Tag Archives: Faith

30 August: The Train has come and I’m on my way

Northern Ireland Railways, July 1969.

Here is a recent sermon by Rev Jo Richards of Canterbury, from the texts: Genesis 15:1-6, Hebrews 11.1-3, 8-16. Luke 12:32-40. It makes for another reflection on life, death and what faith means.

Bill’s poem….

The Train has come and I’m on my way, 
I didn’t need a ticket 
And there was nothing to pay. 

My lass will be waiting, on that I am sure 
What a wonderful meeting 
With a future that will endure.

On Thursday I took a funeral of a local man; Bill and he wrote poems; he asked that The Last Poem, be read at his funeral, which was read in full just before the commendation: I have read to you with the family’s permission the opening verses.

I knew Bill, and in his writing, there is such a sense of moving from this mortal life to the next, that is eternal life. For Bill was assured of things hoped, for the conviction of things not seen. Bill had a deep Christian faith

Bill had a sense of the hope, of knowing that one day the train would stop, he would get on board and continue his onward journey to eternal life.

Abraham was also a man of deep faith and also on a journey. Here we have someone in his mid-seventies, who heard a call from God to up sticks with his barren wife Sarah and leave home. Obedient to God’s call they became nomads, setting off from Harran, which is in modern day Iraq, travelling through Syria, down to Egypt, and then up to the land of Canaan, which is in the present-day West Bank, in Palestine.

During this time, directed by God, Abraham gazes at the night sky trying in vain to imagine his descendants as numerous as the stars, whilst Sarah, his wife remains heartbreakingly barren.

I wonder what Abraham and Sarah must have been thinking; surely they must have had doubts along the way, of perhaps being cross with God, who has taken them out of what has been familiar and comfortable and sent them on this journey into the unknown, and then telling them they will have children, but despite this they had faith in what God said and set off and set off.

I want us to think for a moment what does our faith mean to us? Would we have done what Abraham and Sarah did?

Perhaps like Bill and Abraham we are on a journey of faith; assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen; but that is not always easy to describe when asked what your faith means to you.

Some might describe their faith in terms of creeds and as we do when we recite the creed; From a doctrinal or theological perspective. At baptism either the godparents or those who speak for themselves are asked about their faith and what they believe.

How do you describe your faith?

Faith is perhaps turning our heads and looking at the stars that sense of awe and wonder, that sense that there is something far greater than what we can see, feel or hear, yet we are still loved and cherished by God our creator.

Faith is perhaps that sense of knowing deep within ourselves knowing that we are not alone, that there is a greater presence of which we get glimpses of from time to time;

Faith is perhaps that longing for the eternal home – that place of peace, love and joy where there are no more suffering or tears. That place we call heaven, eternal life. That feeling of longing, and desire; for Abraham and Sarah their faith took them on a perilous journey, to take them where God was leading, not that they knew where they were going or how they would get there.

Faith is not a destination, more like a journey, and we often say we are all on a journey of faith, with each of us on a different point of that journey; some are just setting out whilst others more established but we can all sometimes be thrown off course, just as Peter was when he was walking on water. He took his eyes off Jesus and sank in the sea, but Jesus put his arm out and caught him.

But I am sure like Peter and doubting Thomas, our faith may have wobbled, and we may have had doubts. Thomas was with Jesus for three years and yet he doubted that he had been raised from the dead, which perhaps gives us permission to question or even doubt at times.

And perhaps when we do question or doubt then something might happen that reaffirms our faith; just this week I heard of how someone had their faith restored by an act of kindness; it is often the little things that we do or say that can have such a big impact on others. Time and time again we hear of people saying I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have my faith.

Perhaps the opposite of faith is not doubt, but apathy – of not being alert and awake, as our Gospel suggests, of staying put and not willing to journey forth; Faith in a way is a response to an invitation to a journey of adventure; it’s not blind faith. We nurture our faith through worship, scripture, talking to other people, praying and for those small what I call God moments – moments when we sense God’s promptings and act on them.

