Tag Archives: France

15 July: Feast of Saint Bonaventure

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Saint Bonaventure was born in the small Italian town of Bagnoregio, near Viterbo, probably in 1217. He studied at the University of Paris, where he joined the Order of Friars Minor. He later taught and became a Master in the school of theology at the same university. He wrote many great academic works of theology.

In 1257, at the age of forty, he was called unexpectedly out of his academic world to become the Minister General of his Order, responsible for leading all the Friars Minor worldwide. He was the seventh successor of Saint Francis of Assisi in this role. In his new role as Minister General, he managed to continue teaching through his writing. His writings of this period were less esoteric and more concerned with spirituality in the lives of the friars and the Christian people they served.

Saint Bonaventure had a gift for uniting different schools of thought into a harmonious synthesis. He used this gift through his writing in efforts to bring peace among opposing factions in his Order and later in the service of the worldwide Church. He was consecrated Cardinal Archbishop of Albano in 1273. He then assisted in preparations for the Second Council of Lyon in 1274, where he played a key role in the efforts to unite the Eastern and Western Christian churches.

Having put his energies into a General Chapter of his Order and then three sessions of the great Church Council in the same year, 1274, he died at the friary in Lyons on 15th July, aged around fifty seven. The Pope and those who had attended the Council, both Eastern and Western Christians were present for his funeral. Saint Bonaventure was canonised in 1482 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1588.

Saint Bonaventure; tireless Franciscan teacher, writer and peacemaker, pray for us.

FMSL

Saint Bonaventure at Saint Antony’s Church, Rye, Sussex.

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2 June: D is for Dover

Pharos -Roman lighthouse by Saxon Church

Pharos – Roman lighthouse by Saxon Church, Dover Castle

This picture suggests there may be more Roman remains above ground in Dover than in Canterbury, but is that a reason to talk about a place so close to home?

No, but the Pharos is significant. On the day I visited with a friend, the other side of the Channel was clearly visible, though I could not convincingly discern the column to Napoleon’s Grand Armée above the French cliffs. (I did once!) The Pharos has shown the way for nearly 2,000 years, though it’s a long while since the beacon fire was kindled there.

And who has come? The Romans, were they in peace or war? Both, over the years. And so on through two millennia. Napoleon certainly meant War.

Nowadays, thank God, those who come through Dover come in Peace; no more is it called Hell Fire Corner; the video displays in the Castle upset my friend who was seeing them for the first time.

My wife’s sewing machine was all that could be salvaged from a bombed house in Dover. It was made in Germany …

Let us pray for a continuation and a deepening of peace in Europe – and may the Pharos and Castle be a sign of welcome, not rejection, to travellers.

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3 February: A week with Rabindranath Tagore: VI

“We, the rustling leaves, have a voice that answers the storms, but who are you, so silent?”

“I am a mere flower.”

Stray Birds XXIII

Saint Thérèse says:

‘Jesus  multiplied his graces in his little flower – he who cried out during his mortal life “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.”’ (Luke 10: 21)

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22 January: An African Missionary to Europe, Saint Vincent of Digne.

The Cathedral of Notre Dame du Bourg in Digne is built over a Christian church from Roman times.

Saint Vincent  was from North Africa, a Christian citizen of the Empire, free to travel anywhere, who was sent to the walled town of Digne in the mountains north of Nice.

Pope Saint Miltiades gathered a council in 313. The persecutions which saw the death of another Saint Vincent, the Deacon of Valencia, were over, after Constantine had allowed freedom of worship to Christians. The problem now lay within the church, especially in North Africa: what to do about people who had handed over books and church property to the Imperial authorities. The  Donatist party  felt strongly that they had lost their right to belong to the church, but the Pope and Council decreed that there should be every opportunity for reconciliation.

Vincent travelled with Marcellinus and Domninus  to the council with the African bishops, and impressed Pope Militades, who sent them as missionaries to Provence. Marcellinus became the first bishop of Embrun, Domninus bishop of Digne. Vincent would be his successor.

MMB

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4 January: the Christmas Truce

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More than once I had heard the story of a Christmas Truce along the Western Front in 1914, and often as not someone would dismiss the idea. I was glad to find a book, written with the co-operation of the Imperial War Museum that makes clear that the Christmas Truce did occur*

The writers do not see the Truce as an irrelevance, rather a

‘precursor, a portent indeed, of the spirit of reconciliation now powerfully abroad as one century ends and a new age begins. From South Africa to Ireland, and perhaps most noticeably of all in the benevolent arm-in-arm relationship between France and Germany (whose deep-rooted antipathy … made the First World War virtually inevitable.’                          p vii.

