Tag Archives: fear

21 March. Before the Cross VIII: an old postcard.

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To my eyes there is little to commend the art of this postcard which is over a century old, but while it may not be good art it screams out in pain. Each person in the ugly scene is tortured: Christ himself, the blood still wet on his body; the other crucified men, Jesus’ mother Mary and the beloved John, gallantly supporting her, and the prostrate Mary Magdalene.

Why has this card been preserved over all these years?

It was among the possessions of Doris, my wife’s grandmother, when she died. It had been bought in Poperinge, one of the few Belgian towns not occupied by the German army during the Great War, and sent to  Doris in Manchester. The second postcard shows a street in Poperinge with ‘the shop where I procured this card’ marked with an X. (The censor had blacked out the word Poperinge on the front of the card, but the fading ink has rendered it legible.)

poperinge.2

Who was it that procured these cards? The boyfriend whom Doris was never to marry because he was killed in battle. There are a few of his Valentines and greetings cards preserved with them.

poperinge.3

The crucifixion card was printed in Munich, a German city, yet he could set that fact aside and still see something in the picture that spoke to his situation, surrounded by death, knowing his own death could strike at any moment. He might well have heard the echo of these Good Friday words as he looked at the card and sent it to Doris.

He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

Isaiah 53:2-5

Poperinge was well known for ‘Toc H’ or Talbot House, a club founded for troops on leave by the Anglican chaplain, Rev’d Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton. It can still be visited to this day; a century ago it was a lifeline for battle weary men.

MMB

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

beatification

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.

door st Maurice

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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28 January: you are my happiness; Brownings III.

Elizabeth_Barrett_Browning

Elizabeth Barrett is writing to her dearest, Robert Browning, telling him something she had been unable to put into spoken words.

“Dearest, you know how to say what makes me happiest, you who never think, you say, of making me happy! For my part I do not think of it either; I simply understand that you are my happiness, and that therefore you could not make another happiness for me, such as would be worth having—not even you! Why, how could you?

That was in my mind to speak yesterday, but I could not speak it—to write it, is easier. Talking of happiness—shall I tell you? Promise not to be angry and I will tell you. I have thought sometimes that, if I considered myself wholly, I should choose to die this winter—now—before I had disappointed you in anything. But because you are better and dearer and more to be considered than I, I do not choose it.

I cannot choose to give you any pain, even on the chance of its being a less pain, a less evil, than what may follow perhaps (who can say?), if I should prove the burden of your life. For if you make me happy with some words, you frighten me with others—and seriously—too seriously, when the moment for smiling at them is past—I am frightened, I tremble! When you come to know me as well as I know myself, what can save me, do you think, from disappointing and displeasing you? I ask the question, and find no answer.”

On the firm basis that the good things of this world point us towards the eternal, let us take to heart some of what EBB says here. I daresay something else will strike you, dear reader, but I will reflect on: if you make me happy with some words, you frighten me with others—and seriously—I am frightened, I tremble!

Either Elizabeth took Robert’s promises and proposals seriously, and trembled, or smiled and dismissed them. Either I take God’s promises and proposals seriously or …

From “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by Robert Browning, available on Kindle and on line.
Image free of copyright via Wikipedia

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25 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Day 8: The Lord is my light and my salvation

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The Lord is my light and my salvation (Psalm 27:1)

  • Psalm 27:1-4

  • John 8:12-20

Starting point

Over the past eight days the churches of Indonesia have helped us consider difficult situations facing the world. Many of these have raised questions of justice. The Church has been complicit in many instances of injustice and, through that complicity, we have damaged our unity and diminished the effectiveness of our witness to the world. Christians gather for common prayer, professing common faith and to listen for God’s voice. Although the many injustices wound us, we do not lose hope, but are called to action. The Lord is our light and salvation, the stronghold of our lives. We do not fear.

Reflection

Hope

Forgive us how we’ve devalued you:

‘We live in hope’ and yet don’t hope to live,

‘Hope so’, when we have none in our hearts.

Show us who you really are:

disturb the deathly ease of our despair

and give us the courage to embrace your pain:

impudent in the face of hate,

unrelenting under oppression,

daring to resist the entropy of division.

Goad us to take up that felon’s cross

whose agony

laid empty the grave.

Prayer

God our hope,

we praise you for your loving kindness.

Uphold us when we are about to give up,

show us your light when all around seems dark.

Transform our lives that we may bring hope to others.

Help us to live united in our diversity as a witness to your communion,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

one God now and forever. Amen.

Questions

  • How has Jesus empowered you to witness to what is right?

  • Where in the life of your church or group of churches do you most need the gift of hope?

  • What is your best hope for your community?

