my Lent book for 2020.

We were led, in my pre-Vatican II childhood, to look upon Jesus as the perfect human being: ‘Little children all must be / Mild, obedient, good as he.’ Our teachers apparently forgot that it was at his Transfiguration that the Apostles saw something more and Peter said, ‘It’s good to be here.’

There are those who would contradict Chase’s assertion that it is good for her to be here, since she is profoundly disabled – she readily uses the non-PC term ‘crippled’ – with a wasting disease that ought to have killed her years ago, and that renders her unable to feed, dress, or care for herself, depending on others for such needs.

But Christina has undergone her own transfiguration; this is her story. She had no need of a Franciscan stigmata, the wounded body was hers from birth, but she has had to come to terms with the human condition in her own self, with all the frustrations writ large. And so she can write: ‘The one astonishing fact of life is that suffering, like disease, war, murder, and abuse, cannot destroy the gift that God Almighty gives, because real love never fails.’ (p18) It’s good to be here; to be human here, as Christ was. After his Baptism, ‘He stood, rising to inhale deeply and shake the dripping wetness out of his hair and off of his drenched body.’ (p38)

And this from a woman who frequently finds breathing difficult, who cannot shake her head to dry her hair! This is not a book to buy out of pity for a ‘poor, disabled woman’, but for its deep insights into the divine light that wills to brighten our days. All our days. Christina’s vision is eternal: ‘What will life be like then?’ (p124) The glimmer of an answer is to be found in our earthly, earthy lives: it’s good to be here, breathing, getting wet, enjoying the sacrament of everyday in the wondrous life God has given us.

This will be my Lent book for 2020.

You can order it now from the publisher, Sophia Institute of New Hampshire, or  their UK agents, Gracewing, or via Amazon .

 

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22 December: the hidden work of incarnation.

attic.mary

The process by which the human personality is formed is the hidden work of incarnation.

The helpless infant is an enigma. The only thing we know about him is that he is an enigma, but nobody knows what he will be or what he will do. His helpless body contains the most complex mechanism of any living creature, but it is distinctly his own.

Man belongs to himself, and his special will furthers the work of incarnation. 

Maria Montessori, The Child in the Family, London, Pan, 1970, pp32-33.

Do we accept that there is more to being human than flesh and blood? That there is a will, soul or spirit animating each one of us?

We could say that parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers are charged with enabling the work of incarnation to take place in the child; not to break the child’s will but to provide a fertile ground for it to grow.

Of course we refer to the Incarnation especially in regard to Jesus. His humanity was shaped in his relationship with Mary and Joseph; we have to thank them for their part in his development, his incarnation.

In this statue from the church of Our Lord in the Attic, Amsterdam, Mary is supporting her Son as he reaches out into the world, to you and to me. Let us pray for the grace to perceive how to support the children we live and work with.

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12 December, Little Flowers of Saint Francis LX: Brother Peter of Monticello

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There were plenty of characters in the early days of the Franciscan Order. A young brother – a child we might call him today – hiding under the altar: did his fellow novices put him up to it? The wager for such a venture at my ‘apostolic school’ (a boarding school for would-be priests) was the inflation-proof currency of a Mars bar …  

Brother Peter of Monticello was seen by Brother Servodio of Urbino (he being then guardian in the old House of Ancona) lifted bodily off the ground five or six cubits, even to the feet of the Crucifix of the church, in front of which he was at prayer.

And this Brother Peter, while fasting on a time with great devotion during the forty days’ fast of Saint Michael the Archangel, and being at prayer in the church on the last day of this fast, was heard by a young brother (who of set purpose lay hidden under the high altar for to see some token of his sanctity) speaking with Saint Michael the Archangel; and the words that he said, were these:

Quoth Saint Michael: “Brother Peter, thou hast toiled so faithfully for me, and in many ways hast afflicted thy body: and lo ! now am I come to comfort thee, and to the intent that thou mayest ask what grace soever thou wilt, and I will get it thee from God.”

Replied Brother Peter: Most holy Prince of the celestial host, and faithful zealot of love divine, and pitying protector of souls, I ask this grace of thee that thou obtain from God the pardon of my sins.”

Replied Saint Michael: “Ask some other grace of me, for this grace shall I win for thee right easily.” But Brother Peter asking for nothing more, the Archangel concluded thus: “For the faith and devotion that thou hast to me, I will obtain for thee this grace thou askest for, and many more besides.” And done their parley, the which lasted for a long space, the Archangel Saint Michael was away, leaving him comforted exceedingly.

The young brother’s feelings are not recorded., but Saint Michael talks good Yorkshire. 

The crucifix here is from my late father’s well-used rosary.

WT.

