Tag Archives: Father

January 28, Review: Extreme Pilgrim

Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim: Reflections on Life, Love and the Soul

Does sitting in one place qualify as being a pilgrim? Perhaps it does if you are a Sussex vicar, and that sitting place is a grotto in the Egyptian desert, home to hermits, monks and nuns since the earliest days of the Church.

Peter Owen Jones borrowed the cave of Father Lazarus, forty-five minutes’ walk from the cell of Saint Anthony, first of the Desert Fathers, to ‘live a very strict life of prayer, eating only one full meal a day.’ (p. ix) And part of this life of prayer was the writing of letters to people who helped make him the man he is today.

These include our would-be master and prince of this world, Satan, who rules by fear. Owen Jones’s signing off with, ‘all my love, Peter’, suddenly makes sense if we remember that ‘perfect love casts out fear’ (1John4:19).

Many things seem to have made sense when seen from the perspective of the desert, though at times a sense beyond logical thought, a sense of wonder. What was it you went out to see? A memory of a hedge sparrow’s (or dunnock’s) nest, described in a letter to God.

As you know, for their nests they weave  grass and hair precisely into a small deep bowl, which they line with moss to the point where it shines. And there they were  four varnished blue eggs sitting in this deep smooth green … we were both in a state of wonder and whilst I was alone, I realised I wasn’t alone – you were there in that state of wonder, you were present.’  (p45)

To his adoptive father he writes, ‘It was only when your eldest granddaughter was about three years old that I realised that being a father was something separate: it is a love all of its own’ (p15)

What did you go out to see? A good deal of seeing, of realising, is recorded in this little book. Every chapter represents a challenge that Owen-Jones faced; a chance to realise how other people had influenced his life for better or worse, and to accept himself, his own mortality as well as the loss of family and friends.

My wife read Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim through and enjoyed it almost before I had brought it into the house. I know who I will pass it on to. She’ll have it in time for Lent, and so will you if you buy on line now.

WT

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13 December: You have to help me IV.

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Winter meant it was dark at 5.00, but the letter to Mrs Turnstone Senior needed to catch the post. Would Abel like to help with that? Of course: warm coat, wellingtons, and we were ready to face the night.

There was a red light next to the box: the postman was there, waiting to empty it; Abel urged grandad to be quick, so quick we reached the box before the postman got out. He said he was waiting till the right time to open the door. So we waited.

Open the sack,find the right key, open the big door, then the little one at the bottom of the cage; scoop out the mail, shut the inner door, shake down the bag so no letters spill. And then:

This is where you have to help me! Can you push the big door really hard for me, so it goes bang? Put your hands there and mind your fingers, 1, 2, 3, bang! And the door locked itself.

That of course made Abel’s evening. ‘Thank-you’s all round, and something to tell Mummy.

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We are privileged to help our Creator in many ways that engage our gifts and enthuse us. We may well go back home and share the joy we had in doing God’s work, but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it’s our efforts that matter most in the big scheme of things, what we used to call God’s Plan.

But Abel did post the letter, and he did slam the door tight shut. We each have our vocation which is basically to tell people they are loved by God and by us, which latter may be easier to absorb. We can write a letter,  send an email, smile, sweep the damp leaves off the street, accompany grandad to the postbox … As the Father might well say, you have to help me!

It was a much bigger box than this, and Queen Elizabeth, not Victoria.

 

 

 

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23 November: The King VII, Jesus.

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Should we understand Pilate’s question as a signal that he is now ready to listen? I don’t think so. Had Jesus detected even a hint of sincere open-mindedness in Pilate, he would have responded to it. But now, he is too weak and Pilate’s question about Jesus’ origin is far too big. Jesus remains silent. Pilate is not accustomed to such treatment and chooses this moment to remind Jesus of his power over him – once again, the power fixation – ‘Are you refusing to speak to me? Surely you know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you.

