Today’s post and tomorrow’s are in part about the Missionaries of Africa. Archbishop Arthur Hughes M Afr, who died in 1949, encouraged the Catholic feminists of Saint Joan’s Alliance. This paragraph is from a talk he gave them during one of his visits home from Egypt during the 1940s. He sees devotion to Mary as totally compatible with feminism, and feminism as an essential part of our Catholic faith. But how much progress has there been in the last 70-odd years?
‘Advent is associated with ideas of worthiness and readiness, and during ‘the longest Advent’ feminists should think things out and read and meditate so that they could speak with ever more conviction.
Full equality, liberty and emancipation is the completion of the Christian ideal.
Our Lord by allowing devotion to Our Lady to become an integral part of our Catholic Faith paved the way for feminism – when he came to earth practically everything had still to be done towards the emancipation of women, not only equality had to be achieved, but something more, therefore external marks of respect towards women should be maintained and expected.
Your crusade is associated with the longest Advent. Pray and work with greater courage! ‘
Today is the feast of Gregory the Great, first pope of that name, who sent Augustine to Canterbury, arriving here in 597. He was inspired to establish the English mission when he came across young Saxons on sale in Rome’s market. Gregory was also a theologian and spiritual writer, here in his book Moralia (XXVIII 47), commenting on the Book of Job (12.4), where Job is answering his critics:
I am one mocked by his friends, Who called on God, and He answered him, The just and blameless who is ridiculed.
Window, St Thomas’ church, Canterbury, England.
Worldliness dictates to her followers to seek the high places of honour, to triumph in attaining the vain acquisition of temporal glory; to return manifold the mischiefs that others bring upon us; when the means are with us, to give way to no man’s opposition; when the opportunity of power is lacking, all whatsoever he cannot accomplish in wickedness to represent in the guise of peaceable good nature.
On the other hand it is the wisdom of the righteous, to pretend nothing in show, to discover the meaning by words; to love the truth as it is, to avoid falsehood; to set forth good deeds for nought, to bear evil more gladly than to do it; to seek no revenging of a wrong, to account opprobrium for the Truth’s sake to be a gain. But this simplicity of the righteous is ‘laughed to scorn,’ in that the goodness of purity is taken for folly with the wise men of this world. For doubtless every thing that is done from innocency is accounted foolish by them, and whatever truth sanctions in practice sounds weak to carnal wisdom.
For what seems worse folly to the world than to shew the mind by the words, to feign nothing by crafty contrivance, to return no abuse for wrong, to pray for them that speak evil of us, to seek after poverty, to forsake our possessions, not to resist him that is robbing us, to offer the other cheek to one that strikes us?
Much of this passage could serve as a manifesto for Agnellus’ Mirror and for the Season of Creation:
It is the wisdom of the righteous, to pretend nothing in show, to discover the meaning by words; to love the truth as it is, to avoid falsehood; to set forth good deeds for nought.
We hope we live up to that, in the blog and in daily life.
The American writer Henry Thoreau claimed that we should not judge our wealth by the things we possess but by the amount of free time that we have.
By Eddie Gilmore of the London Irish chaplaincy. Welcome back, Eddie!
By Thoreau’s reckoning I’ve been pretty wealthy during the pandemic due in part to working from home. My working day used to involve three or four hours of commuting and so I’ve had that time for other things. After the first lockdown had eased I was cycling with a guy in my club called Steve who, pre-Covid, I would see from time to time on the train back from London. He said that previously at a quarter to five he would be clearing his desk and getting ready to head to St Pancras to catch the train. “Now,” he explained to me with evident delight, “I walk down the garden path to the shed to get my bike out and I’m off.” It was a bit the same for me last summer: down to the shed at the bottom of the garden, bike out and away. I needed something a bit different this year and the Korean study has filled up a lot of my free time nicely, although I’ve still relished the extra time for a variety of sporting and other pursuits.
St Augustine described the monastic life as otium sanctum, which can be translated as holy leisure. The American Trappist monk Thomas Merton touches on the theme of otium sanctum in his book ‘Spiritual Direction and Meditation’. ‘Business is not the supreme virtue,’ he writes, ‘and sanctity is not measured by the amount of work we accomplish.’ That’s not to say that no work or business is conducted in a monastery. On the contrary, monasteries through the ages have been hives of activity, and you’re also as likely to find workaholics there as anywhere, Merton himself having been one of them! Yet, there’s a structure and a balance to the monastic day that gives time to work, time to pray, time to eat, time to read or study, time to rest, and time just to gaze upon the flowers in the fields. It’s the active in harmony with the contemplative, and a little sign that all of our time, ultimately, is a gift.