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October 28, Month of Mission: the Humble Godparent

baptist.zako (480x640)

Actually, I’m also a proud godparent: proud to be sked, humble that I’m trusted with an unglamorous task. In the past week or so I’ve seen or heard from three of my godchildren, so I asked myself, what is the mission of the godparent? It’s one may of us undertake, usually out of friendship with a child’s parents.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us:

1253 Baptism is the sacrament of faith, but faith needs the community of believers. It is only within the faith of the Church that each of the faithful can believe. The faith required for Baptism is not a perfect and mature faith, but a beginning that is called to develop. When the catechumen or the godparent is asked: “What do you ask of God’s Church?” the response is: “Faith!”

somers.town. holy spirit

1255 For the grace of Baptism to unfold, the parents’ help is important. So too is the role of the godfather and godmother, who must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized – child or adult – on the road of Christian life. Their task is a truly ecclesial function. The whole ecclesial community bears some responsibility for the development and safeguarding of the grace given at Baptism.

Most of the time I see very little of these young people whose families have moved away from Kent, so I can do nothing much from week to week, or even month to month, except remember their names in my prayers. It’s not for me to tell the Lord what they need in detail, but to raise them up to him, into his care.

Am I to regret that one godson is working part-time developing skincare products? Not when he is doing so, rather than ‘using’ his degree, so that he can share the care of his ailing mother. And after hearing from him, I was able to tell our parish priest who was this person, unknown to him, who is still remembered on our sick list; still part of our ‘ecclesial community’.

Do I miss the god-daughter who is too embarrassed to get in touch, after a broken promise? Of course, but perhaps she’ll believe her brother when he tells her I’d like to see her.

Was I glad to see my other two god-daughters, looking well, and playing nicely with young Abel? Need I ask?

But it’s not about me, except that I must be a firm believer (challenge No 1) able (challenge No 2) and ready (challenge No 3) to help on the road of Christian life.

Let’s ray for all godparents that we may perceive where our help is needed; may we remember our young protegés in our thoughts and prayers.

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17 October: Being practical about Mission

L'arche procession1

L’Arche is a worldwide federation of people, with and without learning disabilities, working together for a world where all belong.

This photo was taken in Canterbury Cathedral when L’Arche Kent was celebrating 40 years of life, and L’Arche itself was marking its half century. Making enough space for everyone is vital and the process is on-going. A world where all belong is a challenge: L’Arche lives that challenge, and in doing so witnesses that it is possible.

To remain faithful to the mission the structures of each community, and the federations which link them, are reviewed regularly to give a new mandate for community life. Here are some points from L’Arche UK’s new mandate.

L’ARCHE UK MANDATE July 2019 – July 2025
Partners in Mission, building a more human society

1. Building unity around our Mission
The greatest insight that L’Arche has to offer arises from our emphasis on community and mutually transforming relationships. Therefore we will:
 Create and celebrate new ways to live out our Mission in response to a 21st century call for L’Arche in the UK.
 Partner other organisations to impact on the social and political concerns of wider society and be a beacon for the learning disability sector.
 Deepen our connection to our founding Christian tradition and live out the spirituality of L’Arche more confidently. This spirituality embraces people of all faiths and none and all who are aligned with our Mission.
 Vigorously pursue the four dimensions of community, spirituality, service and outreach through our service to society and through service provision.
2. Partners in the Mission
People with and without learning disabilities are together partners in the Mission. A vital
element in this partnership on the national level is the National Speaking Council. Therefore we will:
 Strengthen the purpose and voice of the National Speaking Council with proper
resources.
 Offer people with learning disabilities opportunities to impact more powerfully on our society through employment and quality day services.
 Become experts in accessible communication, both locally within our communities and nationally.
 Ensure that people with and without learning disabilities engage in outreach together.
3. Resourcing the Mission
We need to be well resourced for the journey. Therefore we will:
 Agree and implement a model of effective governance that truly serves our Mission by ensuring business and financial viability.
 Work towards greater Mission sustainability by increasing our fundraising capability and reviewing our financial management.
 Develop our culture so that all our communities are competent and effective in the four dimensions.
Find out more about L’Arche and its mission here:

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21 August: Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, Letters I.

chantal bw

 From a letter to Saint Francis de Sales, 1614. The two correspondents collaborated closely in the area that straddles today’s Franco-Swiss border. We could see Saint Jane’s mental state as pretty precarious from this letter, but she had raised a family, largely after her husband’s death, and founded the Sisters of the Visitation. Today is her feast day; let all who ever feel desperate take heart and hope from her weariness of self: she more than survived. I am sure this XIX Century engraving does her poor justice. Her letters are at Project Gutenburg.

This morning I am more wearisome to myself than usual. My interior state is so gravely defective that, in anguish of spirit, I see myself giving way on every side. Assuredly, my good Father, I am almost overwhelmed by this abyss of misery. The presence of God, which was formerly such a delight to me, now makes me tremble all over and shudder with fear. I bethink myself that the divine eye of Him whom I adore, with entire submission, pierces right through my soul looking with indignation upon all my thoughts, words and works. Death itself, it seems to me, would be less painful to bear than the distress of mind which this occasions, and I feel as if all things had power to harm me. I am afraid of everything; I live in dread, not because of harm to myself, but because I fear to displease God.

Oh, how far away His help seems! thinking of this I spent last night in great bitterness and could utter no other words than these, “My God, my God, alas! why hast Thou forsaken me.”