Twice in this week’s readings we hear the words do not be afraid, by nurturing our faith it gives us the strength to face things that may frighten us or make us anxious. We can draw on these moments of remembering that God is with us in the everyday stuff as well as the ups and downs of life. As did the servants in our gospel reading, who were faithful doing the everyday mundane things, and ended up as the master’s guests at the great celebration.

Faith is perhaps a knowledge of God and a deep rooted heart felt desire to want to know God better – to find out what God is doing and join in, just as Bill did, Abraham and Sarah did, and the master’s slaves did.

So, we venture forward on our journey of faith may we give thanks for what we have already experienced of God’s love for us and what is still to come…and give thanks for the gift of faith, as we reflect upon what our faith means to us.

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12 August: Seeking assurance.

On this day in 1868 the Irish poet William Allingham was visiting Alfred Lord Tennyson on the Isle of Wight.

Luncheon. Then T and I walk into croquet ground, talking of Christianity.

‘What I want’, he said, ‘is an assurance of immortality.’

For my part I believe in God: can say no more.

A butterfly is seen as a symbol of the transition from earthy to eternal life. What would provide the poets with assurance of immortality? How would they recognise it? Is faith the basis of Allingham’s ‘I believe in God: can say no more’?

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15 July: The Synod and the People of God.

https://www.synod.va/en/highlights/People-of-God.html

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A posting from the Synod Office inviting us to reflect on belonging to the People of God.

We open with an extended thought from Pope Francis, and worth taking to heart, Synod or no Synod. But see the original post.

Christianity is not just an ethic. Yes, it is true, it has moral principles, but one is not Christian with only a vision of ethics. It is more. Christianity is not an elite of people chosen for truth. …Christianity is belonging to a people, a people chosen by God, freely. If we do not have this consciousness of belonging to a people, we will be ideological Christians, with a tiny doctrine for affirming the truth, with an ethic, with a moral code – that’s fine – or with an elite… If we do not have a consciousness of belonging to a people, we are not true Christians.

Pope Francis, Homily Being Christians means belonging to the People of God”, 07.05.2020

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CONTACT

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Via della Conciliazione 34
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Tel. (+39) 06 698 84821 / 84324

synodus@synod.va

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30 June, My vocation today, XVIII: Learn your faith, love your faith, live your faith.

High behind a pillar in St Anselm’s chapel in Canterbury Cathedral is this fresco of St Paul, after his shipwreck on Malta. The viper that attacked him has faded to a pale streak below his hand.

Our third article celebrating Saints Peter and Paul is part of a reflection on his own lived-out vocation from Bishop Edward K Braxton, bishop emeritus of Belleville, Illinois. The whole reflection can be found here, on the National Catholic Reporter website. His book is available from on-line booksellers.

Bear in mind that Peter and Paul were leaders of the early church who took the Good News to all peoples, and who called people of every race to serve the church according to their gifts. See 1 Corinthians 12.

My primary goal was to serve the people of God as a good and faithful priest, and bishop, and to build up the church by helping people to grow in their Catholic identity and education. A phrase I use almost every time I visited a parish was the phrase: “Learn your faith, love your faith, live your faith.” And within that context, part of learning your faith is learning about the dignity and value of every human person, which within that addresses racial prejudice, racism, the dignity, the value of unborn life, the value of the life of a person on death row. If you are doing that, you will see that your faith impels you not to support bias and prejudice or racism.

If you want to invite people of colour into the world of the church, couldn’t some part of it look like them? Yet I am not advocating that you go into churches built by German immigrants and take black paint and spray it all over the saints and angels. I am not proposing anything as simple as that. But there is a reason I chose the cover of my book myself. I wanted to show an Afrocentric Jesus washing the feet of an Afrocentric Peter.

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14 June: and yet …

Aberdaron Beach, below the church where RS Thomas was parish priest.

Yesterday, it seemed to me, the Anglican priest Thomas Traherne made the consolations of the spiritual life seem so readily available. Today, it seems as though those consolations can be very distant, beyond my grasp. My go-to bard for such moments of faithful doubt is another Anglican priest, the Welsh poet, RS Thomas. You could open his Collected Poems* almost at random and find the wrangled wisdom of a faithful doubter, a committed questioner. Faith, as to be fair Traherne said the other day, demands effort. Here is an extract from RS’s poem Inside.

