Tag Archives: Grace

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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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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