Tag Archives: Grace

24 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, VII.

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2023

Photo: Mazur/cbcew.org.uk

As we join with other Christians around the world for the Week of Prayer we pray that our hearts will be open to see and hear the many ways in which racism continues to destroy lives, and to discern the steps we can take as individuals and communities to heal the hurts and build a better future for everyone.

Day 7 Agency

Matthew 5:1–8 
Job 5:1-16

Commentary

Matthew’s account of the Beatitudes begins with Jesus seeing the crowds. In that crowd he must have seen those who were peacemakers, the poor in spirit, the pure in heart, men and women who mourned, and those who hungered for justice. In the Beatitudes Jesus not only names people’s struggles, he names what they will be: the children of God and inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Howard Thurman, African American theologian and spiritual advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., believed, “the religion that Jesus lived produced the kind of life for Him that identifies with the downtrodden, outcast, broken, and disinherited of the world.” Yet, Thurman also believed that, “It cannot be denied that too often the weight of the Christian movement has been on the side of the strong and the powerful and against the weak and oppressed – this, despite the gospel.”

If we listen hard enough, we will hear a diversity of voices crying out under the weight of oppression. Action is needed today to bring love, hope, justice and liberation for us and others in the future. Oppression of any kind demands that each of us chooses to engage in order to eradicate the injustice(s) that break our hearts open.

In prayer we align our hearts with the heart of God, to love what God loves and to love as God loves. Prayer with integrity therefore aligns and unites us – beyond our divisions – to love what, whom and how God loves, and to express this love in our actions.

Let us all work together with God in our hope and commitment to shut injustice’s mouth and eradicate oppression in all areas of our society.

Reflection

I see you there,
You – blessed ones,
You – poor in spirit,
You – mourners, meek ones and merciful ones.
I hear your stomachs rumble with hunger. 
Is righteousness enough to satisfy your thirst,
like rain upon the earth?
You have had your fill of the schemes of crafty ones,
been force fed so-called wisdom by the wily.
With pure and undivided hearts
you train your eyes upon God’s cause – 
to lift high the perceived lowly,
to bring to safety any who are in danger of being trampled by pride-filled footsteps of trespassers,
or stabbed by weaponised words hell-bent on cutting down and dehumanising.
Shut the mouth of injustice, God,
tear down the strongholds of the power-hungry
and give us the desire and the strength
to rebuild a realm
where all who are wounded are brought comfort,
where the inheritance is shared by all,
where swords and shields are beaten
into tools for sowing peace and reconciliation,
where healing abounds
and mouths open to sing stories of shared blessing and hope.

Prayer

God of justice,
Empower us to be agents of your grace and mercy.
Bless us with the courage to relinquish our power.
Bless us with the humility to stand with the oppressed.
Bless us with the integrity to love our neighbours 
as we ourselves would seek to be loved.

Questions

Can you think of a time when you felt powerless? How would you have liked others to respond?

Think about the ways you might have influence in your local community? How might you use that influence to help those who feel powerless?

Around the world whole communities find themselves powerless as a result of corruption and exploitation. How might the choices we make in our daily lives impact these situations?

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6 January, Epiphany: Recognising God’s presence.

The Cross as shining star; do we recognise Jesus in our suffering? Saint Edmundsbury Cathedral.

Here is an extract from an Epiphany sermon by Rev Bruce Bryant-Scott. He makes no direct mention of the Wise Men here, but they travelled West to Jerusalem and on to Bethlehem because they recognised the new-born King of the Jews. May we, too, recognise him at work in our hearts.

Epiphany means showing forth… Think of the unveiling of a plaque or a statue – that is an apocalypse, a revelation. Blessing is like that. We bless food, houses, people, and sneezes, but we also bless God – the psalmist sings, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless God’s holy name”. So blessing is not about adding something to a situation. It is about recognising God’s action in a situation.

The Eucharist, this great Thanksgiving in which we take bread and wine and bless it, is an epiphany and a revelation of God working here among us. It is not magic, it is not hocus pocus, but recognising the spiritual reality of God’s presence. When I bless a marriage, I am not adding something to the relationship, but simply recognising on behalf of the church that God is acting in the couple.

There is this thing called prevenient grace, a major point in both ancient Catholic theology and the more recent Methodism of John and Charles Wesley. It is the belief that God is acting in us and for us before we are aware of it. Prevenient or preceding grace prepares in our hearts a place for God – it’s what makes that God shaped hole in our souls that only God can fill, that desire that only the divine can satisfy.