... Inside me, 
stalactite and stalagmite,
ideas have formed and become
rigid. To the crowd 
I am all outside.
To the pot-holing few there is a way
in along passages that become
narrower and narrower,
that lead to the chamber
too low to stand up in,
where the breath condenses
to the cold and locationless
cloud we call truth. It 
is where I think.

Ideas have formed and become rigid: it’s the rigidity that stifles us. And then when RS Thomas reaches the chamber at the centre of his being he is forced to his knees. This is the ‘cloud we call truth’, and there will be times when we are given a glimpse of the light that lies beyond, sometimes through thought and meditation, sometimes as pure, unexpected, inexplicable gift.

The children building sand castles in the rain at Aberdaron were enjoying the moment together, despite the cold cloud raining over them. Let’s pray for the grace to live in the moment and to live in hope and truth.

*R.S. Thomas, Collected Poems, 1945-1990, London, Phoenix.

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6 May 2022, Praying with Pope Francis: young people.

Young People gathered in Poland for World Youth Day, 2016

This Month Pope Francis urges us missionaries to pray for faith-filled young people. The Polish Pope, St John-Paul II, was well-known for his devotion to the Mother of Jesus. The Argentinian Pope spells out the practical virtues that the real-life Mary embodied. May all young people receive and exercise the gift of these virtues for themselves and all around them.

We pray for all young people, called to live life to the fullest; may they see in Mary’s life the way to listen, the depth of discernment, the courage that faith generates, and the dedication to service. AMEN.

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16 March: People in their thousands, V.

Am I enough of a child to believe?

Part V.

If you are just joining this blog today, I hope you will go back to the beginning of these posts (12 March) to find out how we’ve arrived at this point today. We’re looking at Jesus’ message about death. Today I’d like to finish our reflection with the question, What must we do to be fully receptive to Jesus’ reassuring and loving message about eternal life? How can we really and truly make it our own, so that we, too, can say, Be not afraid?

First, I think it is a matter of trust, simple human trust. We must trust in Jesus, believe that what he says is true, be filled with faith.

Second, it’s about how we live. What does Jesus teach us on this point? Jesus wants to show us how to live in this life in order to be happy with him in the next. We are meant to be about Jesus, as Jesus is about the Father. We are to cleave to him now, pondering his teachings and praying to him, living as he teaches us to live, keeping the Commandments, and the Beatitudes.

Third, it’s about full commitment. We are meant to do this wholeheartedly, to embrace everything about Jesus, and whenever we are feeling mortally threatened by anything, we are to recall that he has hold of us. We will die one day, but he teaches us not to fear death because death, as he promises, is not the end of our life – despite all appearances to the contrary.

Fourth, it’s about right-thinking. Let’s unpack this in some detail. In Jesus’ earthly life, he works miracles of healing, and even raises a few people from the dead. But he was anxious that these miracles not be misunderstood. We are not supposed to deduce from them that Jesus is some kind of holy magician. More importantly, we are not supposed to see his power as being directed toward the political machinations of this world; nor does he use his power to reward with prosperity those who are good and punish with suffering those who are wicked. He does not want us to think that as Christians we arrogate his power to ourselves and have it on tap whenever we snap our fingers. Nor, again, does Jesus use his miraculous power to enable us to live forever in this difficult world where human propensities and human principles are so often widely at variance with each other. In answer to prayer, and for reasons known to him alone, he sometimes even now heals the dying and prolongs their life by some years. Perhaps someone reading this reflection has been the blessed recipient of such astonishing grace. But every time Jesus manifests power over the laws of nature this is meant to strengthen our belief in his divinity, and in the truth of every word he uttered. The miracles are meant to assure us that we can believe what Jesus says about eternal life because he is Lord of the living and the dead, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, all time belongs to him and all the ages, as the priest proclaims over the Easter Fire at the Easter Vigil.

In many ways, Jesus’ message is stunningly simple. Even a child can understand it. He is God. He loves us. He wants us to be with him now, through our life of faith and through our efforts to lead a life that is in accord with his teachings. He wants us to be with him in eternity. He is even now preparing a place for us with him. Am I enough of a child to believe this?

