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2 November, All Souls: Anyone who is not against us is for us, Part II.

Rose Lane, winter’s morning, Rev Jo Richards.

Here is the second instalment of Sister Johanna’s reflections on who is with Jesus – according to His infallible opinion.

We are looking at the saying of Jesus, Anyone who is not against us is for us, from Mark 9:40. Yesterday we began our considerations, and if you go back to that post, you will be in a better position to understand today’s reflection. This beautiful saying is typical of the generosity with which Jesus interprets everyone’s actions. It shows that he is emphatically not interested in condemning us; on the contrary, he is ever ready to place the best interpretation on our actions that can be found. Think about it. There are many, many ways of being “not against” Jesus. Perhaps at the top of the list you have those who are wildly enthusiastic, fully committed, paragons of dedication, saints. And that is well and good.

But there are others also who are much less stellar, who fit into this category of being not against Jesus. How about those who are, say, open to him but uncertain, who need more time; they’re “not against” him. To these, Jesus seems to say, ‘You’re in.’ What about the mildly interested? What about those who say, ‘I wonder what’s in it for me?’ Or how about those who are too busy and preoccupied but are sincerely intending to get around to Jesus one day? Or those who are penniless and find that they can get a free meal and kind companionship once a week from the Christians who volunteer at St. Jude’s Centre? Or how about those who find that religion makes them feel good but they haven’t quite figured out why? Such a list could go on and on – because, I realise now that most Christians are ordinary people whose spiritual life is a work in progress; they are “not against” Jesus, but they have their agenda, and their relationship to Jesus is incomplete and probably rather immature.

I admit it: I have my own agenda. But, although I admit this, the details and deep roots of my selfishness go beyond what I have full access to in my conscious mind. Looking back at my life, I see that the Holy Spirit has gradually been enlightening me, helping me to know myself and showing me more of the unconscious self-interest that drives my actions and infects my discipleship.

So this remark of Jesus, “Whoever is not against us is for us,” almost a throw-away line and so easy to miss, is actually one that can give great encouragement to an imperfect disciple of Jesus. Jesus sees my imperfections, but he also sees that I am not against him. Indeed, he already counts me as being among those who are for him. He has no intention of sending me away, and would reprimand anyone who tries. This, when I ponder it, gives me peace and makes me grateful for Jesus’ generous gaze of love and acceptance.

SJC

*Lectio divina is a latin term referring to the slow and prayerful reading of Holy Scripture.

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7 January: Quest

Wide is the darkness, dark is the night,
Only a star
Shining so silverly, flingeth its light
Ever so far;
Yet by its lure are led
Men who have visioned
God’s door unlatcheted
And held ajar.

‘Restless our souls must be,’ Augustine said,
Seeking for Thee,
‘Lord, till they rest in Thee,’ uncomforted,
Athirst for Thee;
For Thou hast made us so,
And souls must questing go,
Thralled by the golden flow,
Entrancedly.

Lord, let not silver spell of that blest star
Be dimmed for me.
Constant my questing keep, faring so far,
Seeking for Thee;
Nor let pride find a flaw,
Seeing what wise men saw,
Babe in poor stable straw –
Epiphany.

Father Andrew SDC

There are many versions of Burne-Jones’s Adoration of the Magi; this one used to draw me like a magnet as a child growing up in Birmingham. The figures are more than life-size! Just like the message of the Gospel, the star is not obvious to everyone: the custodian angel directs its light so that we are drawn in to see what wise men saw; once seen, we must follow, questing, keeping the star in view, enthralled.

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3 December: follow that star!

Hale-Bopp from NASA

Yesterday was about hearing, today we are seeing hopefully. Or should I say seeing, hopefully. I’m not talking about taking note of the raindrops and kittens that we see, but about the sense of sight.

I’ve been blessed lately with two cataract operations, and sight is suddenly not to be taken for granted. Suddenly, all is Technicolor, or as my friend Winfried would have argued, Agfacolor. He favoured the German films and prints; we disagreed about the red end of the spectrum.

Seeing hopefully: this new lease of life for my eyes inspires hope. Not quite Mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord, but a promise that if human co-operation with creation through science can enlighten my little world, there may be better things to come.

Winfried told me that the German for a cataract in the eye translates as grey star; not a star you would want to follow.

So, I told Fr Tom Herbst (TJH in Agnellus’ Mirror) as well, soon after the first op when one eye was still under the grey star.  ‘I imagine’, he said, ‘you can well relate to the ecstasy felt by the blind folks healed by Jesus!!!’

I didn’t need him to point that out, but I was glad he did. I offered this progress report: ‘Till the second eye is done it’s a mixture of ecstasy and ‘I see trees walking’. (Mark 8:24) I hope by next week the eyes will be co-ordinating freely and I’ll recognise more people!’

Tom replied, ‘Good luck with the op. As marvellous as it might be to see trees walking (other than Ents, of course, which are not technically trees), it seems recognition might be the better choice!’

Pray that we may recognise the star we are called to follow this Advent and Christmas. It may all be a little different this year!