My hope and my prayer is that we become aware of how the God in Christ is working in us by the Holy Spirit, that we do not pack it all away now that Christmas is over, but see it. May we join with the psalmist and say,

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name for ever;
may his glory fill the whole earth.

Amen and Amen.

Bruce Bryant-Scott is an Anglican priest working on the Island of Crete. His blog is theislandparson.com and this post comes from there.

Here is the inscription on the High Altar Cross of St Edmundsbury Cathedral; not the one shown here:

”And life is eternal and love is immortal and death is only the horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.”

The High Altar Cross is both beautiful and poignant. It was given by the parents of Pauline Greene who died in 1921 aged 3 years old. We can offer to God our deepest pain and loss. The cross of Jesus shows how God transforms suffering into new life.

http://www.stedscathedral.org.

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31 December: OLD AND NEW YEAR DITTIES I

Ringing chamber, Lincoln Cathedral. Ring out the old year, ring in the new!
OLD AND NEW YEAR DITTIES

New Year met me somewhat sad: 
   Old Year leaves me tired, 
Stripped of favourite things I had 
   Baulked of much desired: 
Yet farther on my road to-day 
   God willing, farther on my way. 

New Year coming on apace 
   What have you to give me? 
Bring you scathe, or bring you grace, 
   Face me with an honest face; 
You shall not deceive me: 
   Be it good or ill, be it what you will, 
It needs shall help me on my road, 
   My rugged way to heaven, please God.


 From Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems by Christina Rossetti)

Let’s end the old year and start the new with poetry. This is the first of three Old and New Year Ditties from Christina Rossetti, These last few Old Years have left many of us tired, frustrated, baulked from achieving our wishes, however legitimate or worthy they might have seemed.

‘Somewhat sad’ Rossetti may have been, wondering what the New Year will bring. She knew ill-health herself well before modern medicine and surgery which could have helped and healed her. She shared and tried to alleviate the sufferings of sex workers, very badly off in Victorian times, as well as other poor women. Here it almost sounds as though she is armouring herself for the challenges she will face on the rugged road through the coming year.

If we face ourselves with an honest face we’ll acknowledge our mixed feelings. No more covid, please God, for a start! No more war, starvation or suffering; but please God, may the family wedding be the start of a long and happy marriage …

Let us be hopeful rather than optimistic. We can expect the road to be rugged, but we may hit the potholes when we least expect to.

Happy New Year to Everyone!

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More about Fr Tom Herbst’s funeral rites.

56Pentecost'86 (519x640)

For Father Tom, the dividing wall is broken down!

We can now share more details of Fr Tom’s funeral arrangements, thanks to the indefatigable Rob Meredith.

Just to confirm, Fr Tom will be brought into church on Friday 25th at 18.00, Helen has kindly agreed to play some music. The Mass will be at 12.00 on 26th to be followed by the celebration of Tom’s life. It will be held in the Kentish barn in Canterbury Cathedral lodge directly after the service, about an 8 minute walk. There will be a condolence book in church. Please feel free to put your thoughts down, we will send this to the mission in San Luis Re afterwards. Finally, regarding flowers. Fr Ton asked that donations in lieu of flowers be sent to Oxfam.

The Mass will be live streamed. Follow this link: https://stthomasofcanterbury.com/livestream/

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Later, in California:

A funeral Mass will be celebrated for Fr Tom by the Provincial on Saturday December 3rd at 10.30 a.m. at Old Mission San Luis Re, 4050 Mission Avenue, Oceanside CA. His ashes will be inurned with his family at San Luis Re Cemetery following the Mass. A reception will be held at the San Luis Re Pavilion after the inurnment.

Here is another reflection by Fr Tom in Agnellus Mirror. This one comes from Pentecost, 15 May, 2016. You can find more at Agnellusmirror.wordpress.com then search for Herbst. But read and enjoy this one!

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Many years ago, in my hometown, I had a powerful experience while riding on a bus. I don’t know why I was taking the bus that day, as at that time I drove a motorcycle, nor do I recall where I was going…but, really, all of that is beside the point. The experience I had, while staring aimlessly out the window, remains fresh in my memory, even decades later.