They tell many stories, using diaries and other records of the time. This was reported in the Daily Telegraph as the account of a wounded French soldier:

‘he said that on the night of December 24th, the French and the Germans came out of their respective trenches and met halfway between them. They not only talked, exchanged cigarettes &c.,  but also danced together in rings.’        p 79.

There are many other accounts of how ‘we achieved what the pope (Benedict XV) could not do and in the middle of the war we had a merry Christmas.’ p 94.

Which was irrelevant: the Christmas Truce or the Great War?

Let us pray for Peace in this New Year.

*Christmas Truce by Malcolm Brown and Shirley Seaton, Pan, 2001. There are plenty of copies of this and other editions at Abe Books for less than £3.

Here is a link to the European Christmas Truce Tournament . Teenage boys from football clubs across Europe meet to play football, socialise, and visit the trenches, cemeteries and monuments of the Great War.

Photo Q 50719 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.

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Book Review: David Jones in the Great War, by Thomas Dilworth.

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David Jones in the Great War, by Thomas Dilworth. Enitharmon Press.

Born in South London, the artist and poet David Jones nevertheless grew up a fervent Welsh patriot, absorbing the romantic epics of Welsh history with its battles and brave warriors. Hardly surprising then, that he should volunteer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers when the Great War broke out.

Thomas Dilworth takes us through Jones’s wartime life as if inviting the reader to be a third party to a conversation between friends, and indeed the book is largely the fruit of interviews with David Jones and his friends. Like other poets and former soldiers Jones never got the Great War out of his system and he suffered depression and breakdowns in the years that followed.

He had spent the war as a private, unlike university educated poets Sassoon, Brooke and Owen, who were seen as natural officers. Jones resisted promotion, preferring the company of the Welshmen and Cockneys in the ranks. An officer once encouraged him to apply for a commission, saying, ‘You’re an educated man. Where were you educated?’ At Jones’s reply, ‘Camberwell School of Art and Craft’, he fell silent and never again would Jones be considered for promotion.

Jones was not alone in becoming aware of the iniquities of the class system through his wartime experiences. He had chance to contrast British public school officers with the French alongside, where there was greater camaraderie and an officer could encourage his troops with ‘mes enfants’. He also served in Ireland after the Easter Rising, and became acutely aware of the contrast between Britain’s defence of ‘poor little Belgium’ and the oppressing of Irish aspirations.

Above all Jones was an artist and one who took opportunities to exercise his gift while at war. At times he was detailed to draw maps of battlefields for his superiors; of those that survive, few can be clearly reproduced, but Dilworth gives us many pencil sketches of broken buildings, battlefields, equipment and men. There were months when drawing his companions became too painful, knowing he might soon lose sight of them forever. There is a sketch of a robed and stoled priest, about to distribute Communion. Dilworth links this to a moment of epiphany for Jones, when he came across a Catholic celebration of Mass in a battered barn. Seeing his Irish companions transformed at their devotions was a step towards his conversion.

Just as that experience would have been impossible to explain back home, so too the privations of mud, rats, lice, noise, explosions, shells, smells, death that remained with Jones the rest of his life.

Thomas Dilworth is a warm companion to bring us to Jones and his subsequent poetry and art. Read this book, make friends with Jones, turn to his poetry, and let it speak.

 

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September 1, Algeria V: Love them sincerely and profoundly

henri marchal

The Church in Algeria, despite Colonial Governments’ intermittent hostility to it, always refused to be simply a chaplaincy to French settlers who were not secularists. It insisted on respect for the Muslim faith of the vast majority of the population. Cardinal Lavigerie, who as Archbishop of Algiers founded the Missionaries of Africa in 1868, would doff his hat and bow as he passed a mosque, to respect the prayer offered there.

A twentieth century Missionary of Africa, Henri Marchal, developed the policy of the founder towards Muslims. He insisted in 1945, after some forty years in Algeria, that:

“To make use of our superior knowledge, of our extensive culture to overwhelm the masses, to show them the falseness of their beliefs and the truth of our own, to shake their convictions by sowing doubt in their mind… would be to use practices which Muslims would immediately seize upon as having an ulterior goal and motive which they would not easily forgive, since they would see in it an attack on their religion, a dishonest undertaking to undermine their convictions in order to snatch them from the good that they prize above all else, their Muslim faith, their dignity and privilege of being believers, their unbreakable cohesion in Islam.

