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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.’
Devils in Canterbury Cathedral! Merely migrating to the mountain did not cut the brothers off from all cares and temptations. Francis here meets Brother Leo’s need for a physical token of God’s grace and Francis’s esteem and love for him. No telling him not to be silly or superstitious! Who does not have one or two personal relics like this? Grandfather’s spade, grandmother’s bedside table; a cup, a picture …
Brother Leo being assailed by the devil with a grievous temptation, not of the flesh but of the spirit, there came to him a great desire to have some devout sentence written by the hand of Saint Francis, for he thought that if he had it, that temptation would leave him, or wholly, or in part. Having this desire, yet for shame and reverence sake he dared not tell it to Saint Francis: but what Brother Leo told him not, that did the Holy Spirit reveal. Wherefore Saint Francis called him unto him, and made him bring ink-pot and pen and paper; and with his own hand wrote the praises of Christ, even as the brother had desired; and at the end he made the sign Tau, and gave it to him, saying, “Take this paper, dear brother, and keep it diligently until thy death. May God bless thee and guard thee against all temptation. Be not downcast, because thou hast temptations ; for at such time I deem thee a friend and a better servant of God, and the more thou art assailed by temptations, the more do I love thee, Verily I say unto thee that no man should deem himself a true friend of God, save in so far as he hath passed through many temptations and tribulations.”
When Brother Leo took this writing with great devotion and faith, straightway all his temptation left him and returning to his own place, he told his companions, with great joy, what grace God had shown unto him when he took the writing from Saint Francis; and putting it aside and taking diligent care thereof, the brothers afterwards worked many miracles by its means. And from that hour forth, the said Brother Leo with great purity and with good intention began to keep watch upon and to observe the life of Saint Francis : and for his purity’s sake, he merited to see Saint Francis full many and many a time rapt in God and uplifted from the earth.
St. Ignatius warns against thinking of grace as our right, rather than as a freely given gift. We shouldn’t insist on attending Mass simply because it is our right to do so. We shouldn’t go to Mass because of some attachment to routine or a sense of normality. Those motivations are self-centered, and not God-centered. Rather, we should seek to have a genuine desire to draw closer to God.
If we think that the desire to go to Mass is our own and not itself a gift, we might take this temporary distance from the Eucharist as a lesson to grow in gratitude for God’s many gifts.
Conversely, if you have grown attached to watching a streaming Mass, selecting your favorite priest, enjoying the comforts of your own home, or (God forbid!) multitasking, you should probably “act against” the preference for streaming Mass and go to receive the Eucharist in person.
On Sunday 12th July, Rev Jo Richards was celebrating St Mildred’s day, which actually falls on 13th, yesterday.
Merciful God, who gave such grace to your servant Mildred that she served you with singleness of heart and loved you above all things: help us, whose communion with you has been renewed in this sacrament, to forsake all that holds us back from following Christ and to grow into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Mrs Turnstone and I took our afternoon walk across the marshes and meadows to Preston-next-Wingham’s Church of Saint Mildred. The crop in the field is cabbages. The organist was practising and stewarding the church for corvid tracing at the same time. We had a catch-up, as he is the husband of our daughter’s friend, a pray and a picnic in the churchyard. Thank you Saint Mildred!
Then yesterday, Mildred’s actual feast, Rev Jo came for a pastoral visit to the Glebe, blessing Vince and me and all absent friends. We got talking about the extraordinary young women in early times in England and Wales. Even locally there were Mildred and Eanswythe in Folkestone, but so many more who saw God’s will outside the good marriage and happy-ever-after that was expected for them.
Today, I said, you are part of a new wave.
Oh yes, but there’s also Archdeacon Jo and Bishop Rose. Not just me.
Indeed, not just Jo, and not just middle-aged women, and not just Anglicans either. I hope and pray that young women are appreciated for their ministry. You don’t have to be an official Christian Minister to be a Christian minister, but it would do good to remember in our intercessions those who are caring, teaching, driving buses and so on. Good to bring them to God; good for them to feel recognised; good for us to feel grateful. May we all grow into His likeness.