Now, please, don’t misunderstand what I am about to write – as if it were a claim to some privileged mystical experience. Rather, it came in the form of a daydream; a sparkling thought, caught up with an image, all in an instant…that made me blink then smile and begin the first of many re-plays. What occurred was a kind of visualisation that I have come to call the ‘breakthrough’; a great, shattering, re-arranging, expansive, irresistible, all-encompassing force pulsing through a billion shards of what seemed like brightly coloured stained glass, all rushing forward and constantly re-configured in near-endless patterns of dazzling complexity and creative expression. It was also immediately apparent that the thrusting force was purposeful, even rational, and, above all…exuberant.

I reckoned right away that it must have been a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.

Over the years I have remembered and cherished that image, tried (with varying degrees of success) to represent it in art, and have also discerned it in some others’ experience as well. As I have done so, many different dynamic aspects of the fundamental breakthrough have emerged. The first is scriptural and that is of a Triune God on the move; nearly peripatetic, even mendicant. This has always been obvious in terms of the Second Person of the Trinity, first in terms of the explosive creative agency of the Word and then through the itinerant ministry of the Incarnate Word; preaching and working miracles on the many byroads of Palestine- the foxes have holes and the birds build nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. But what of the other Trinitarian Persons? The Holy Spirit blows like the wind, wherever he wills, defying all of our attempts to place God within perceptible perimeters or even (God forbid!) a box. He also dances and flickers like tongues of flame; dead, static religion has no place in that raucous Kingdom. What of the Father? Moving, always moving with his desert people in the great covenantal Ark; a mendicant God for a pilgrim people, sparkling with the guiding light of shekinah even in the dark nights of weakness and despair.

And like Siva in a very different religious tradition, that Spirit of wind and fire, ever moving – siempre adelante – can unmake as well as make. But God being God is necessarily all in all and utterly good. When Love unmakes it is only to pave the way for the exhilaration of renewed freedom. Thus, St. Paul in Ephesians 2:14, For he himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall… I have seen many a wall tumble and, when it is the work of Christ attested by the Holy Spirit, people invariably look up, rubbing weary eyes in wonder at undreamed of promise…fulfilled.

TJH

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12 October: Sixty years on.

The Synod of Bishops in session.

Message from the General Secretariat of the Synod on the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, 11 October 1962.

The Synod of Bishops was instituted by St. Paul VI at the beginning of the fourth and final period of the Council (Sept. 15, 1965), responding to requests made by many council fathers.

The purpose of the Synod is to prolong, in the life and mission of the Church, the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, which represented “the great grace from which the Church has benefited in the 20th century” (John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Novo millennio ineunte, Jan. 6, 2001, 57). This task is an ongoing process; in some respects it is still in its infancy.

Read the whole statement here.

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September 11: Do not be afraid of them.

This is part of a post in a series by Sister Johanna Caton that we read back in March. Search Agnellus Mirror for People in their thousands or follow this link to read the whole post and access the series. This is apposite for our series on preventing suicide, but also appropriate for today’s date.

To you, my friends, I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more (cf. Lk 12:4).

Jesus’ words here are bold words. I imagined myself there, at the scene, part of that huge crowd of thousands. I am hungry for Jesus’ truth. How would I have reacted to his words? Sure, I would have liked well enough being included among those whom Jesus calls his ‘friends’. But I must confess that I would also have felt a subtle resistance to the rest of that sentence, I think. He says, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but after that can do no more. I don’t think I would have wanted to hear about killing and being killed.

But Jesus, in this passage, is determined to challenge us, and to make his audience face the deepest of mysteries. He is going straight for what we most fear, straight for the most horrific thing we can imagine: our death. The very subject of death touches the rawest of raw nerves. In the face of death, if we are honest about our feelings, our sense of bewilderment, horror, loss, grief, disorientation, fear and even injustice and outrage surfaces – usually overwhelmingly. And this is the subject Jesus raises. Then, with simplicity, and without a hint of melodrama, he says that we have no reason to fear death, or to fear those who, out of malice, may cause our death. Recall: there are thousands listening to this speech. He wants everybody to know.

Why is Jesus talking about death? It now comes home to me that he does this because he alone, as Son of the Living God, is the only human being – ever – with authoritative knowledge of death. His teaching about death, therefore, is an integral part of his mission – it is his mission. It is even the Good News!

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We must not be afraid of those who kill the body, even if it is their own body they kill. That lack of fear, or that overcoming of fear, enables ordinary people to intervene, as Samaritans, as trained suicide watch workers, or just good neighbours.