Even in the extreme weakness of his physical condition, Jesus cannot allow these ill-conceived words to stand uncorrected. He somehow manages to dredge up the strength to find breath and say, ‘You would have no power over me at all if it had not been given to you from above; that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater guilt’ (John 19: 11). Another highly enigmatic statement which would have seemed incomprehensible to Pilate – and maybe seems so to us, too. When Jesus says that Pilate’s power over him is ‘given from above’, what does he mean?

Jesus’ statements are always multi-layered. Each time we reread scripture prayerfully we can find new depths in Jesus’ words. This statement is one of his most profound utterances. I would like to pause for a moment to consider its implications. Here, Jesus is saying an enormous amount in very few words. What Pilate understood by them cannot be ascertained, but we ourselves can reflect on them. We can recall that in John’s gospel, ‘from above’ refers to God, the Father and creator of all; it refers to the origin and perfection of all that exists and of all that is truly good and loving. This God, whose very being is goodness and love, cannot will what is evil. And, clearly, Jesus’ execution and all that led up to it, including Pilate’s complicity with the forces of darkness, is evil. The Father did not will this particular evil, or any other evil. But he does will human freedom – with the consequence that human beings are free to love God and each other, and to create or respond to all that is good and true in the world. Love is only love when it is given freely. But, by this same freedom, the human person can conceive the convoluted and tragic structures of sin – hatred, jealousy, slander, falsehood, murder, death, and so much more. The political power wielded by Pilate is part of the complex working out of human freedom on a world scale.

We can also reflect that Jesus knew that his mission was to confront, single-handed, sin and death at its source in a titanic battle against Satan. He understood its demands profoundly, and accepted it absolutely. He never shirked his mission*; he walked resolutely towards it, foreseeing and predicting that the consequences of his teachings and of his very presence in the world would lead to this moment he was now undergoing. He knew that, in fact, his mission was one with his very identity. He gave himself completely to it, holding back nothing, out of his unfathomable love for his Father and for the whole human race. This is why Jesus could say that Pilate’s power had been ‘given from above’ – inasmuch as Pilate was an unwitting instrument of the salvation of the human race.

Jesus’ words to Pilate, however, tell us here that, in Jesus’ estimation, Pilate plays only a very small part in a drama of cosmic proportions – ‘given from above’. And, once again, Jesus pays Pilate the profound compliment of interpreting Pilate in the best possible light, when he tells Pilate that the one who handed him over ‘has the greater guilt,’ for Pilate is the quintessential pawn, not merely of the Roman government and the hysteria of the Jewish authorities baying for his execution, but of the entire history of human evil, culminating in the pathetic, confused, self-absorbed political manoeuvres Pilate was trying to make with regard to Jesus. Jesus sees that Pilate is not fully to blame for his actions. His spiritual blindness and his preoccupation with power are moral failings that he has inherited from the human condition time out of mind. But, Jesus also wants to make it clear to Pilate that Pilate’s so called power is the power of a minnow as compared to a whale. It is no power. Pilate’s threats are only a tiny factor in the greater pattern of primordial evil that Jesus has been confronting all his life, and in his divine nature he would ultimately overthrow it, like a great whale overturning the whaling vessel and the crew that is trying to harpoon it. God’s infinite power ‘from above’ will turn evil on its head through Jesus. He is able to, and will, bring good out of what seems to have fallen completely beyond the furthest reach of goodness, for God’s arm is longer still. Indeed, it will reach into Jesus’ very tomb.

Probably all of this is way beyond what Pilate could consciously grasp. But, clearly, something came home to him, for the other gospels indicate that Pilate is thoroughly shaken now and wants to put as much space between himself and this intense and enigmatic preacher as he can. In Matthew’s account Pilate, at this point, publicly washes his hands of Jesus and of the whole situation. But in the gospel of John, Pilate continues to interact with the crowd, bringing Jesus out again before them, broken and bleeding. Pilate’s action elicits only an intensification of mob-hysteria, as they scream for Jesus’ execution. Again, Pilate challenges them: ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ They answer with the blatant hypocrisy Jesus had challenged in them repeatedly throughout his ministry: ‘We have no king but Caesar!’

