Tag Archives: fear

24 November: The King VIII, What I Have Written.

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On the feast of Christ the Universal King, we are privileged to being you the final part of Sister Johanna’s reflections on the dialogue between Pontius Pilate, representing the Power of this world and Jesus with his spiritual power.

Pilate’s final act in Jesus’ regard is as enigmatic and confusing as anything that has ever occurred in the gospels. He affixes a notice to Jesus’ cross reading ‘Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.’ Why? Why can’t Pilate leave it alone now? Why doesn’t he retreat back into his palace after his sentencing of Jesus, away from all the turmoil? Why does Pilate watch Jesus’ final journey to Golgotha carrying his cross, and then turn up himself at Golgotha? The notice was nailed to the cross just before it was raised, or possibly afterwards – the text isn’t clear. Why was Pilate still there? Did he feel that he had unfinished business? Was he ambivalent about the sentence he had passed? Or did he simply want to have the last word, now that Jesus was nearly dead, and probably unable to say anything more?

In light of our reflections, it is not possible to interpret Pilate’s notice as a sincere gesture of sorrow, nor would it represent an awareness, coming too late, of Jesus’ true kingship in a religious sense. None of Pilate’s actions at any point in Jesus’ trial or crucifixion suggest that Pilate ever grasps the true meaning of Jesus’ words and person. Nor does it seem to me to be one last attempt by Pilate to make Jesus’ enemies see the incongruity between their vision of Jesus as a political usurper and the actual appearance of Jesus in all his brokenness on the cross, undergoing a criminal’s death. By now, Pilate is fed up with the Jewish chief priests (see John 19:21-22).

But I do think that the notice nailed to the cross represents a confession of sorts on Pilate’s part. Although Pilate sees that Jesus was no threat to his position as governor, Jesus was very much a threat to Pilate as a man and human being. Where Pilate was a shallow human being, Jesus in every word and action was a man of depth. Where Pilate would change his ideological position according to his assessment of its usefulness in gaining the right friends, Jesus was a man whose actions were always consistent with his public teaching and his deepest aspirations, his sense of identity and his mission. Where Pilate was confused, Jesus was clear-headed and calm. Where Pilate tried to win support from the crowd to bolster his position and reinforce his sense of self, Jesus was completely autonomous with reference to public opinion. Jesus was able to express who he was and what he stood for in brilliantly concise terms. Pilate had spent his entire life trying to play one side against the other, lying, flattering, bragging, unable to imagine his existence without the trappings of power. And yes, Pilate was power-hungry and insecure. He could never get enough power, never enough to feel whole and at peace. Jesus also had a kind of hunger. Pilate sensed it. But Jesus was not hungry for power. He was hungry for souls, he hungered to awaken our hunger for him. Pilate was out for all he could get. Jesus was there to give us everything he had, his very life, for our salvation. He longed for us to turn to him, but he never forced it.

I believe that some of this dawned on Pilate as Jesus was led away to be crucified. The sniffer-dog in Pilate began to find a kind of power in Jesus that Pilate had not imagined even existed. He realised that Jesus, because of the integrity of his being, did not have power as other men have it – because other men’s power was the kind of power that could be lost. Jesus would never lose his power because he was power. And he was power because he was truth. There was no disorder in Jesus, no ‘parts’ of Jesus that did not spontaneously cleave to and express truth. This was a human power that was much greater than any power Pilate himself had ever encountered in anyone, or would ever be able to possess himself, and he knew it.

In the end, Pilate was thoroughly frightened by this, but he recognized Jesus’ power for what it was, and knew that Jesus’ force in the world would transcend every power structure that had ever existed or ever would exist. Pilate found that this Jesus, this Nazarene, was indeed a king. He was king of the Jews, and king of much more. He was, in every sense, a threat to Pilate’s person and personality. Jesus was king as Pilate would never be. As no man would ever be. Pilate is clear now. Jesus must be crushed. This Nazarene, this king of the Jews, must die.

 

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November 22: The King VI, Back to Pilate.