Having free time doesn’t necessarily mean doing nothing but being perhaps less driven and more conscious and intentional about what we’re doing in any given moment. I like that the word leisure comes from the Latin licere, meaning ‘to be permitted’ or ‘to be free’. I also like one of the definitions of that Latin word ‘otium’: ‘leisure time in which a person can enjoy eating, playing, resting, contemplation and academic endeavors.’ The key, perhaps, is taking time to enjoy and savour each moment in the day, and to take pleasure in the world and in those around us; to sit on a bench, to smell a rose, to listen to the birds singing. It could even be experienced in the midst of writing a report or a funding application, or when doing a 100 mile cycle ride! All is given, all is gift.
The key for Thick Naht Hahn, the Vietnamese monk and poet, is mindfulness. He counsels that when eating a tangerine, be aware that you are eating a tangerine! When drinking a cup of tea, be aware that you’re drinking a cup of tea! Just as in a Japanese tea ceremony, each step of the process is important and given the right amount of time and awareness: boiling the kettle, preparing the vessels, warming the pot, pouring the water, waiting for the tea to brew; and then sipping, smelling, savouring. Perhaps even giving a little thought and a blessing to those who grew the tea and picked and dried the leaves.
I’ll shortly have the great gift of two week’s of holiday in which Yim Soon and I will walk the West Highland Way in Scotland followed by Ben Nevis and then a few days on the Isle of Skye. I will consider myself the wealthiest person alive to have such otium sanctum and to be able to spend it in such a place and in such company.
From a homily of Saint Oscar Romero, 1978, as relevant now as then.
Today the universal church celebrates World Communications Day. Let me say a few words to make all Catholics mindful of the importance of using the media of social communication in a critical and conscientious way. Through these marvellous means of communication—such as newspapers, radio, television, cinema—many ideas are communicated to large numbers of people, but often the media serve as tools of confusion. These instruments, as creators of public opinion, are often manipulated by materialist interests and are used to maintain an unjust state of affairs through falsehood and confusion. There is a lack of respect for one of the most sacred rights of the human person, the right to be well informed, the right to the truth. Each person must defend this right for himself or herself by using the media critically. Not everything in the newspapers, not everything in the movies or on television, not everything that is heard on the radio is true. Often it is just the opposite, a lie.
That is why critical people must know how to filter the media to avoid being poisoned with whatever falls into their hands. This is the type of awareness that the church wants to awaken today as we celebrate World Communications Day. We want people to read the newspapers critically and be able to say, «This is a lie! This is not the same thing that was said yesterday! This is a distortion because I have seen the opposite stated!» Being critical is a vital characteristic in our day, and because the church attempts to implant this critical awareness, she is facing some very serious conflicts. The reason is that the dominant interests want to keep people half-asleep. They do not want people who are critical and know how to discern between truth and falsehood. I believe that never before has there existed in the world, especially in a setting like ours, such a struggle—a struggle unto death—between the truth and the lie. The conflict at this time can be reduced to this: either truth or lies. Let us not forget that great saying of Christ: «The truth will set you free» (John 8:32). Let us always seek the truth!
There is a saying of Saint Augustine that I believe is very appropriate for these times: Libenter credimus quod credere volumus, which means, «We gladly believe what we want to believe». That is why it is so difficult to believe the truth: often we don’t want to believe the truth because it disturbs our conscience. But even though the truth may disturb us, we must accept it, and we must want to believe in it so that the Lord will always bless us with the freedom of those who love the truth. We should not be among those who sell the truth or their pens or their voices or their media to the highest bidder or to materialist interests. How sad it is to see so many pens being sold, so many tongues being fed through the slanderous words broadcast on the radio. Often the truth produces not money but only bitterness, yet it is better to be free in the truth than to have great wealth in mendacity.
St Oscar Romero, Ascension of the Lord. 7 May 1978 Read or listen to the homilies of St Oscar Romero at romerotrust.org.uk
We ought by now to have included a few more posts from St Thomas’ church as well as from St Mildred’s! So here is Canon Anthony’s thought for today, fresh from his retreat at home. We’ll include a few more as time goes by. Will T.
My Thoughts on 20/03/2021
I have finished my 5 day retreat and would like thank you for all your prayers and good wished. It was organised by the Jesuit Spirituality Team for Catholic Clergy. Although it was not the same as going away, I found it a great blessing and hopefully prepared me for the coming Holy Week.
In today’s gospel the chief priest and the Pharisees wanted Jesus arrested. They didn’t like what he was saying and doing. They wanted to arrest him and certainly refused to consider him a prophet.”Go into the matter, and see for yourself : prophets do not come out of Galilee.”