MMB, TJH, WOH.

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29 July, St Francis and the Slugs – a modern legend III: sent.

The saint rose to go on his way but those slugs would not leave him and began to follow the holy man wherever he went. On that same day, Saint Francis had been invited to dine at the house of the bishop. When he arrived there, a large number of slugs followed him into the house. The bishop, that holy pastor, was greatly astonished at this new wonder of nature and looked all about him for a shovel …until the saint asked: “My lord bishop, have you met my sisters?”

After they had been following him for two days, Saint Francis dismissed the slugs with a blessing, saying:

“Go now in peace, my sister slugs. Although you are lowly and despised among creatures, unwelcome in human society, there will always be a place for you in the Lord’s creation.”

At these words, the creatures turned and went on their way.

Not long after this, several slugs became renowned for their holiness. People came to consider the signs of their presence as a blessing and began to tread more carefully upon the earth.

FMSL

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23 April: Looking After Jesus

stmaurice.pilgrims

Sister Johanna finds treasure in Luke’s Gospel when she spots her own name and investigates further.

With Jesus went Mary, surnamed the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their own resources.                                                                                                                                      Luke 8: 2-3

This short passage from the Gospel of Luke is one that I have not really thought much about, until now. Today I was taken by the reference to Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and wondered why Chuza was mentioned, and what light this might shed on the text. After a bit or research, I discovered that this is the only reference to Chuza in the New Testament, and nothing is known about him except what is said here in this passage. But, surely, at the time Luke’s gospel was written, his name must have meant something. No one, not even St. Luke, name-drops without wanting to impress. And if I think about it, I can see what is probably being implied here.

Herod was not a man to be trusted. He was no friend of Jesus, and the term, ‘that fox’, was used by Jesus of Herod (Lk 13:32) as a put-down, and a bold one, for Herod was an important man and held power over Jesus – or at least, he held a certain kind of worldly power over him. He could, and eventually did, collude with the powers that crucified Jesus.

And Chuza was ‘that fox’s’ steward. As steward, Chuza was also rather important. Scripture scholars say that the exact nature of a steward’s job is no longer known, but it is thought that Chuza was probably a kind of chief administrator of Herod’s entire establishment, and not a mere domestic manager. He was in some way the man who made all the practical decisions at the palace and was responsible for its smooth running. The fact that Chuza’s name is dropped into this text would suggest that his name was well known by Luke’s audience. Eyebrows might rise on hearing that Joanna, wife of the famous Chuza, was known to be both a disciple of Jesus and one of his benefactors.

The text also suggests that Joanna was taking a risk, both on her own behalf and that of her husband, in publicly following this upstart Jesus – ever a controversial figure to those without faith, who had not yet learned to love and revere him. Herod would not approve. But, neither Joanna nor Chuza seem to be bothered by that. Jesus is worth the risk. What eventually happened to Chuza? The text doesn’t say. But we have established that his relative fame would not have been an advantage for Joanna. She carries on anyway, despite the risk.

What else do we know about Joanna? Joanna had been healed by Jesus. She is now dedicated to caring for Jesus and is one of those who provide for him and his companions. She gladly associates with Mary Magdalene, who had been freed from seven devils. Reputations linger, and surely Mary Magdalene was still regarded by many as a highly dubious character. Joanna doesn’t care about that either. Mary Magdalene had been healed, and so had Joanna. They were companions. Joanna was for Jesus and no one would stop her. Caring for Jesus was much more important than playing it safe. Caring for Jesus more important than caring for herself. She and the other women are loyal to Jesus and courageous.

What does Jesus think of their dedication? Does he thank them? Oh, yes. St. Luke’s gospel tells us later that Joanna and the other women received a reward from Jesus. In fact, we see that Jesus expresses his gratitude in the most profound way possible. After Jesus’ crucifixion, Joanna appears again; with her are Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James. They are the first visitors to the tomb of Jesus. They go there intending to carry out the ritual anointing the body. What actually happens to them there is that they become the privileged three who converse with angels. They – these women who took risks for Jesus, who were loyal to him, who provided for his material needs – they are the first recipients of the astounding news that Jesus was alive, risen from the dead. They are the first to know, the first ones to experience the joy of knowing. And not only that, St Luke tells us that they are the first ones who actually remembered Jesus’ own words about his resurrection which he spoke when he was alive. They are the first to understand those words.

And this tells us something else about Joanna and the other women: they were attuned to Jesus’ teaching all along. This understanding they have after his death will be the carry-over from their profound grasp of his teaching before his death. They are, therefore, well chosen to be the first messengers of the Good News to the Eleven. This is Jesus’ way of thanking them, honouring them, showing his love for them and healing them of the deep sorrow his death would have caused. He reaches the most profound places in their hearts with the reality of his resurrection. This is indeed a gift.