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Pilate is trying to finish with this troubling case. But he cannot shake it; it goes on and on. At the suggestion of releasing Jesus, the crowd erupts into violent, near-riot behaviour. They begin to scream for Jesus’ death. It becomes clear to Pilate that there is no ‘sane majority’, and no one wants this Jesus to be released. They want Barabbas, the thief and murderer, to be set free, not Jesus. Yet it is also Pilate’s opinion that Jesus is nothing more than a preacher, with no political aspirations at all. What is going on? Pilate is a superstitious man and he is beginning to feel odd (see John 19:8). What gods are frowning here, skewing this situation? His scalp is tingling with a weird anxiety that makes his blood run cold. He feels caught up in something uncanny, even preternatural.

Pilate tries to satisfy the crowd’s blood-lust by having Jesus taken to be scourged. Afterwards, the soldiers torture him psychologically and physically by mockery, and by making thorn branches into a crown and forcing it down on his head; they put a purple robe on him and make exaggerated bows before him, saying ‘Hail King of the Jews,’ He is slapped in the face. But it is still not enough for the crazed crowd. Pilate does not particularly like Jesus, but even less does he like the way things are going. He knows that whatever happens, the situation has become big enough to be talked about and remembered afterwards. He is anxious about how this will affect his reputation. Pilate tries again. He says to the crowd, ‘Look, I am going to bring him out to you to let you see that I find no case against him.’ And Jesus is brought out in his now physically weakened and bloodied condition, dressed in the purple robe and wearing the thorn-crown. Jesus says nothing. Pilate says, ‘Here is the man.’ Instead of being moved by Jesus’ brokenness and his manifest harmlessness, the crowd’s thirst for Jesus’ death intensifies, and their shouts for his execution increase in volume and violence.

Now Pilate’s pulse really begins to race. The situation continues to feel eerie to him. His fears increase, as the text says (19:8). He calls Jesus to him again in private and probably peers at him intensely. Anyone else in Jesus’ position would have one objective only: to save his own skin. But Jesus is astonishingly serene. What is this man about, Pilate wants to know? Jesus waits. Pilate obscurely detects the existence of a conflict on a level he is not accustomed to dealing with. He has rarely, if ever, taken seriously matters pertaining to the spirit world and is completely lost now.

Where do you come from?’ Pilate finally asks. His question doesn’t really make sense. He knew that Jesus was from Nazareth. But Pilate has begun to realise that Jesus is entirely different from the man he thought Jesus was. Pilate is thrashing about in the sea of his mind, grasping at anything that seems to float, struggling with waves of deep perplexity and dread.

SJC

 

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November 21: The King V: Over to Jesus.

 

Readers who are picking up these posts for the first time may wish to scroll back to Sunday 17th to catch up. We are looking at the dialogue between Jesus and Pontius Pilate in John 18:1-19:22. Today we are reflecting on John 18:33-38.

If Pilate pleases the crowd he may gain their support, and that could be useful in the future, possibly. This is always in the back of Pilate’s mind. Jesus has just told Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world, and Pilate has retorted, ‘So then! You are a king’? In answer, Jesus volleys the question right back to him: ‘It is you who say that I am a king,’ Or, the words of Jesus could be fairly rephrased as, “It is you who are so determined to misunderstand my words about kingship.” Jesus’ statement exposes Pilate’s power-obsession.

Pilate can’t quite believe Jesus when he implies that worldly kingship and power are not what define him. Again, the sniffer dog is alert in Pilate. If that is true, there must be some other power that Jesus has that has caused this furore. What would that be? Jesus answers this implied question. He now solemnly gives the reason for his very existence, and explains the nature of his power and kingship: ‘I was born for this,’ Jesus says. ‘I came into the world for this, to bear witness to the truth, and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.

Truth is indeed powerful, but Pilate has never seen enough of it at work in a human being to realise just how powerful. We, the readers of the text, can see that Truth has frightened the religious authorities enough to turn them into murderers. But this is not something of which Pilate has any real understanding – or not yet. On the contrary, Pilate bursts out, ‘Truth?? What is that?’ Or, he might just as well have said, What use is that? Who really cares about truth? Almost no one! Certainly not this group of Jews, for whom Jesus seems to be challenging a religion that they think has been good enough for a very long time. But at least Pilate realises now that Jesus will never be a rival to any political power on those grounds. Yes, Pilate is smug now, thinking that he has at last sussed it. He is incredulous that such a fuss is being made over a man who is little more, in his estimation, than a harassed philosopher. This man Jesus does not deserve the death sentence.