This reminds me of the report in the Guardian newspaper in January about the persecution of Christians face today in many parts of the world.
“More than 340 million Christians – one in eight – face high levels of persecution and discrimination because of their faith, according to the 2021 World Watch List compiled by the Christian advocacy group Open Doors. It says there was a 60% increase over the previous year in the number of Christians killed for their faith. More than nine out of 10 of the global total of 4,761 deaths were in Africa.”
Here in the UK we are blessed to have the freedom to express our belief freely and unhindered. Let us pray for all those who at this time are persecuted and suffer imprisonments torture and even death for being followers of Jesus Christ.
In the war-against-drugs campaign, a popular slogan was used in commercials and billboards: “Just say no.” That is precisely the lesson the gospel reading today urges upon us. With each temptation the devil proposes, Jesus says no. What is suggested to us in this passage from Matthew is that we have the power to keep a lot of trouble out of our lives by the use of a very simple word. However, many of us tend to discount the power we have to resist temptation. We prefer to believe we are “victims” of circumstances, genetics, upbringing, or hormones. When we find ourselves beset with problems, we look for someone or something else to blame, like Adam and Eve in Genesis claiming, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate” – like saying “the devil made me do it”. The reason we don’t like to face our power to say no is that if we can say no, then saying yes is an admission of guilt. And not many of us like to admit that. The lesson we learn in today’s readings is not that there is serious temptation awaiting us in the world; we already know that. It is not, as Paul reminds us, that sin has serious consequences for ourselves and others; we already have experience of that. What we are hearing is a reminder that we are responsible for most of what goes on in our lives, and we can say no – to our bad habits, our laziness, our inclination to lay blame on others for our failings, our small-mindedness, our waste of time and energy in fruitless worry, our impulse to bring others down. We humans can be as resistant and stubborn as we want to be. We can say no to anything we want, and stick to it. Think about it! We have the power; we use it all the time with things we don’t like. The devil in today’s gospel displayed seductiveness by trying to get Jesus to consider values that were not in his best interests, but the greatest seduction of all is to make us believe that we are powerless over temptation, victimised by our weakness and failings. It is the ultimate deceit. Effective adult living will always require that we refrain from making excuses and blaming others and take full responsibility for what goes on in our lives. We are what we are, and face what we face today because of the decisions we made yesterday. Tomorrow will be what it will because of decisions we make today. All because of a simple yes or no. Lent has traditionally been a season of penance and self-denial. We mustn’t deny ourselves some good, but something bad – something that is preventing us from being the best we can be, something that is putting our spiritual growth on hold. It will come as a pleasant surprise how much freedom awaits us and how more productive life becomes when we learn to “just say no”.
Boswell writes: In his review of the ‘Memoirs of the Court of Augustus,’ [Samuel Johnson] has the resolution to think and speak from his own mind, regardless of the cant transmitted from age to age, in praise of the ancient Romans. Thus,
‘I know not why any one but a school-boy in his declamation should whine over the Common-wealth of Rome, which grew great only by the misery of the rest of mankind. The Romans, like others, as soon as they grew rich, grew corrupt; and in their corruption sold the lives and freedoms of themselves, and of one another.’
Life of Johnson, Volume 1 1709-1765 by James Boswell.
Even the convinced imperialist John Buchan, recognised that: ‘The existence of a subject race on whatever terms is apt to lead to the deterioration in moral and mental vigour of its masters.’1And we see today, if we look, all manner of slavery, or almost slavery, cheap and forced labour, land degradation, poor health and safety.
Today is the Feast of Saint Josephine Bakhita, liberated slave and religious sister.
1Buchan A Lodge in the Wilderness Chapter XIV The Subject Races.
More from Lichfield’s Doctor Johnson who was against slavery all his life, when it was a matter for debate, as we shall see tomorrow. Johnson had great regard for his servant, Francis Barber, born into slavery in Jamaica. ‘Frank’ was his heir, and the descendants of his marriage to a white Lichfield woman are proud of their ancestor. Here Johnson is setting forth an argument, based upon natural law, to support another slave who was claiming freedom in the Scottish courts.
It must be agreed that in most ages many countries have had part of their inhabitants in a state of slavery; yet it may be doubted whether slavery can ever be supposed the natural condition of man. It is impossible not to conceive that men in their original state were equal; and very difficult to imagine how one would be subjected to another but by violent compulsion. An individual may, indeed, forfeit his liberty by a crime; but he cannot by that crime forfeit the liberty of his children.