This short text, one that I had not really pondered before, has messages of joy. It tells us that Jesus sees everything we do for him, sees our loyalty, sees the risks we take for him, sees the understanding we have of his teaching, sees the way we remember his words. He is grateful every time we embrace his word, every time we give generously to him and his followers. He will repay in ways we cannot imagine now, any more than the women imagined that they would see angels when they went to the tomb. Jesus will repay with currency from his risen life and reach us, raise us up on the deepest possible level of our being.

SJC

Image: Missionaries of Africa.

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14 April: Stations for Saint Peter, VIII: the third fall: Get behind me, Satan!

heart.of.pebbles

Scripture references: Matthew 16:13-23, Get behind me; Luke 23:28, John 19:20-22, crowds watching.

Peter recalls when Jesus said that he would be killed, and Peter tried to stop him from going to Jerusalem.

It was a struggle to keep sight of Jesus on the way to Calvary. Not that he could make any speed, weak as he was, and with the soldiers, the crowds watching him go by, the hundreds who seemed to be following him.

I heard he had fallen, even with Simon on hand to help. I saw blood on the stones as I came up behind. Always I was behind him.

+++++++++++++++++++++

‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he once said. And now it comes to this: what was God thinking of?

+++++++++++++++++++++

And now it comes to my turn. Lord I am behind you, but not far behind now!

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

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30 March: Stations of the Cross XIII:

THIRTEENTH STATION
JESUS’ BODY IS TAKEN DOWN FOR BURIAL

Our witness is the widow of Naim. Jesus restored her son to life when he met the funeral on the way to the cemetery.
The story is told by Saint Luke,  in chapter 7, vv 11-16.


I know this man. My only son was dead. We took him out of town to say goodbye.

Jesus gave him back to me alive. Now Mary’s only son has been taken out of town and is dead.


Prayer :

God our Father, your son was taken out of town, out of sight, to be killed.

We try to hide away our sins, but we need to bring them to you and say we are sorry.

Jesus was lifted up; may we be drawn to him and follow him, even when no-one seems to see our witness to him.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lifted up, unless a grain of wheat shall fall … , Greyfriars’ chapel, Canterbury.

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26 March: Stations of the Cross, IX: Jesus is stripped.

samaritanwoman

NINTH STATION
JESUS IS STRIPPED

Our witness is a Samaritan woman who met Jesus by the side of Jacob’s Well. He told her everything she had ever done.

Her story is given in Saint John, Chapter 4, vv 5-26


I know this man. He sat down and talked to me. He looked into my heart, my broken heart, but he did not mock me.

I told everyone I knew about him, then I followed him. Even to Jerusalem where I’m hardly welcome.

He was welcome on Sunday.

Now they strip the clothes off his body, his broken body. They jeer at his bruised and broken body. They mock him, but he did not mock me.


Prayer :

Lord, we do not always remember that the bodies and hearts of your people are where you have chosen to live. Help us to see and hear the Good News whoever brings it to us.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

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19 March: Stations of the Cross II: Jesus takes up his Cross

brocaghschoola[1]

SECOND STATION
JESUS TAKES UP HIS CROSS


Luke tells us the young man was one of the aristocracy. He would have been well known to Herod and the High Priestly Families, and able to gain entry anywhere in Jerusalem, including the Roman fort. Luke tells the story in Chapter 18, 18-23


I know this man; He is a good man, a good man.

He seemed to have something, to know something, something I could never quite get hold of. Something I could not understand.

I kept the law as well as anyone — God knows I tried to live by the rules. I should have been happy, knowing I was doing what God wanted but happiness was always just out of reach.

The Kingdom of God, Jesus said, is among you; it is close at hand, it belongs to the children. If you want to get there welcome the Kingdom like a child. Sell everything, give the money to the poor and follow me.

Follow him? Now?


Let us pray :

Lord, show us what we need to throw away to be able to take up our cross and follow you — now. Show us that you are at hand when life is difficult. Lord in your mercy.

Brocagh School, Glenfarne, Leitrim, c1969.

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24 February: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XIII: A sense of humour helps 2.

rose.wild.scot1

Hearing this Saint Francis, all overjoyed in spirit, lifting up his face unto heaven, stood for a great while with his mind uplifted in God; anon returning to himself again, he knelt him down and rendered thanks and praises unto God: and then with great fervour of spirit turned him to Brother Masseo and said: “Wilt thou know why after me? wilt thou know why after me? wilt thou know why after me? that the whole world doth run? This cometh unto me from the eyes of the most high God, which behold at all time the evil and the good: for those most holy eyes have seen among sinners none more vile, none more lacking, no greater sinner than am I: wherefore to do this marvellous work the which He purposeth to do, He hath not found upon the earth a creature more vile, and therefore hath He chosen me to confound the nobleness and the greatness and the strength and the beauty and wisdom of the world: to
the intent that men may know that all virtue and all goodness come from Him, and not from the creature, and that no man may glory in himself; but whoso will glory, may glory in the Lord, unto whom is honour and glory for ever. and ever.”

Then Brother Masseo, at so humble a reply uttered with so great fervour, was afraid, and knew of a surety that Saint Francis was rooted and grounded in humility.

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