Go and Do

(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)

Generate hope by sharing your actions and prayers for justice on the CTBI prayer wall using the #wpcuwall hashtag on Twitter and visit http://www.weekofprayer.org to see the actions others have taken.

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16 January 2019: ‘January’.

snowgapcropped

Sure as new snow,
below,
believe green leaves hide.

Sure as grey skies
we rise
when first they are spied.

Sharp tips awake:
hearts break –
a pain strange and wide,

as hard earth’s pierced
by fierce
green growth from inside.

As sure as ice
new life’s
leaf shoves death aside.

Sure as chill fear
God’s near:
deep down death’s defied.

SJC

‘Deep down death’s defied.’ Thank you Sister Johanna!

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11 November: Poppies for remembering

poppy.bridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

MMB

 

 

 

 

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October 18. Truth telling XII: Dying to Tell the Story.

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It was decades since I had been in Dublin, and even last month I was only passing through, but as my friend led me through Dublin Castle Gardens I noticed this bust and went back to look. Veronica Guerin should not be forgotten.

A career in accountancy gave Veronica Guerin the forensic skills to investigate how Irish drug barons operated, including their money laundering schemes.

Once their crimes were brought into the open by her well researched articles, the gangs set out to frighten her with threats of violence against her and her son. They even had her shot in the leg, but she continued her investigations.

On 26 June 1996 she was shot dead at a red traffic light by two men on a motor cycle. She left a husband and young son. She had prepared a paper entitled ‘Dying to Tell the Story: Journalists at Risk’ to be delivered at a conference in London two days later.

A martyr for the truth, and by no means the last.

Let us pray for all who risk their lives for the truth; the truth that will set us free. And pray for the gift to be not afraid when faced with moments of truth in our own lives.

MMB

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October 2: What Would You Do? The Beggar, I.

begging-bowl-black-and-white-with-copyright

Our good friend Christina Chase has allowed us to use this story from her own blog, ‘Divine Incarnate.’ It’s always worth reading her reflections; the second half of this will appear tomorrow. And thanks to her father Dan for the picture, which shows Christina’s hands cradling a family heirloom – a tin cup used by her grandfather in logging camps. Thank you for a glimpse into your family’s eternity!

It happened on a chilly September day, a simple moment that’s never left me. I was a young adult with my parents, following my eldest French-Canadian cousin in a tour of old Montréal. I remember the colourful splashes of garden amidst stone buildings, the glassed-in eatery where we had hot chocolate and poutine, and, indelibly, the old man begging outside of Notre Dame Basilica.

When I saw him, I was being pushed in my wheelchair by my father, because the sloping, cobblestone roads had tired me too much to power it myself. The imposing structure of the Basilica came into view from the sidewalk, soaring above us, and there, ahead of us, resting against the thick outer wall, was a man with grizzled gray hair, wearing faded clothes, and holding out a little cup in his hand.

Having lived a fairly sheltered life, I had never seen an actual beggar in person. Homeless people I had seen with their shopping carts downtown, but they were not beggars because they didn’t ask for anything. This man, however, this old bearded man with beautiful, wide-open eyes was holding out a little begging bowl, silently requesting someone, anyone, to help him.

What I Did

My cousin, an inhabitant of Montréal, was walking ahead of us and obviously saw the beggar, but didn’t stop walking and passed right in front of him. My parents followed suit, and so, I did too, literally pushed along with them. Perhaps they were thinking that any money given to the man could be used to buy alcohol or drugs and they didn’t want to take part in enabling his habit, but this thought didn’t occur to me.

In my youthful idealism, the sight of the beggar was a call to action. My immediate impulse was to put something into the old man’s cup, to do something for him, to at least give him my coin-sized care. In order to act on this, however, I would’ve had to stand out from my little group of people: asking my father to stop pushing my wheelchair and to take some money out of my bag to put in the little begging bowl. Easy enough, but thinking about the reactions of my group, I intimidated myself.

Of course I knew that my parents and cousin would think warmly of me if I asked to put money in the beggar’s cup. But that’s precisely what I didn’t want. I felt like a little girl, like any little child who gleefully wants to put money in every donation bucket that she sees. I still looked like a child, and often still felt like a child because I had to be cared for by my parents, but I was supposed to be an adult and I wanted to walk, so to speak, in the company of adults, not sticking out as the child among them.

Giving in to my pride and cowardice, I chose to go along with the crowd—a rather childish thing to do.

As I passed directly in front of the beggar and looked into his sky-blue eyes, it was as if we were both suspended in a chasm of time where I felt, where I knew, that I was about to pass by an irretrievable moment, an irreplaceable something. He did not look down at me, his gaze remaining straight and above me, and perhaps this was what made me look up to him so completely, experiencing the lowness of my place, as though I were down on my knees, dejected there on the pavement.

