Tag Archives: Faith

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

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 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.

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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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July 5: Praying with Pope Francis.

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The Missio magazine, Mission Today, invites us to join Pope Francis and the whole Church in praying for these monthly prayer intentions, particularly  on Fridays. Now we’ve found these intentions, we’ll try to share them each month. Here is the Pope’s intention for July. 

May those who administer justice work with integrity, and may the injustice present in the world not have the last word.

That seems a mountain of an intention, but Jesus did say something about mountains and faith the size of a mustard seed. (Matthew 13;31-32) Which prompts the question, what can I do to alleviate injustice? Even a few pence in a red box, or a can or two in the food bank basket; these are as much a matter of justice as of charity. It is unjust that some people live in poverty and others have their needs met and more. Using wealth, either of cash or of time, is one way to ‘administer justice with integrity’ towards our brothers and sisters. This does not take away from the wrong of unjust judges, of oppressive regimes, things beyond your influence and mine, but prayer should urge us to do what we can.

 

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June 2: No shadow of doubt in her mind; Brownings XI.

 

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Let’s return to Elizabeth Barrett Barrett (Ba) and Robert Browning’s letters. You’ll recall how they carried on courting under the eye of her tyrannical father until they eloped to Italy. Here is EBB, writing on 30 March 1946. No thought now that his feeling for her was a mere generous impulse; not really, or is she teasing him? Surely she is.

How one writes and writes over and over the same thing!

But day by day the same sun rises, . . over, and over, and nobody is tired. May God bless you, dearest of all, and justify what has been by what shall be, . . and let me be free of spoiling any sun of yours! Shall you ever tell me in your thoughts, I wonder, to get out of your sun?

No–no–Love keeps love too safe! and I have faith, you see, as a grain of mustard-seed!

Your own

Ba.

Say how you are . . mind!

Nobody is tired of the sun rising each day, in fact the Psalms are full of joy and praise for the daily wonder, such as here in Ps 19. Love keeps love safe, indeed: God even provides a metaphorical tent, or tabernacle, for the sun!

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.

Read more Browning letters here.

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May 16. What is Theology Saying? LIII: Salvation outside the Church II.

 

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austinWhen the first Christians claimed a new covenant, they were aware of how the word new had been interpreted in the prophetic writings. Later generations spoke of old and new covenants – with the presumption the old was past its sell-by date. This is mistaken, the facts of history contradict it. The Jews have been faithful to Covenant in large numbers, even to the point of martyrdom; and Scripture tells us that God does not desert those who are faithful.

Some believe the issue is simple. If the Jews had really been faithful they would have recognised Jesus as Messiah, and have been part of the new covenant. But since they do not recognise Jesus as Messiah, we can assume they are unfaithful to the covenant. For this reason history left them behind as forever lost.

Such a view leaves all kinds of questions unaddressed. Even if it was perfectly clear that Jesus is the Messiah, we must remember that the Jews of the dispersion had never had the gospel preached to them. For example, exactly when did the covenant go out of date? Was it at Pentecost or at the death of the last Apostle? Also, does the Jewish participation in the covenant not remain in date until the end of time?

The only contact many Jews through the centuries had with Christians and the Gospel was that of persecution and victimisation in various forms of anti-Semitism. And many were told to renounce Judaism in favour of Christianity – if you are persecuted on account of your Christian faith and told to recant, would you see this as an act of God? We must accept the possibility that Jews cannot accept Jesus as the expected Messiah because he is not yet Messiah. We who are the presence of Jesus have not yet produced the promised signs of the Messianic presence. We know what these signs are – the Prophets are full of them, and the Gospels have Jesus quoting them.

The signs of Messianic times are: peace among nations and all people; perfect fraternity; justice for the poor and the powerless; no more violence and enmity; and all coming together to praise the one God in their own ways in peace, without hindrance. When Paul writes of these signs he says there is no discrimination in Christ between Jew and Gentile, between cultured Greeks and primitive Barbarians, between men who had all kinds of rights and women who had none. Today we might add: no discrimination between white or black, gay or straight, rich nations and poor – no annexation of the poor by the powerful.