What is true of a criminal seems true likewise of a captive. A man may accept life from a conquering enemy on condition of perpetual servitude; but it is very doubtful whether he can entail that servitude on his descendants; for no man can stipulate without commission for another. The condition which he himself accepts, his son or grandson perhaps would have rejected.
If we should admit, what perhaps may with more reason be denied, that there are certain relations between man and man which may make slavery necessary and just, yet it can never be proved that he who is now suing for his freedom ever stood in any of those relations. He is certainly subject by no law, but that of violence, to his present master; who pretends no claim to his obedience, but that he bought him from a merchant of slaves, whose right to sell him never was examined. It is said that, according to the constitutions of Jamaica, he was legally enslaved; these constitutions are merely positive; and apparently injurious to the rights of mankind, because whoever is exposed to sale is condemned to slavery without appeal; by whatever fraud or violence he might have been originally brought into the merchant’s power.
In our own time Princes have been sold, by wretches to whose care they were entrusted, that they might have an European education; but when once they were brought to a market in the plantations, little would avail either their dignity or their wrongs. The laws of Jamaica afford a Negro no redress. His colour is considered as a sufficient testimony against him.
It is to be lamented that moral right should ever give way to political convenience. But if temptations of interest are sometimes too strong for human virtue, let us at least retain a virtue where there is no temptation to quit it. In the present case there is apparent right on one side, and no convenience on the other. Inhabitants of this island can neither gain riches nor power by taking away the liberty of any part of the human species.
The sum of the argument is this:—No man is by nature the property of another: The defendant is, therefore, by nature free: The rights of nature must be some way forfeited before they can be justly taken away: That the defendant has by any act forfeited the rights of nature we require to be proved; and if no proof of such forfeiture can be given, we doubt not but the justice of the court will declare him free.
At his birth, Jesus had nowhere to lay his head, his camp was small indeed. Joyce Kilmer, writing early last Century, was optimistic that Jesus was known throughout the world and welcome in every land. We see a different picture today.
There is also the Real Presence in the Sacrament – again, not so readily available to us as it was to Kilmer. But if not through the lips, the King of Glory may enter my Spirit though my ears and eyes. O Come, O come, Emmanuel!
No longer of Him be it said
"He hath no place to lay His head."
In every land a constant lamp
Flames by His small and mighty camp.
There is no strange and distant place
That is not gladdened by His face.
And every nation kneels to hail
The Splendour shining through Its veil.
Cloistered beside the shouting street,
Silent, He calls me to His feet.
Imprisoned for His love of me
He makes my spirit greatly free.
And through my lips that uttered sin
The King of Glory enters in."
Tomáš Halík: From the Underground Church to Freedom, University of Notre Dame Press,Notre Dame, Indiana, 2019.Available through Waterstone’s or online.
Tomáš Halík is a Czech Catholic priest who has lived under repressive Communism, even coming to the Faith in an officially atheist country, a process he unfolds for the reader in one of the chapters of this autobiography. An interest in history, including the career of the ‘heretic’ Jan Huss; reading about psychoanalysis as a schoolboy, and a growing awareness of politics and that life under an oppressive regime was not the inevitable fate of his country; all these had him asking questions, and finding the ready-made answers of the atheist regime lacking.
But he had ‘absolutely no experience of the living church.’ How true is that of many of our neighbours? It was during a solitary pilgrimage he made one holiday that he assented to belief in God; from there to attending a church with good music, gradually moving closer to the altar, week by week; thence to a church frequented by students where the pastor’s homilies were challenging.
The journey to the priesthood had begun but had to continue underground, and his ordination was held behind closed doors in Erfurt, East Germany.
That sets the scene for a ministry conducted in secret but also in plain view as a psychotherapist and university teacher; often feeling the eye of the secret police upon him. Many of the generation of priests before him had been imprisoned; there were almost parallel churches; some priests ministering as best they might at the churches that were permitted to remain open, others, like Fr Halík, in closely guarded secrecy, until the regime collapsed like those in neighbouring countries.
It was time to unite the Catholic Church. The official church had been deprived of international links and scholarship; the priests were tired and ‘the onset of freedom caught them very much unawares.’ Thirty years have not healed all the wounds inflicted before 1990.
Openness to the universal Church, the re-establishment of church structures, the initial and ongoing formation of pastors and people, freedom from fear: these things take time, and hard work, and grace. At 70, Fr Halík feels he may not have much more time, but he has been the means of grace. This book will inspire the reader to believe in the action of the Holy Spirit. And perhaps nudge us to ask what we can share with those around us with ‘absolutely no experience of the living church.’