And Pilate gives up. There is nothing for a politician to do but appease this group, give them what they seem to want and hope they will go away and give him less trouble in the future. And Pilate is first and last a politician. He orders Jesus to be taken away and crucified.

*The other gospels tell of Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane – but this is not a ‘shirking’ of his mission. Rather, it shows the reality of Jesus’ suffering, and of his human psyche instinctively recoiling from an excruciating death. But, through his prayerful communion with his Father, Jesus received the strength he needed to carry on.

SJC

 

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25 August: Letters of Saint Jane Frances III, Fidelity is catching.

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To Mother Marie Jacqueline Favre, Superior at Lyons.

Vive ✠ Jésus!

Annecy, 1615.

They have taken me by surprise. Here is M. de Boisy, who tells me that if I wish to write to you, my daughter, now is the opportunity. He starts at dawn, and so at dawn I write this letter in all haste.

Well, as to your letters, they always give me pleasure and console me exceedingly. All praise to the good God who I see leads you and holds you by His paternal Hand, so that you have nothing to do but to cling close to it, and leave yourself to Him, walking with all possible humility, and simplicity, under His holy protection, while you train your little flock to advance faithfully, for it is in this way that He wishes you to show your fidelity, and it is for this end that I always tell you, my dearest, that you should keep yourself, as much as the performance of necessary duties allow, free and disengaged from occupations, so that you may be continually in the midst of your Sisters at the times that they are assembled together, thus will you enlighten and animate them in their duty by example as well as by precept. I quite agree with our worthy and excellent Archbishop. He is right, my daughter, believe me, you must be Mother and Mistress.

This was still early days for the congregation of the Sisters of the Visitation, founded by Saints Jane Frances and Francis de Sales. The opening of this passage shows the gulf between their world and ours: writing in haste to take advantage of a friend’s travels to send a letter! Note, too, her motto: I guess I’d translate it as ‘Jesus Lives’, but maybe ‘long live Jesus’ would be closer. Mother Marie Jacqueline found the double role of mother and mistress (superior, authority figure) a trial, even if Mother Jane Frances had every confidence in her. The excellent Archbishop is St Francis de Sales.

The church at TignesThe church at Tignes is not far from Annecy: Rupert Greville reflected on it during our Lent programme.

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19 August, Readings from Mary Webb XXV: The Door.

 

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I heard humanity, through all the years,
Wailing, and beating on a dark, vast door
With urgent hands and eyes blinded by tears.
Will none come forth to them for evermore?
Like children at their father’s door, who wait,
Crying ‘Let us in!’ on some bright birthday morn,
Quite sure of joy, they grow disconsolate,
Left in the cold unanswered and forlorn.
Forgetting even their toys in their alarms,
They only long to climb on father’s bed
And cry their terrors out in father’s arms.
And maybe, all the while, their father’s dead.

Here we see that Mary Webb felt the despair that drew the student artist we mentioned yesterday to take her own life. Mary Webb was very close to her father and devastated by his death. Of course there is more than that event here. One reason the Father’s door seems closed to some of God’s children may be that we Christians are not active enough in keeping it open and welcoming. 

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Time to remember the Doors of Mercy around the world: this one was in Krakow, with the light of the candles welcoming us in. Let us have a light in our smile. ready for anyone who comes our way. Our smile is the Father’s smile, a joyful but tremendous responsibility.
samaritans cards 2019

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June 17: A faithful Biblical dog, III.

 

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Tobias and the Angel, Gaspar de Crayar, public domain

We can see the Angel’s wings, but of course Tobias cannot! The dog is already enjoying fresh fish!

The dog followed Tobias and Sarah and the Angel Raphael over the mountains, through the desert, across the river and back to Tobias’s home town.

There were no phones to say they were on the way, so Tobias and company got home before any letter would have arrived. And his parents, Anna and Tobit, were worried, because he had been away so long.

As the travellers drew near home, the dog, who had been with them across the river, through the desert and over the mountains. And then back over the mountains, through the desert, and across the river, could see and smell where he was.

