Tag Archives: history

9 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus III: Personal History

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We all have a history, including Zacchaeus. We do not know what his history was, but it is probable that this friendless man had an unhappy one. Why choose a profession that guarantees the hatred of one’s fellow-man otherwise? Perhaps he was tossed out of the home at a young age by an abusive parent, or perhaps he ran away from a situation of poverty and violence, had to fend for himself, become street-wise, learn to manipulate situations to his advantage. Whatever happened, he became, for reasons we will never know, a rich man, but also a dishonest man in a despised profession. No doubt he was intelligent and competent – too competent, maybe, at getting money – but wealth and the power to ruin people does not attract friends. Sycophants, maybe, but not friends. And not even these were with him that day. He was alone, unsupported. No wife, no servant. No colleague. No one.

Let’s fill in some other details about this man. Working backwards from what the text tells us, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine Zacchaeus as a wiry little boy, able to run fast and scale obstacles easily as he escaped from the angry adults who wanted to thrash him for some misdemeanour – or none. I think he knew what hunger meant as a child, and although he survived by his wits, perhaps his nutrition was dubious, and bodily growth was affected. Now he is a well-to-do adult, but Zacchaeus is a small man. He is abundantly energetic, though, and is both crafty and agile enough to solve his current difficulty without reference to anyone else (it is the story of his life): he cannot see Jesus because he is too short and the crowd is too big and unyielding. Fine. He dashes ahead and swings easily into a sycamore tree, as the text tells us – a tree well furnished with thick branches radiating from a central crown. Here is a resourceful person with few inhibitions. Here is someone determined never to allow his desires to be thwarted. Here is a man who has never cared what people thought of him as he ruthlessly made his fortune – why start now? He climbs higher on the sturdy branches. Yes, excellent view, he thinks smugly. He can see Jesus perfectly now.

And what is happening with Jesus? What is Zacchaeus apt to be seeing? St Luke tells us in the immediately preceding passage that Jesus, on entering Jericho, had healed a blind man, and that ‘all who saw it gave praise to God.’ The formerly blind man then followed Jesus, we are told. He was probably now part of Jesus’ joyful entourage walking down the main road of Jericho. I expect this group might have included many of the people who had known the blind man all his life and had now witnessed his healing. They would have joined Jesus’ group, already consisting of the Twelve, without whom he rarely went anywhere. The gospels also report that there were women among Jesus’ constant supporters and followers, and I image that some of them would have been there now, too. Chances are, the collection of people coming down the road with Jesus was a large one.

As we have seen in our gospel passage, Jesus already seems to know Zacchaeus’ name when he starts the conversation with him. No one introduces them. We do not need to assume that this is a demonstration of Jesus’ divine omniscience. Zacchaeus was infamous. The apostle Matthew, reformed tax collector himself, probably knew him, even if Jesus didn’t. He would probably have warned Jesus about Zacchaeus as he approached the town: “Rich man, but the very devil for getting tax money from people – and then some. Ruthless,” Jesus might have been told. He was probably also told that Zacchaeus lived a big house. I can see Jesus listening quietly to such information, and forming his own plans. Jesus had nothing to fear from notorious individuals.

SJC

Favella image from CD.
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20 February. What is Theology saying, XLVI: Renounce or change the world?

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Good Pope John XXIII called the Council

Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris1 emphasized that relationships between nations must be based on the same values that guide those of communities and individuals: truth, justice, active solidarity and freedom. Catholic social teaching stresses that peace is not simply the absence of war, but is based on the dignity of the person, thus requiring a political order based on justice and charity. The right of conscientious objection is affirmed when civil authorities mandate actions which are contrary to the fundamental rights of the person and the teachings of the Gospel.

But Vatican II also emphasized the crucial role of the laity in the Church, and these past fifty years have seen a growth and flourishing of lay leadership all around the world. Many Catholics are eager to learn more about their faith, but not all parishes offer opportunities to do so. Therefore, lay Catholics need to evangelize their priests and parishes in social justice terms as well as the other way around. Catholics don’t need to wait for the go-ahead from their pastors to engage in works of peace and social justice. That way, the Church’s social teachings won’t be a secret any more.

To the majority of people in the world, Jesus is an honoured historical figure who was the founder of Christianity—but that is about as far as it goes. Many have no idea that his most wonderful life had an unsurpassed effect on the history of humankind. In fact, without the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, life on planet earth would be incomprehensibly different from what it is today.