Pilate is exasperated as he goes out to the dais and makes his pronouncement to the crowd, ‘I find no case against him.’ The accusations against Jesus seem unfounded to Pilate, and the mob-violence bizarre. Few authorities in charge of keeping order in their district would feel indifferent about such a situation. Nor is Pilate indifferent, but neither is he a moralist. He merely wants to regain control. Pilate probably wonders: does all this strange hate come from only a small but vocal minority? A few pushy crackpots? What about the rest of the people? So Pilate offers the saner majority (if such majority exists) a chance to swing this situation. Pilate says to the crowd, ‘According to a custom of yours, I should release one prisoner at the Passover; shall I release this king of the Jews?’

It would be easy to idealise Pilate here for this seeming reluctance to sentence Jesus, but let’s consider: does Pilate care about Jesus for any religious reasons? No. He has already made that clear. He is a political animal. He just wants to end this crazy religious feud and restore order. He sees that Jesus is a nobody: not rich, not influential, not ambitious; Jesus knows none of the right people. His only claim is that he knows truth and who cares about that? In Pilate’s mind, Jesus is rather a freak, but no more than that. The sniffer dog in Pilate has temporarily gone to lie down. But he will soon be alert again.

 

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10 November: Remembrance 2019

 

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This is a view of Portsmouth from the sea. The monument on the left is the Naval Memorial, and this still is Navy town, though there are fewer ships and fewer sailors than in 1944, when the city was an important departure point for the D-Day Normandy Landings.

Back in June this year some the old men who took part in that action to liberate France and Europe returned with the British Legion, as well as their allied counterparts. The Legion’s Head of Remembrance, Nicholas Rowlands had been preparing the men for this last big commemoration in Normandy, and he told the i newspaper*:

A lot of their memories are, naturally, quite sad. But the ones that  they tend to connect with the most are the funny memories. You can see them go back to 1944 and they’re 19 years old again,  it’s lovely.

The tall Naval Memorial cannot be ignored; the deaths of soldiers, sailors and airmen, nurses and ambulance drivers must not be ignored, nor the suffering in the occupied countries, the concentration camps, and the continuing conflicts around the world today.

But the way the funny memories light up the veterans says something about the human spirit. We can find absurdity frightening, or we can look on it as something to be laughed at, to be smiled over in retrospect. Absurdity is a hint that there is peace of mind to be had somewhere. We can connect with that peace by acknowledging our sinfulness and frailties and by laughing absurdity and fear out of court.

* Rob Hastings, I-newspaper 4.6.19 p20

Portsmouth, an important departure point for the landings and for today’s peace time ferries.

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8 November: Praying with Pope Francis: Dialogue and Reconciliation

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Pope Francis’s Missionary Intention this month is:

Let us pray that a spirit of dialogue, encounter, and reconciliation may emerge in the Middle East, where diverse religious communities share their lives together.

What can I do with these stones? I could throw them at anyone who got too close to me or my possessions or my part of the beach.

I could use them to make a pathway in my garden, or across country for people to walk over. I could use them as filler in a drystone or concrete wall, providing shelter for people or beasts.

I could go down to the tideline and start a game of ducks and drakes, skimming them across the surface of the sea, splashing over the waves. People would hardly need an invitation to join in, the game is infectious. Like football (soccer) on a smaller scale. Every nation wants to be involved in the football World Cup even if they can barely hope to win one game.

Playing games, playing music, sharing meals together can help bring about a spirit of dialogue, encounter and reconciliation as much as high level talks between politicians who barely trust one another.

But even sport can be tainted by spectators’ hatred and racist abuse, when they could be admiring the beauty of the players’ skills, sharing the thrills of the game.

Is there room for God’s Spirit somewhere in there?

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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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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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12 May. What is Theology Saying? XLIX: Church and World are not mutually exclusive.