To you, my friends, I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more (Lk 12:4).

Thank you Sister Johanna! Five reflections to see us well into Lent, Easter and Beyond. I never once mentioned consciousness, our Lenten theme, but you open our eyes and ears to a deeper awareness of who Jesus is, and what life and death are all about. Thank you once again. Will Turnstone.

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10 February: Nathaniel finds his heart, Part II.

Following Jesus in a wet Krakow.

Yesterday we were looking at the first meeting between Jesus and Nathaniel as recorded by the Gospel of John in chapter one, verse forty-three and following.  The two men seemed to be enjoying some friendly banter, initially.  But, as Nathaniel discovers, Jesus’ remarks were more penetrating than he was expecting.  Jesus – from Nazareth, of all places!  

After the ice is broken – and it breaks astonishingly quickly – Jesus drops the playful tone completely.  He comes out with a remark that is so profoundly mysterious that it found entry right into Nathaniel’s deepest centre – his heart.  Jesus says to Nathaniel, “Before Philip came to call you, I saw you under the fig tree.”  

I turn this over in my mind and undertake some research.  I find, unsurprisingly, that this remark has been the subject of deep reflection ever since the early centuries of the Church.  What could Jesus have meant by it?   Some of the fourth and fifth century Fathers of the Church offer the explanation that the fig tree represents the Law. Jesus is saying that he saw Nathaniel under the shadow of the Law, and that he, Jesus, is calling him into his own light.  Maybe this is true.  It is a beautiful thought, but I find myself more drawn to the interpretation St John Chrysostom, writing in the late fourth century, gives to Jesus’ words.  Chrysostom says that Nathaniel asks his question as a mere human being, but that Jesus gives his answer as God.  Chrysostom continues, saying that Jesus, by his words, is telling Nathaniel that he understands him deeply and beholds him as God beholds him – from above, as it were.  When Jesus says, ‘I saw you,’ he means, according to Chrysostom, ‘I understood you through and through, understood the character of your life and person’.  

John Chrysostom’s insight explains Nathaniel’s complete change of heart – to my mind, anyway.  Nathaniel was sceptical about Jesus at first, then he jokes a bit with him, but now he’s caught off-guard by something in Jesus that has moved him.  I ponder Jesus’ words and realise that when one is deeply understood by another human being it is a life-changing experience.  What’s more, Nathaniel has suddenly seen Jesus’ own character and spiritual power, even as he himself has been seen by Jesus.  His defensiveness, hesitation and jocularity all drop away.  With a seriousness as profound as Jesus’ own gravity, Nathaniel now says, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel.”  He is in a totally different place from the one he had been in just moments earlier.  This is Nathaniel’s turning point – and it takes place not only because of what Jesus has said, but because of Jesus himself, because of the spiritual power of his person and presence, and because Nathaniel has been deeply ‘seen’ by this extremely unusual man – from Nazareth. 

Perhaps you who are reading this reflection already know the joyful truth that Jesus is the centre of existence, the centre of reality itself.  He is the Beloved of everything that has being, the loving heart of every molecule, every world, every galaxy, every bug and blade of grass and mote of dust.  Maybe you already know that every person is formed for Jesus and that Jesus alone is rest for our restless hearts.  Nathaniel, despite his initial scepticism, comes to understand this wonderful thing, too – as we see it happen in these words from John’s gospel.  For someone like Nathaniel, Jesus does not need to work miracles or do any sensational things.  All Jesus needs to do is show up.  And all Nathaniel needed to do was to be himself with Jesus, to engage with him honestly.  It didn’t take Jesus long to reach Nathaniel at his deepest level.  A short encounter is all Jesus needs.  