“To have an influence on the population, it is necessary to love these people, to love them sincerely and profoundly, and to love in this manner we need to recall in the presence of each one, in our way of approaching him and dealing with him, that Jesus shed his blood for him. We have to win their hearts by our witness of goodness which is always one of welcome.

“The Church, in directing souls to God and leading them on the road to salvation, does not turn their exterior lives inside out but rather transforms their interior lives. That is why the ‘return to God’ of a whole people will in no way mean its denial or the abandonment of its own civilisation and the adoption of a civilisation or culturewhich is alien to it.”

  • May Church and Society in Britain be welcoming to all migrants who come here.
  • See: Gérard Demeerseman, M.Afr: Henri Marchal 1875-1957: ‘An Apostolic Approach to the Algerian World’, pp61-62, 74. On-line text PDF

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A Week’s Reflections on Living as Neighbours: Introduction.

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Next week includes the feast of Saint Augustine of Hippo, so we had prepared reflections on Algeria, his homeland. But it would be wrong to offer these while ignoring recent events in Belgium, France and Germany. It would also be wrong to suggest that all is well in Algeria or anywhere else that Muslims and Christians live side by side. All too easily someone can assert the primacy of the ‘true faith’, as they perceive it, over love and mutual respect: it happens within communities as well as between them. Therefore I offer this week’s reflections on recent events as a preface to those on Algeria, prepared weeks ago to celebrate Augustine, recognised by Muslims as well as Christians as a great Algerian.

MMB

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21 August. Reflections on Living Together, I: Fr Jacques Hamel.

In the days following the murder of Fr Jacques Hamel I was travelling without computer or smart phone, through France, Belgium, Germany and Poland.

Armed police and soldiers were evident in all the major cities where we stayed or paused. It happened that our train was passing though Krakow around the time that Pope Francis was celebrating Mass on World Youth Day. Two military helicopters flew over us. There were security staff at every station within the city; no doubt they were required for crowd control, but you don’t need automatic rifles for that job.

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The night before we had been in Warsaw: perhaps it was mischievous of me to ask a pair of policemen to direct us to our hotel from the railway station. We had an armed escort through the station as it was ‘a bit difficult’ to explain the route. As we thanked them I reflected that this had been an opportunity for these young men to be peacemakers rather than peacekeepers by helping a couple of tongue-tied tourists in a foreign land.

Reading the French newspaper Le Monde of 28th July, it is clear that Fr Hamel was a peacemaker, and no doubt that is why he was targeted. He had been working with Imam Mohamed Karabila to help their people learn to live together.

Fr Hamel had given the last blessing at the end of Mass when he was cut down in front of the altar; thus his fifty eight years of priesthood were crowned by martyrdom.

May each of us look into our heart and refuse to give in to the hatred that the Daesh terrorists seek to cultivate between Muslim and Christian communities, and indeed between different Muslim communities.

Let each of us, every day, find a way to be a peacemaker.

MMB.

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July 9; Relics VII: Wow! And is it true?

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The case of Saints Jucundina and Verecunda at Folkestone illustrates why relics are looked at sideways by many of us. If we know nothing of these two women, however can we call them saints? And how is it that John the Baptist has at least three heads (my daughter Naomi having visited two of them)? Understandably, today the Church insists that it is better for an altar to be dedicated without relics than to have relics of doubtful credibility placed beneath it.[1]

Father Knox reminded us on Monday that ‘people used to use relics rather freely in the Middle Ages’, so it was worth bringing some home from one’s pilgrimage or crusade. Louis IX of France came back to Paris with the Crown of Thorns and built the Sainte Chapelle to house it. Was it truly the Crown of Thorns? He thought so.

La Sainte Chapelle has the ‘wow’ factor to get into all the guide books, but the Crown of Thorns means more than the building – and yet, even if it was truly Christ’s Crown of Thorns – it means less than the answer to John Betjeman’s question:

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.[2]

It matters not if the bread and wine are consecrated by a bishop in la Sainte Chapelle, or on a rickety table by a military chaplain, or in a parish church somewhere near you. God lives today in the Universal Church; that is you and me and all saints, living and dead. Relics can remind us of that but they are no substitute for the daily miracle of the Eucharist. And far less of a challenge to us as we live our lives from day to day.

Saint John the Baptist:                           Pray for us.

Saint Louis of France:                           Pray for us.

All saints, known or unknown today:      Pray for us.

[1] Rite of Dedication of a Church and an Altar, Chapter II, 5

[2] John Betjeman, ‘Christmas’.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sainte_Chapelle_-_Upper_level_1.jpg Didier B (Sam67fr)

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