Tag Archives: Grace

20 October: Luke, a Nervous Evangelist, Part III

This is the third part of Sister Johanna’s reflection on Luke 18:1-8. In my mental picture of this story, the widow gathers her friends and neighbours to mount a demo outside the Judge’s house – or maybe he was sipping a hot chocolate in the Hard Rock Cafe when the widow’s entourage came by with their loudspeakers blaring and chanting their slogans. Embarrassing enough to make him give up. What next? What indeed: read on!

If you are just joining this daily reflections blog, I invite you to scroll back two days to find out what we are thinking about. Today, Jesus, in Luke 18: 1-8, gives us his third surprise. He seems to be saying that we must play the role of the feisty widow in relation not to a sinful human being, but in relation to God himself. No wonder St Luke was a bit nervous about this parable. For Jesus is saying to us here, “You’ve got to be like her with God. God’s not trying to make you a victim, but it might feel like that sometimes. And so you’ve just got to stay with it. Keep praying. No matter what happens or doesn’t happen. Just stay with God. Some things take time. God sees the big picture. Don’t give up and don’t switch off with God.” While we’re still taking this in Jesus gives us our fourth surprise.

Here comes Jesus’ curmudgeonly judge-God again. Jesus paints him as someone who can actually be intimidated by us and our persistence. Pace, St Luke. This is not systematic theology, it is a parable – something more like a poem or a song that tells us what it “feels” like, how things “seem” to be in our relationship with God. And the point is important enough for Jesus to take the risk of being misunderstood. He’s saying, with maybe a twitch of a smile, if you stick with God, God will eventually seem to cave in and to say, “Oh, for the love of Mike. This lady will slap me if I don’t give her what she wants. Looks like I’d better do something for her.”

This perhaps becomes clearer when we consider Jesus’ final words. At the end of this passage, Jesus resumes the gravitas that we usually associate with him, but his words seem enigmatic at first, and even self-contradictory:

And the Lord said, ‘You notice what the unjust judge has to say? Now, will not God see justice done to his elect if they keep calling to him day and night even though he still delays to help them? I promise you, he will see justice done to them, and done speedily. But when the Son of man comes, will he find any faith on earth?’

Jesus ends with a very un-playful plea for faith. A superficial reading of this passage might make its final words seem out of place. But we have been trying to go in deep over the last three days, and I think we can begin to see what Jesus is saying. He first says, in effect, that if such an unjust creature as this judge will eventually come round, will not God do so also? Seems clear enough. Yet, then, Jesus returns to the theme of God’s apparent delay, and seems to be trying to say two opposing things at once. In line eight, we are told to expect that God will seem to delay to help us. But immediately following those words, he seems to promise the opposite, that God will ‘see justice done, and done speedily.’ What does he mean?

I think Jesus is handing us a paradox – for this is the only way of describing God’s grace. On one hand, God’s help seems to be forever in coming, as we pray and wait in agony for a specific outcome to our prayer that never arrives. And then, time passes, and if we stay with our prayer and our hope in God, we begin to realize a few things. We see that as we have waited and prayed, we have changed. We see that as we have waited and prayed, other circumstances around us have changed – in ways that are surprising and that we had not asked for. It gradually becomes clear that we have been given the answer to our prayer – an answer that is not what we expected, but that blesses us more deeply than we could have imagined. And then we look back and see that God has, in fact, been answering our prayer all along, invisibly, yet speedily and unwaveringly guiding us to this particular moment when we discover his grace and healing.

‘When the Son of man comes, will he find any faith on earth?’ Jesus asks. What kind of faith is that? The widow shows us. It’s faith that, with feisty determination, clings to God as our helper; faith that refuses to take no for an answer. For, God is our helper, Jesus wants us to know in this parable. Just wait and see. That is reason for Jesus to smile, and even play a bit. He invites us to do so, also.

Thank you, Sister Johanna. There is a link between faith and a sense of humour that seems to start from infancy: babies and toddlers often seem to see the ridiculous side of life. And what, after all, is more ridiculous than the idea of the Creator of all becoming a human baby?

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This was a crowd of pilgrims in Krakow for the World Youth Days, 2016. Follow the link for Ignatius’ impressions of this event at the time.


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11 October, John XXIII: I live and suffer willingly.

In 1927 then-Bishop Angelo Roncalli was Pope Pius XI’s representative in the predominantly Orthodox kingdom of Bulgaria. As there were very few Catholics in the country, it was largely his responsibility to organise and unite the Church, scattered as it was in small groups in far-flung districts, travelling often on poor roads, beset with bandits. Roncalli was often lonely and in danger; he was regarded with suspicion when he first arrived. He wrote to a priest friend:

It is not that the reasons for my troubled mind last year have ceased to exist; no, they are all still there, almost as powerful as before. But I found a reason for life and a reason for suffering; and so I live and suffer willingly…

From the outset of my episcopacy I have recited one of the prayers of the Exercises of Saint Ignatius, and I still say it. Well, one morning when I was suffering more than usual, I became aware that my state indicated precisely that my prayer had been granted.