Now the dog ran in front and came home, ‘like one who had news to tell, wagging his tail for joy.’Anna knew that 10.cathedral.ines.small
the dog was faithful to Tobias cried for joy because if the dog was home, so must be Tobias. She
ran out and hugged Tobias. He went in and spread the gall of the fish on his father’s eyes just as Raphael told him to, and Tobit could see again, just in time to welcome Sarah into the family. This time the party lasted for a whole week!

Reflection

Early home tonight, and our barbecue party tomorrow. We won’t have to go across the river, through the desert and over the mountains. And then back over the mountains, through the desert, and across the river. We have slept in our own beds every night. But maybe we have opened our eyes and our ears to each other as we have walked through the Garden of England. Let’s pray that our feet will last another day, and get us to Canterbury, safe and sound.

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2 April. Before the Cross XVIII: Bathed in the Light of God

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This painting , Worship by Jun Jamosmos, speaks of an ideal of praise and worship: uninhibited, uncomplicated and undistracted. Each worshipper, bathed in the light of God, faces a blood spattered cross, reminding us of the “mercy seat” in the holiest part of the temple. Jesus, depicted here with a banner over his shoulder, is present among them as they worship. They recognise that they have been restored through the loving act of the Father, giving his son to die. The Spirit of God is present too, symbolised by the dove, and so the whole Trinity interacts with the people of God.

The picture is as much about individual response to God’s presence as it is about corporate worship; individual healing and the work of God among all his people, everywhere – his kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. Men and women, old and young, all meet with him in their different postures, and with their different needs.

The jars remind us of God’s abundance. Perhaps they allude to the story of Elisha and the widow, who, having a little olive oil in the house, was told to collect as many jars as she could find. God miraculously filled them as she poured out the little she had of her own.

Our small act of faith in choosing to worship – even sometimes with a “downcast soul” – is as nothing compared to the grace we receive as we meet with him. These worshippers are “standing under the tap” while God pours out the abundant blessing always meant for his people:

The Lord bless you and keep you,

The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you,

The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

Tomorrow’s posting, “The Presence” is a reflection on God’s dwelling among his people down the ages, and upon how, wherever he truly is might be regarded as a “temple”.

Rupert Greville.

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14 March. Before the Cross I: ‘Living and Dying’ by Blessed Pierre Claverie.

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This Lent we invite you to stand at the foot of the Cross of Jesus. During the last fortnight we will follow the Way of the Cross with Saint Peter, one station per day, ending on Easter Sunday. But before that we have pieces from regular and guest writers in a series called ‘Before the Cross’. Our contributors will put before us images that tell of the death of Jesus and their reflections on their chosen image, and how it helps explain what Cross of Christ means. Not that we can ever explain it.

We begin in Africa. This picture came from the Church in Algeria and shows one of the bishops and a priest present at the beatification of the 19 recent Martyrs of Algeria, with a banner showing the Martyrs’ faces. To the left, a processional cross which the clergy followed on the way to the ceremony. The figure of Christ is almost invisible at this magnitude, as the Church is almost invisible in Algerian society much of the time, but  its members are still bearing witness.

We should remember that many Imams who opposed the Islamist terrorists, as well as  thousands of ordinary Muslims, were killed in those years, including Bishop Claverie’s chauffeur and friend Mohamed. Their names are recorded together on the great doors of the Abbey of Saint Maurice in Switzerland.

The text below comes from the Missionaries of Africa’s Voix d’Afrique N°102.

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At the beginning of Lent in 1996, Bishop Pierre Claverie wrote an editorial for his diocesan newsletter entitled ‘Living and Dying.’

Along with tens of thousands of Algerians, we are facing a menace which sometimes, despite all our precautions, becomes very real. Many people ask themselves – and ask us too – why we insist on remaining so exposed. This is the radical question of our death and of the meaning of our life. God gave us life and we have no right to play Russian roulette with it, risking it for no purpose. Rather we have a duty to preserve it and to foster the conditions needed for it to be balanced, and healthy and fruitful.