 

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With our Lenten season we have set aside our long-running series from Traherne, the Little Flowers of Francis, and from Brother Austin. Let’s remedy that last one! There’s a challenge at the end: ‘I know that I can cope with the past because I am still here! So why risk the unknown?’

austinWe cannot contrast Church and World. They are not mutually exclusive. The Church is supposed to be the community that makes God’s promises already present. When we celebrate the sacraments this is a pledge to what we have committed ourselves as community. There is no work blueprint, we are called to be creative through the possibilities everyday life presents. The Church cannot hand-out a programme to us telling us exactly what to do, how to do it and where. The Bible has no such blueprint. We learn more about the future when we respond to what we already know and are presenting solutions accordingly.

The early Church, seen through Paul’s writing, took slavery for granted as a feature of society – while insisting that the slave-owner respect their human dignity. Centuries later we began to realise that we must abolish slavery itself, because slavery as such is opposed to human dignity. We are also coming to realise that what we often call works of charity can be more crushing than poverty itself, that we can eliminate poverty simply by providing jobs and incomes for all. In the same way war was seen as inevitable, and not only killing but torture was therefore justified. With the formation of the UN we are starting to glimpse that war is not inevitable – Paul VI said to the UN with powerful conviction no more war, war never again.

The truth is that the “signs of the times” are those offering the church ever new opportunities to go out and meet others. Individuals may well set out believing they are going to teach, but they will end up learning, as did Paul. The church is given endless opportunities to rediscover itself in ever new light, but they do not happen every day. At certain moments of privilege, the Spirit summons the church to risk: “During the night a vision came to Paul: a Macedonian stood there appealing to him: Cross over to Macedonia and help us”. Acts.16.9.

The “signs of the times” are the external evidence of this call to Discipleship of Christ. Reasoned observation and rational planning have a place. Reason is able to perceive certain things that suggest there are changes requiring further and new steps to be taken. Different moments of time have their own signs. Not everyone sees them. Jesus criticised the Pharisees because their wisdom in this regard was deficient: “It is a wicked and Godless generation that asks for a sign; and the only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah” – Mt.12.39. There are insensitive people in every age, unable [unwilling] to see the call for something new. To them mission is no more than simply repeating what has already been achieved. This is the fear principle, prompted by the fact that I know that I can cope with the past because I am still here! So why risk the unknown?

Reading  the Word and the World, Zakopane, Poland.

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9 May: Jean Vanier: a welcome for all.

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As our friend and contributor Rupert Greville says, ‘there’ll be a great deal of reflection to read over the coming days on Jean Vanier’s life and work.’ Here is a short memory from Laurent de Cherisey, founder of the Fondation Simon de Cyrene, which develops and animates shared homes on a human scale. These welcome abled bodied people and those who have become disabled during the course of their lives. He shared a platform as a speaker with Jean and they co-wrote a book,  “Tous intouchables ?” (All of them Untouchable?) with Philippe Pozzo di Borgo.

He challenged us to live fraternally, as brother and sister with the most fragile, to go beyond our private fears and build a world that welcomes everyone. He was one of those prophets who bear witness to a possible way forward for humanity, at a time when it shows itself to be extremely disturbed and anxious about living with one’s neighbour.

On the contrary, the experience of Jean Vanier and L’Arche demonstrates that when we pull down the ‘walls of fear’, as he called them, we can become co-creators of that common home where there is a fulfilling place for each one of us. 

From La Croix Newspaper

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12 April: Stations for Peter VI, Jesus falls again.

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The Transfiguration – and down to earth.

Scripture references: The Transfiguration: Mark 9:1-8; The Angel leading Peter out of gaol: Acts 12:1-12; Persecution: Mark 13: 14-23; Acts 4:1-31; 1Peter 3:13-17.

Peter is in prison in Rome, but supported by the local Church. He remembers, and ponders.

That day on the mountain when we saw him with Moses and Elijah – I was talking at random, I didn’t know what was happening,

We fell down in fear. We were in God’s presence.

No shining clothes now, just mud, blood, sweat.

He has come down again, down to earth.

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And here am I, underground, waiting for the guards. The sisters and brothers in Rome help me to remember why.

This time there will be no angel to lead me away from death, but Jesus will be there, waiting for me.

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

Let us pray for people who are disillusioned, who no longer feel that first rapture of love or commitment. May they receive courage and clear sight, and a helping hand to get up and move on.

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

Chichester Cathedral, MMB

 

 

 

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