“Catena aurea: commentary on the four Gospels, collected out of the works of the Fathers: Volume 6, St. John. Oxford: Parker, 1874. Thomas Aquinas”

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Canterbury Anglicans in Lent

Exploring Together in Lent: Living in Love and Faith

Forwarded from Rev Jo Richards.
For Lent 2022 we are planning Deanery wide groups to enable us to come together and explore the resources provided by the national church.
Living in Love and Faith sets out to inspire people to think more deeply both about what it means to be human, and to live in love and faith with one another.
There will be five weekly sessions in the weeks beginning March 7th, 14th, 21st, 28th, April 4th .
Please book to join a group, even if you have had some discussion in your own parish, so that we can share together across our Christian families in thinking through the response of faith to these important issues.
email or phone Rosemary Walters who is co-ordinating and organising the groups. ra.walters@btinternet.com or 01227 768891 and include
Your name and parish
Your preferred option, live or Zoom
Your preferred day of the week (Mon-Fri) and am or pm.
*Emails need to be sent by Friday Feb 18th.

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28 December: The Carpenter’s Son, Part II.

The Holy Family by an unknown sculptor.

The continuation of Sister Johanna’s reflection on his own people’s rejection of the Jesus whom they thought they knew.

They said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? This is the carpenter’s son, surely?” …And they would not accept him. (Matthew 13:54,57; New Jerusalem Bible).

We’ve been meditating on Matthew 13: 54, 57, and on the fact that no one much in Nazareth seems to recognise the fact that Jesus is a prodigy. They claim to know his relatives, and imply that the family is nothing special, and that Jesus has no reason to be giving himself airs and preaching in the synagogue.

As I ponder this message from Matthew and try to grasp what Jesus’ personality might have been like, I am mindful of the fact that there are some people who, even as children, have a propensity to be ‘out there’ in the public eye. They are always the centre of attention; in any group they are the ones who are doing the most talking, telling the jokes and voicing their thoughts. They are smart and able to manage situations so that people notice them. They’re natural politicians, good at influencing public opinion. But judging from today’s text, this ego-driven behaviour would not be an accurate way to imagine Jesus. Here was a man who had never been a show-off. Jesus was simply ‘the carpenter’s son.’ He was a carpenter himself, and fulfilled the obligations of his profession without calling attention to himself. His workmanship, surely, was of an excellence that resulted in plenty of work for himself and Joseph; it was self-supporting but not self-aggrandising.

Then, suddenly, the one who built the cupboards was teaching in the synagogue? This text from Matthew’s gospel seems to expose an undercurrent of resentment that the people of the town directed toward Jesus. He was stepping outside the role they had given him. How dare he! A carpenter’s son, in their opinion, wasn’t supposed to do this.

Moving back now from this train of thought, it seems to be time to ask myself what this short gospel passage tells me. My first answer can only be that it tells me that this is what people are like. It tells me that this is probably (though I’m loath to admit it) what I’m like. We don’t want anyone disrupting the order to which we’ve become accustomed, even if the disrupter is a prodigiously gifted preacher who thinks outside all the boxes, and who would open my mind to an exciting new spiritual world. To this, the Nazarenes said, ‘No thank you.’ As I ponder again the recognition that Elizabeth gives to the young Mary when Mary visited her, though, I realise that this story of Jesus preaching in the synagogue of his home town could have been very different if there had been enough people of true prayer living in Nazareth. It is Elizabeth’s communion with God that gave her the ability to recognise Mary as the great woman she was whose faith would change the world. This scares me and throws me back on myself, and on the responsibility I have to cultivate an attitude of prayerful openness to the surprising acts of God – and if I don’t? The consequences could be disastrous, as the gospel text points out.

The text says in verse 58 that Jesus ‘did not work many miracles there because of their lack of faith.’ What a horrible indictment. But, yes, I see that this must be the inevitable conclusion to this tale. The Nazarenes’ faith extended only to what they were used to. It did not extend to what was truly revelatory and unforeseen – present in Jesus. This made it impossible for Jesus to be fully Jesus there. He could not do what he so longed to do: heal; lead his own people closer to the Father. They lacked faith on a profound level. This kind of lack of faith involves a determination to stay the same, a refusal to allow the unexpected to be a sign of God’s work, a deliberate closing of the mind, a turning away from something new without considering that it may be an offering from God. And when we say No in this ultimate sense, even God will not push. These few lines from Matthew’s gospel expose a tragedy.


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