Let us pray for the grace to overcome the fear of death sufficiently to comfort the bereaved, and to notice and get alongside a potential suicide who may cross our path.

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25 July: A Child’s Grace

Thank you God, for Father’s hand.
Thank you for the world so sweet,
Thank you for the food we eat,
Thank you for the birds that sing,
Thank you God, for everything.
                                                      Edith Leatham

in 1937 Ernest Claxton published a photograph album by Harold Burdekin based on this grace, all six verses illustrated by scenes from childhood in soft photogravure.* He wrote: ‘This simple grace … is so full of praise, so beautiful, that it at once brings home the joyful message of the Giver of all good things.

‘Natural and happy hours in a child’s life may be linked up with the realisation of God’s love. If this is done at an early age, children will learn to know that He is a loving Father.’

Two years on, children were being evacuated to the countryside from London and other cities; similar scenes were played out across Europe. The war in Ukraine is by no means the first since then with families forced into refuge away from home, away from their native land.

At this holiday time, let us pray for the wisdom to know how to bring natural and happy hours to the lives of children in our families, among our neighbours, at home and across the world.

*E. E. Claxton, H Burdekin (photographer), A Child’s Grace, London, Dent, 1937;

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12 July, Seeds II: becoming the good soil.

abel.barrow

We are heading toward a reflection on Mark 4: 26-29. Yesterday we looked at some of the preceding scripture passages in order to understand more about the context within which the beautiful parable of the seed growing by itself emerges. I ended yesterday’s post inviting my readers to spend a day with Mark 4: 1-9 – the parable of the sower, sometimes called the parable of the soil. What light does this shed on Mark 4: 26-29?

In both passages, Jesus uses seeds as a metaphor, but the two passages are very different. In Mark 4:1-9, the emphasis is more on the soil and its capacity to receive the seed. If you recall, our reflection yesterday found Jesus on a bad day – he’d had run-ins both with the scribes and with his own relatives. It’s no accident, then, that Jesus talks about receptivity. – for he’d been struggling against incomprehension and closed-mindedness all day long. To illustrate his teaching he uses the metaphor of various types of unwelcoming soil.

And here I have a confession to make. The parable about the different types of soil – the rocky, the shallow, the thorny, and finally the good soil – makes me nervous. I can’t help it. I try to tell myself that Jesus was perhaps directing the parable against those who were hostile to him. I try to convince myself that although I am far from being perfect, I am certainly not hostile toward Jesus. But, it doesn’t help, because I also know that Jesus’ parables are always profoundly meaningful on many levels, and they all apply to all of us. That’s the trouble. I can easily see myself in this one. I am capable of being all of the different kinds of soil Jesus describes here: at times, hard and rocky (stubborn and hard-headed), other times, shallow (immature and given to sudden enthusiasms that don’t last), still other moments find me thorny (preoccupied by worry) and, yes, thanks to the grace of God, I know that I have been at times receptive to the seed of the word – and I am grateful for that grace. This parable is about me and should not be dismissed. And I hope, with God’s grace, to become the good soil all the time, or at least more of the time. But, the parable still makes me nervous. Whenever I read it, I wonder if I will ever really manage to become the person the Lord wants me to be, and to be good soil, rich, velvety and constantly nourishing for the seed of the Word.

And then, I read further in chapter four of Mark and I come upon the parable of the seed growing by itself. A truly wonderful thing about scripture is that scripture interprets itself. In other words, there is a unity between biblical texts; passages of scripture throw light on other passages of scripture – so if there is a section that seems to be difficult, count on it, there will be another part that provides the help we need. Mark 4:26 to 29 provides that help.

Let’s pause here for another day and spend it looking at Mark 4: 26 to 29. Perhaps you will find balm in that passage, too. Tomorrow we’ll talk about it.

Illustration: Abel preparing the soil with compost and hard work.

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5 January: Christmas in a prison cell II.

Not every prisoner can be as ready to accept the sacrifice of confinement as Bonhoeffer was. Let us us remember them all at Christmas time in this prayer shared with us by a prison chaplain.

We pray for every imprisoned person
who misses their family,
who cannot hold their children
or visit their parents,
who this Christmas will be surrounded not by loved ones
but by inmates who have no way out.
These are people
whose special holiday dinner 
is served on cafeteria trays,
by people who are paid to be there.
We give thanks
that the gift of the Christ-child on Christmas morning
is not controlled by human hands,
not stopped by locks or bars
but poured out by your special grace.
AMEN.

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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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