Receive, O Lord, my whole liberty,
receive my memory, my intelligence,
and all my will.
All that I have and possess
was given to me by you,
I give it back to you entirely.
Do with it as you will.

Give me only thy love with thy grace
and I am rich enough
and ask for nothing more.

From John XXIII by Leone Algisi, Catholic Book Club 1966, p77.

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26 September: Pope Francis’s Prayer for migrants, Laudato Si’ XI, Creation XXVII

Lampedusa cross, fashioned from timbers of a wrecked migrant boat.

In May, Pope Francis promoted this prayer to be said ahead of the World Day for Migrants and Refugees on 26 September 2021. It is a cause close to his heart. Sad to say, an atmosphere of hostility towards migrants and refugees is being fostered in Britain and elsewhere, perhaps tempered a little as we witness the tragedy of Afghanistan. Clearly, Francis sees migration, whatever the individual person’s motivation, as part of our task of making the earth into our common home.

Holy beloved Father,
Your Son Jesus taught us
That there is great rejoicing in heaven
Whenever someone lost is found,
Whenever someone excluded, rejected or discarded
Is gathered into our 'we'
Which thus becomes ever wider.

We ask you to grant the followers of Jesus,
And all people of good will,
The grace to do your will on earth.

Bless each act of welcome and outreach
That draws those in exile
Into the 'we' of community and the church,
So that our Earth may truly become
What you yourself created it to be:
The common home of all our brothers and sisters. 

                                                                                  Amen.

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6 August: Praying with Pope Francis

From the Franciscans in Harare, CD.

Pope Francis’s Prayer Intention for Evangelization: – The Church
Let us pray for the Church, that She may receive from the Holy Spirit the grace and strength to reform herself in the light of the Gospel.

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration, when Jesus climbed a mountain with chosen Apostles, Peter, James and John. There he appeared to them shining like the sun, his clothes as white as light, and alongside him, Moses and Elijah from the Old Testament. They heard the voice from heaven saying this is my beloved Son, Listen to him. (Matthew 17)

Where did this experience get them on Good Friday? John stayed by the Cross, James slept through the Agony. Peter denied knowing Jesus, three times, while he was trying to get near enough to find out what was happening: a muddled, timid, self-protecting response.

Yet Peter was the Rock on which Jesus built his Church. A church that has felt rocky, rather than rock-like of late. We do need the grace of the Spirit, each and every one of us. And we so-called laity must pray for the grace to reform ourselves in the light of the Gospel of our transfigured, lifted-up and risen Lord.

WT

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13 July: Traherne XLV, Visited with heavenly influences.

Having once studied these principles you are eternally to practise them. 
You are to warm yourselves at these fires, 
and to have recourse to them every day. 
When you think not of these things you are in the dark. 
And if you would walk in the light of them, 
you must frequently meditate. 

These principles are like seed in the ground, 
they must continually be visited with heavenly influences, 
or else your life will be a barren field.

The principles Traherne was putting before us (see post of 6 July) are: ‘This life is the most precious season in all Eternity, because all Eternity dependeth on it.’ I repeat the prayer from that post.

Lord, help me to see this life as a part of eternity,
strangely and stupendously blessed
in its place and season.

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14 June: Today this is my vocation II

This hymn by Sister Mary Xavier was a staple of my childhood. It is worth turning to when life seems pointless or confusing, and ‘Lord, for tomorrow and its needs I do not pray‘ is enough of a motto, enough of a prayer, to see us through every day. A vocation is something to be lived out day by day; sometimes a day can be very different to what we expect, but today is enough for us; we can worry about tomorrow when it comes.

Lord, for tomorrow and its needs
I do not pray;
keep me, my God, from stain of sin
just for today.

Let me both diligently work
and duly pray;
Let me be kind in word and deed,
just for today.

Let me be slow to do my will,
prompt to obey;
help me to sacrifice myself,
just for today.

Let me no wrong or idle word
unthinking say;
set thou a seal upon my lips
just for today.

Lord, for tomorrow and its needs
I do not pray;
but keep me, guide me, love me, Lord,
just for today.

Lyrics by Sybil Farish Partidge (1856 – 1917)  – alias Sister Mary Xavier. Public Domain.