We are preparing ourselves to join Christ on the way to his Passion and Cross. Could we not reproach Jesus for having deliberately challenged those who had the power to condemn him? Why did he not flee as he had done before when they wanted to kill him?

The Paschal Mystery obliges us to face the reality of Christ’s death and of our own, and to take stock of why we face it. Jesus did not seek out his death. But neither did he want to run away from it, since he judged that fidelity to his Father’s commands and to the coming of his Kingdom was more important than his fear of death. He chose to follow the logic of his life and mission to the end rather than betray what he was, what he had said, and what he had done, by denying or abandoning them in order to escape the final confrontation.

In every life there come moments when our choices reveal what is in us and what we are made of. There are usually the dark times. It is possible to live for a long time while avoiding this unveiling of the truth. However far we run, or how long we hide, we will have to face this moment of truth. Jesus teaches us to look this moment in the eye and not evade it. Whether it be gentle or violent, we must learn to live our death as the weight we carry through life.

+ Pierre Claverie

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November 27. What is Theology saying, XLII: the Ten Commandments – there are only two commandments

We have Gospel accounts of what Jesus gave. Everything is summed up by loving God with all your heart and mind, and your neighbour as God loves you. Christian morality consists of the love of God and the recognition of each other as children of the same Father. Augustine said teach the Ten Commandments, and then added – there are only two commandments! He evidently could not just teach the last piece of advice on its own, without first giving instruction on the Ten Commandments. So, is there any difference between Jewish and Christian moral teaching? Some have said the Jews follow the letter, Christians follow the spirit. Nothing could be more false; there is no difference of this kind between the two. Jesus did not teach a moral theology. He accepted the Jewish Law – he obeyed everything, including ritual laws, unless there was conflict with what the Father was asking of him in his vocation.

He tried to offer the insight by which living according to God’s law is simple – to be worried about regulations rather than whole-hearted service was far from the will of God. Jesus’ basic moral demands: repentance, faith and discipleship. There is no New Testament code of morality; Christian ethic is open to the future, to new demands in new situations.

We need codes of behaviour as support and guidelines, but we also need to be alert to the invitation of God hidden in everyday circumstances. No code can predict the possibility of Grace and salvation, the opportunities for loving response to anyone at any time. There is only one occasion when Jesus says there is a New Commandment – that we love one another as he loves us.

AMcC

Veronica Geurin lived and died for the truth, not to obey regulations.

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October 20, What is Theology Saying? XXXIII: Original Sin

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Welcome back to Friar Austin and his explorations of today’s thinking theologically. 

We have all heard of Original Sin – and there is abundant evidence that it is still with us. But what is it? Let us begin with recognising the fact that there is collective and social violence accompanying everyday living [starting with Cain and Abel]. It has been called humanity’s family secret [Sebastian Moore, OSB] – it is against this backdrop that one man shedding his blood becomes real.

Salvation through shedding blood has had every possible expression and meaning. To appreciate this better we need to be more aware not so much of how we get to God, as how God gets to us. Original Sin has things to tell us about ourselves in a way that highlights the wonder of salvation.

It is only natural to assume that what I desire starts and ends with me – I know what I want. But there is a prior question: do I make my desire or does my desiring make me? My desiring first comes through being aware of some other person desiring. This prompts me to follow, even imitate, until eventually and inevitably, imitation gives way to rivalry: I may like what you are wearing enough to do the same – but then seek to justify the choice as being mine only; it is in this way that I identify myself through being me against… [X has a big house I will get a bigger one] – And that is me.

Being passed-over causes resentment, and sets me against – what makes my desire mine is that it isn’t yours! The “me” is now in place through being opposed to the other [not me] as the fruit of my desire. By contrast, Jesus sees himself as only gift – given to me by Abba, to enjoy, and to know where I’m from and where I can go. This is the crux of the matter – not me through being opposed to any other… I’m me as only gift… Given by the totally other to me. And this is not just a personal reality it is social and cultural – waiting in the wings to be kick-started by any desire intense enough to do so. [Desire is what humankind has in place of animal instinct].

AMcC

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