AMcC

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May 15: What is Theology Saying? LII: Salvation outside the Church I.

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austinThe Christian has to ask how to evaluate other religions. We are all engaged in the work of transforming the world alongside people who are striving for the same goal and contributing equally as much for its realisation. Yet many belong to another religion or faith community.

The question: do these people participate in the work and fruits of salvation in spite of their own religious commitment or because of it? Christianity has answered this variously through the ages, but with answers heavily influenced by cultural experiences and national belongings. It is not easy to disentangle Christian tradition from social and cultural theories.

Before reflecting on these, it must be remembered that the Christian understanding of Judaism must be discussed separately; the relationship between Judaism and Christianity is unique, and in fairly recent times the French Biblical scholar Paul Démann has undertaken this in various articles to do with the relationship between Judaism in Christianity. He makes many suggestions, but many questions remain unsolved and a full theology of Christian understanding of Judaism has yet to appear.

It is abundantly clear that there is salvation in Judaism and the coming of Jesus in history did not take this salvation away. Scripture asserts that God made an everlasting covenant with Israel – you shall be my people and I will be your God; and through them all nations on the earth will be blessed. God kept promising a new covenant – not that the old one would pass away to be replaced by another, rather would the old one become new again as each generation made it its own; and written, not on stone, but on hearts of flesh.

All these promises were verified again and again in Judaism. Although Christians have not always been aware of it, Jews have continued to live passionately in fidelity to the covenant. Under tough conditions – exile, dispersion, persecution and holocaust – they continued to make the covenant ever fresh and new in succeeding generations.

AMcC

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28 April: This is my body!

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We were put off by the grandiose monuments in the Conventual Franciscans’ church in Venice. A six metre high pyramid or a balcony upheld by gigantic black strongmen: I don’t see what their place is in a Christian church. Worse by far than what we have in Canterbury. But no more of that.

Take a look instead at this wall carving; it may be small but it says more than the marble monstrosities, however clever their workmanship.

This is Easter morning, first thing, before Mary reaches the tomb. The rising sun is gilding the tree and shining upon the One who has risen. An angel watches over him, as always. The angels had to watch the events of Thursday night and Friday without intervening. Were they already reassured that all would be well? We cannot know their experience of time.

Jesus is experiencing time, and space and all his senses, in a completely new way. The warmth of the sun on his chest makes him stop and think: This is my body!

His left hand explores his wounded side: no, I can feel it, but it doesn’t hurt. I can breathe freely, but I carry the marks, the stigmata, (as Saint Francis was to do). Time has left other marks, blotches, bruises, that probably were not all intended by the artist, but they point to this moment when Jesus took those first breaths, not in his new body, but in his body renewed, transformed; or in the process of transformation, in that twinkling of an eye, before he dressed and went out to meet Mary. Surely, with the blood flowing again – as we see it is – the bruises will disappear.

It was important to Jesus in this moment to explore his risen body, to know what he was waking up to. So, Thomas, come and put your hand in the mark of the nails, put your hand in my side, stop doubting and believe – just as I did last week!

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21 April. Stations of the Cross for Saint Peter: XV, Easter Sunday.

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Easter tomb, Canterbury Cathedral, MMB.

Scripture references: Empty Tomb: John 20: 1-19; Barbecue by the lake and Jesus’ questions to Peter: John 21: 1-23.

That first Easter morning, Peter did not believe Mary and the other women who said Jesus had risen. And so:

I ran to the tomb, I saw the cloths that his body had been wrapped in. I believed! 

Then Jesus came to find us. He cooked a barbecue by the lake – as normal as anything.

He fed us.

He asked me: Do you love me?

Do you love me?

Do you love me?

Yes Lord, you know I love you! 

Feed my sheep!

Let us pray for the courage that comes when we know God loves us, and we dare to believe that we love him. May we know the good food to give his sheep.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.

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