At daybreak God gave me a little light in the highest part of my soul, yet only there; but it was almost imperceptible; nor did the rest of my soul and its faculties share the enjoyment, which lasted only about the time of half a Hail Mary, then, trouble rushed back upon me with a mighty force, and all was darkness. Notwithstanding the weariness of this dereliction, I said, though in utter dryness, “Do, Lord, whatever is pleasing to Thee, I wish it. Annihilate me, I am content. Overwhelm me, I most sincerely desire it. Tear out, cut, burn, do just as Thou pleasest, I am Thine.”

God has shown me that He does not make much account of faith that comes of sentiment and emotions. This is why, though against my inclination, I never wish for sensible1 devotion. I do not desire it. God is enough for me. Notwithstanding my absolute misery I hope in Him, and I trust He will continue to support me so that His will may be accomplished in me.

Take my feeble heart into your hands, my true Father and Lord, and do what you see to be wisest with it.

The day after tomorrow we publish a contemporary reflection on ‘all ye that labour come to me’ which provides something of a reply to this letter. Tomorrow a Welsh saint who lived through most of the 17th Century. 

1Sensible here means ‘that can be felt’. It is possible to be devoted in practice to someone or to a task without feeling any measurable enthusiasm; which may be our calling for a moment or for years.

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6 August, Little Flowers of Saint Francis LVII: Saint Antony and the fish, 3.

anthony and Francis

At these and the like words of Saint Antony, the fishes began to open their mouths and bow their heads, and with these and other signs of reverence in such fashion as best they might, gave praises unto God. Then Saint Antony, beholding this great reverence of the fishes unto God their Creator, rejoiced in spirit, and cried with a loud voice: “Blessed be God eternal, sith the fishes of the waters give Him more honour than do the heretics; and the animals that have no reason pay more heed unto His word than unbelieving men.” And the more Saint Antony preached, the more did the multitude of the fish increase, and no one of them left the place that he had taken. At the which miracle the people of the city began to run together, and among them the heretics aforesaid also drew nigh: the which beholding the miracle so marvellous and so clear, touched to the heart, fell all at the feet of Saint Antony to hear his words.

Thereat Saint Antony began to preach of the catholic faith; and so nobly did he preach that all those heretics were converted, and turned them to the faith of Christ; and all the faithful abode in joy exceeding great, being comforted and strengthened in the faith.

And this done, Saint Antony bade the fishes depart with the blessing of God; and all went thence with marvellous signs of joy, and likewise the people also. And thereafter Saint Antony abode in Rimini many days, preaching and reaping much spiritual fruit of souls.

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26 July: Saints Anne and Joachim; grandparents matter!

 

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Statue of Saint Joachim, Holy Name Church, Manchester.

An extra post today – a Pastoral Letter about grandparents from Bishop Mark O’Toole of Plymouth. 

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

On the 26th July we keep the memory of Jesus’ grandparents, St Joachim and St Ann. It is good to know that Jesus lived within a family and to reflect on the reality that he knew the influence and presence of an older generation. In light of this, I wanted to take this opportunity to write to you about the importance of grandparents, both for us personally and in the life of faith.

I know that many of you have grandchildren and play an important part in their lives. Many of us are grateful for the sacrifice and generosity we experienced in our grandparents and thank God for them, living or dead.

I want also to thank those of you who are grandparents, for what you do in passing on the faith within your own family. As I have visited the Diocese, celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation these past weeks, it has been good to meet some of our young people and to hear them speak so positively of the importance of their grandparents. They look up to you, and are grateful to you for your support and love for them. They know that for you, our Catholic faith is vital. Many want to deepen that faith, in their own lives.

In his recent letter to young people, titled ‘Christ is Alive’ (Christus Vivit), Pope Francis speaks of the importance of dialogue between the different generations. He reminds us that “helping the young to discover the living richness of the past, to treasure its memory and to make use of it for their choices and opportunities, is a genuine act of love towards them, for the sake of their growth and the decisions they are called to make”.[102]

He says that it is not good if there is “a rupture between generations” (Par 191). This is sometimes presented to us by our society but it is a lie for it would have us believe that only what is new is good and beautiful. Our experience in the Church is much richer. We know there a wisdom passed down from generation to generation, “familiar with human weakness and not deserving to vanish before the novelties of consumer society and the market (Par 190).”

Whilst at the Synod in Rome, for young people, in October, I was reminded of the humorous saying of Pope Saint John XXIII, “The young need to remember that the world existed before them, and those who are older that the world will continue to exist after them!”

So, to our young I say, ‘continue to cherish your grandparents and learn from them what it means to love and to live a life of faith’. To our grandparents, I say, ‘thank you for your fidelity and generosity. Do continue to witness to the Lord, and to the beauty of our faith, both within your own family and to the people around you.’

In the Gospel today, we see in St Mary and St Martha, two essential dimensions of our faith – prayer and action. All of us need to hold on to both of these. In rooting our lives in a personal encounter with Jesus, may we each be of service to our loved ones and to our neighbours. May each of us, young and old, deepen our faith in the Lord, and in the company of the Church, bring others to Him.

Pray for me.

Yours devotedly,

+ Mark, Bishop of Plymouth

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L’Arche mini pilgrimage around Canterbury, I.

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