Hear this hymn on Songs of Praise

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13 June: Today this is my vocation I

walking together

Sister Johanna’s reflection yesterday reminds me of the time when, talking to Philippe, a Missionary of Africa, I described my work with children and teenagers who were excluded from school. His response was, ‘First of all, you have to love them.’

Talking to my colleagues over the years, I came to realise how true this was of all of them, though they would more likely have spoken about ‘getting alongside’ the young people and their families; loving is not a recognised professional activity. Yet some tutors kept a supply of children’s clothes and shoes, either for their pupil or a sibling; I’ve known outgrown bikes and beds to be supplied by tutors, while home-made cakes and preserves showed that we cared without ‘giving charity’.

All this contributed to establishing trust between families on the margin and professional teachers; a trust that could not be taken for granted. The young people and their parents were often Sister Johanna’s

so-called “sinners” … people who were thought to be involved in all sorts of iniquitous practices, whose entire life-style was considered morally dubious at best. I daresay that then as now, there were people relegated to this group who were essentially honest but had fallen on very hard times, people for whom earning a living had proved impossible, and for reasons beyond their control. But many will have been truly as dishonest and even criminal as they were thought to be, and all were deeply wounded people for one reason or another. This is a crowd of seeming failures – if you judge success by the sleek appearance of it. And this is something Jesus never did.

I would not have you see my families as stained glass saints, far from it: in many cases they really were dishonest and criminal, and not necessarily skilled crooks, so they tended to get caught. One father was later murdered by a drug dealer; a dear boy was murdered by his stepfather; assault and theft were not uncommon. More than once I was warned not to visit alone, but then the question ‘What would Jesus do?’ was easy to answer: this is my job today and today this is my vocation.

‘Will, you come and sit here and tell me I’m a good mum. You know I’m not!’

‘That’s not what your children say, is it?’

Her children did not judge her by appearances. Part of my job, my vocation, one of the parts not mentioned in any job description, was to vindicate her children by helping that mother find the good mother in her heart. Perhaps we should dare to remove the masks and let Jesus breathe on us, then take his healing grace to the battered souls crowding around us.


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30 April: Make me wise, Traherne XL.

Traherne is addressing Christ directly in this passage, acknowledging and rejoicing in his closeness to Christ, accepting that suffering unites Men – he of course means men and women – and Christ, now suffering on the cross for me.

What shall I do for Thee, O Thou preserver of Men?

Live, Love, and Admire; and learn to become such unto Thee as Thou unto me. O Glorious Soul; whose comprehensive
understanding at once contains all Kingdoms and Ages! O Glorious Mind! Whose love extendeth to all creatures! O miraculous and eternal Godhead, now suffering on the cross for me: As Abraham saw thy Day and was glad, so didst Thou see me and this Day from all Eternity, and seeing me wast Gracious and Compassionate towards me. (All transient things are permanent in God.) Thou settest me before Thy face forever. O let me this day see Thee, and be united to Thee in Thy Holy Sufferings. Let me learn, O God, such lessons from Thee, as may make me wise, and blessed as an Angel of GOD!

First Century 62.

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14 February. Going Viral LXIX: Saint Valentine’s.

Five years ago we shared the following prayer that the English and Welsh bishops had published for Valentine's Day. It's worth transmitting again. We can pray it for other people if we are happily espoused ourselves.

Prayer for those seeking a spouse
 Loving Father,
 You know that the deepest desire of my heart is to meet someone that I can share my life with.
 I trust in your loving plan for me 
and ask that I might meet soon the person that you have prepared for me.
 Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open my heart and mind so that I recognise my soulmate.
 Remove any obstacles that may be in the way of this happy encounter, 
so that I might find a new sense of wholeness, joy and peace.
 Give me the grace too, to know and accept, if you have another plan for my life.
 I surrender my past, present and future into the tender heart of your Son, Jesus, 
confident that my prayer will be heard and answered.
                                                                                                    AMEN.

The Valentine card at the head of the post was sent a century earlier, from a young man in Flanders’ fields to his ‘sweeetie’ in Manchester. They never married because he was killed in action; she went on to find happiness with another man, unlike two ladies I got to know in 1978. Miss M had been unhinged by her experience of loss, or so we were told; Miss P was a good friend to many nieces and nephews and added me to the list, making a beautiful quilt for our first baby’s pram; it’s now a family heirloom.

On this day for lovers, I cannot help thinking of those couples, married or hoping to marry, who are separated by the effects of covid on travel and meeting up. We all have to accept another plan for this period of our lives. And we can hold in our hearts all those who have died, and those who mourn them.

Let us surrender past, present and future into the tender heart of Jesus, confident that our prayer will be heard and answered.

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18 October, Review. Tomáš Halík: From the Underground Church to Freedom.

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.’

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