Broken away from that moment, I squirmed and fought myself to ask to turn back. But I didn’t. I let my childlike desire to help go unspoken, and as the beggar receded further and further into the background, I didn’t experience remorse so much as petulance. Like a petulant child, I thought only about my inabilities, placing fault on the others beside me while really angry with myself.

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10 September. Little Flowers of Saint Francis: XXXIX. The Wolf, 3.

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Saint Francis and the wolf By Stefano di Giovanni Sassetta 

Saint Francis said: “Give ear, my brothers: brother wolf, who standeth here before ye, hath promised me and plighted troth to make his peace with you, and to offend no more in any thing; and do ye promise him to give him every day whate’er he needs: and I am made his surety unto you that he will keep this pact of peace right steadfastly.”

Then promised all the folk with one accord to give him food abidingly. Then quoth Saint Francis to the wolf before them all: “ And thou, brother wolf, dost thou make promise to keep firm this pact of peace, that thou ofFend not man nor beast nor any creature?” And the wolf knelt him down and bowed his head : and with gentle movements of body, tail, and eyes, gave sign as best he could that he would keep their pact entire.

Quoth Saint Francis: “Brother wolf, I wish that as thou hast pledged me thy faith to this promise without the gate, even so shouldest thou pledge me thy faith to thy promise before all the people, and that thou play me not false for my promise, and the surety that I have given for thee.” Then the wolf lifting up his right paw, laid it in the hand of Saint Francis.

Therewith, this act, and the others set forth above, wrought such great joy and marvel in all the people, both through devotion to the saint, and through the newness of the miracle, and through the peace with the wolf, that all began to lift up their voices unto heaven praising and blessing God, that had sent Saint Francis unto them, who by his merits had set them free from the jaws of the cruel beast. And thereafter this same wolf lived two years in Agobio; and went like a tame beast in and out the houses, from door to door, without doing hurt to any or any doing hurt to him, and was courteously nourished by the people; and as he passed thuswise through the country and the houses, never did any dog bark behind him.

At length, after a two years’ space, brother wolf died of old age: whereat the townsfolk sorely
grieved, sit
h marking him pass so gently through the city, they minded them the better of the
virtue and the sanctity of Saint Francis.

basil-dog

 

When Father Simon Denton OFMCap had a Jubilee one year, Maurice’s brother Christopher made a cake with the wolf of Gubbio in icing. Basil, the family dog, modelled for the wolf. Much better looking than a mangy old wolf. And never a terrorist!

 

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9 September. Little Flowers of Saint Francis: XXXVIII: The Wolf, 2.

287px-Sassetta,_san_francesco_e_il_lupo

Saint Francis and the wolf By Stefano di Giovanni Sassetta 

Spake Saint Francis again: “Brother wolf, sith it pleaseth thee to make and hold this peace, I promise thee that I will see to it that the folk of this place give thee food alway so long as thou shalt live, so that thou suffer not hunger any more; for that I wot well that through hunger hast thou wrought all this ill. But sith I win for thee this grace, I will, brother wolf, that thou promise me to do none hurt to any more, be he man or beast; dost promise me this?”

And the wolf gave clear token by the bowing of his head that he promised.

Then quoth Saint Francis: “Brother wolf, I will that thou plight me troth for this promise, that I may trust thee full well.” And Saint Francis stretching forth his hand to take pledge of his troth, the wolf lifted up his right paw before him and laid it gently on the hand of Saint Francis, giving thereby such sign of good faith as he was able.

Then quoth Saint Francis : “Brother wolf, I bid thee in the name of Jesu Christ come now with me, nothing doubting, and let us go stablish this peace in God’s name.” And the wolf obedient set forth with him, in fashion as a gentle lamb; whereat the townsfolk made mighty marvel, beholding.

And straightway the bruit of it was spread through all the city, so that all the people, menfolk and womenfolk, great and small, young and old, gat them to the market place for to see the wolf with Saint Francis. And the people being gathered all together, Saint Francis rose up to preach, avizing them among other matters how for their sins God suffered such things to be, and pestilences also: and how far more parlous is the flame of hell, the which must vex the damned eternally, than is the fury of the wolf that can but slay the body; how much then should men fear the jaws of hell, when such a multitude stands sore adread of the jaws of one so small a beast? Then turn ye, beloved, unto God, and work out a fit repentance for your sins; and God will set you free from the wolf in this present time, and in time to come from out the fires of hell.”

And done the preaching, Saint Francis, said: “Give ear, my brothers: brother wolf, who standeth here before ye, hath promised me and plighted troth to make his peace with you, and to ofFend no more in any thing; and do ye promise him to give him every day whate’er he needs: and I am made his surety unto you that he will keep this pact of peace right steadfastly.”

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