Yesterday we looked at eternity and this world; love being the link between the two. Today school holidays are upon us again in England, and grandparents get to join in these days, keeping the third generation safe and occupied.But perhaps they – and we – should be allowed to experience a few butterfly’s days, ‘without design’, going nowhere ‘In purposeless circumference’, till sundown. If we let go of our business for a day, it’s possible that Another might get a word, idea or image in edgeways.
This red admiral was seen at the L’Arche Kent garden as it basked in the summer sun. Get ready to bask in an ‘audience of idleness.’
Enjoy your holidays and be grateful for moments of idleness!
THE BUTTERFLY’S DAY
From cocoon forth a butterfly As lady from her door Emerged — a summer afternoon — Repairing everywhere,
Without design, that I could trace, Except to stray abroad On miscellaneous enterprise The clovers understood.
Her pretty parasol was seen Contracting in a field Where men made hay, then struggling hard With an opposing cloud,
Where parties, phantom as herself, To Nowhere seemed to go In purposeless circumference, As ‘t were a tropic show.
And notwithstanding bee that worked, And flower that zealous blew, This audience of idleness Disdained them, from the sky,
Till sundown crept, a steady tide, And men that made the hay, And afternoon, and butterfly, Extinguished in its sea.
Christianity is not just an ethic. Yes, it is true, it has moral principles, but one is not Christian with only a vision of ethics. It is more. Christianity is not an elite of people chosen for truth. …Christianity is belonging to a people, a people chosen by God, freely. If we do not have this consciousness of belonging to a people, we will be ideological Christians, with a tiny doctrine for affirming the truth, with an ethic, with a moral code – that’s fine – or with an elite… If we do not have a consciousness of belonging to a people, we are not true Christians.
Pope Francis, Homily “Being Christians means belonging to the People of God”, 07.05.2020
General Secretariat for Synod of Bishops Via della Conciliazione 34 00120 Città del Vaticano
One of the classic Victorian hymns that still speaks to us today.
Souls of men! why will ye scatter
Like a crowd of frightened sheep?
Foolish hearts! why will ye wander
From a love so true and deep?
Was there ever kindest shepherd
Half so gentle, half so sweet,
As the Saviour who would have us
Come and gather round his feet?
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
Like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in his justice
Which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
And more graces for the good;
There is mercy with the Saviour;
There is healing in his blood.
But we make his love too narrow
By false limits of our own;
And we lose the tender shepherd
In the judge upon the throne.
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of man’s mind;
And the heart of the eternal
Is most wonderfully kind.
The discussion drifted to mobility and the challenges posed by diminishing powers in later life.
Jane had struggled with herself to adopt a walking stick, and then a walker with a seat and shopping box. ‘But that was silly of me, because now I can get down to the shops and the promenade.’ The thought of not seeing the sea, though living so close, had steeled her to swallow her pride and try the aids.
‘I can do so much more now’, she says.
Reinventing the wheel or even the walking stick seems excessive, but many of us learn the hard way. Jane would tell you how its tempting to be too self-reliant, too independent. In the 1980’s people in big mental hospitals were released into ‘the community’ to live independently; often in a one bedroom flat somewhere completely unknown to the person concerned who would have been incarcerated for decades.
‘The community’ did not exist for them unless someone made an effort to befriend them.
Jane’s first walker trolley was given to her by a fellow member of the exercise group, who had another that suited her better. The group is a little community, even when meeting by zoom.
What can we learn from this little story? To accept help or advice graciously, to admit that no man (or woman) is an island entire of itself, not even me! So we are all responsible for each other, and are diminished if a neighbour suffers; we are, or should be, involved in mankind, conscious of each other’s needs and gifts.
No Man Is An Island by John Donne
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
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”.