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30 September: 150 Years of the Missionaries of Africa

Celebration at Mphangwe of 150 Years of the Foundation of the Missionaries of Africa

Fr Dave Cullen Dave Cullen - Chipata Hospital 2014 06 copie M.Afr. shared this account of the  celebration

at Mphangwe in Zambia of the 150th anniversary of the Missionaries of Africa, known as the White Fathers.

Bishop George Lungu of Chipata Diocese, graciously offered to commemorate the foundation of the Missionaries of Africa 150 years ago with two Masses in the diocese, one at Chasera where the missionaries first arrived, but for a very brief period, and the second at the first parish established by the Society in 1913 at Mphangwe. It was at there that we celebrated Mass on the Feast of the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary on September 8th.

It was Katete Deanery that both prepared the celebration and, together with some help from other deaneries, funded the expenses involved. The Montfort Fathers, who are in charge of Mphangwe Prayer Centre, had put a great deal of effort to ensuring that the event was fittingly celebrated. Tarpaulins had been put up to enable almost everyone present to be shielded from the sun. Radio Maria was present to record the Mass and ensure that the loudspeaker system was in good order. A considerable number of the diocesan clergy concelebrated the Mass, together with a Comboni Missionary and several other priests, one coming from as far away as the United States on visit in Katete. Likewise, there were representatives from the various Religious Congregations, Sisters and Brothers. Parishioners from Mphangwe itself had also come in large numbers.

ZAMBIE 2The Mass was presided by the auxiliary bishop of Chipata Diocese, Benjamin Phiri. Before the Mass began, the bishop invited our Provincial, Fr Felix Phiri, to give a brief history of the work of the Missionaries of Africa in Chipata Diocese. It was, in fact, the Missionaries of Africa who founded the Church in the Eastern Province. In 1937 the Prefecture of Fort Jameson was established with Fr Fernand Martin as the priest in charge. At that time there were 3 missions in the care of ten Missionaries of Africa, strangely enough, precisely the number still doing apostolic work in the diocese today. However, those original ten eventually increased to fifty-five.

It was Fr Firmin Courtemanche who succeeded Fr Martin in 1947. He was ordained bishop and named Prefect Apostolic of Fort Jameson in 1953. The first diocesan priest in the Prefecture was Fr Zakaria Kapingira, ordained in 1939. The number of White Fathers, as they were then known, having been given that name in North Africa where they were distinguished by the white habit they wore, increased in the diocese during the Second World War that began in 1939, and many new mission stations were opened up by them. After the war, the number of diocesan priests gradually began to increase, foremost among them being Fr Medardo Mazombwe, ordained bishop in 1971 of what had now come to be named Chipata Diocese. He would later be transferred to Lusaka Archdiocese and be made a Cardinal.

As the number of parishes increased Bishop Mazombwe sought the help of other Missionary Societies, the Comboni Missionaries, Missionaries of St Patrick, known as the Kiltegan Fathers, Missionaries of Mary Immaculate, the Montfort Fathers and the Carmelites. Not only did the number of diocesan clergy begin to increase, but also Religious Congregations of Sisters, some from other countries, others from locally founded Congregations, caring for the sick in hospitals, teaching in schools and sharing in the apostolic tasks in a number of parishes.

Felix Phiri 03Fr Felix Phiri finished his presentation by giving thanks for those who had gone to the Lord as also by asking blessings on the Priests, Brothers and Sisters still offering themselves for the spread of the Kingdom of God in Chipata Diocese today.

After this introduction, before beginning Mass, Bishop Benjamin introduced to the congregation the Missionaries of Africa present, four of whom he described as our ‘Senior Citizens’, first of all Fr Henk van Kessel who, the previous day, had celebrated his 92nd birthday and is still very active as the diocesan archivist, Fr Joe McMenamin, Fr Toon van Kessel and Fr Dave Cullen, all of whom had given many years of service in the diocese. He then began the Mass which was offered prayerfully with the well-rehearsed contribution of the choir and Stellas.

After communion gifts were offered to the Missionaries of Africa, first by Bishop Benjamin, then by many of the clergy and Religious present, as also by many of the laity. As something of a finale, a group of Missionary of Africa students who were present at the Mass, together with a Missionary of Africa priest from Zambia itself, swaying rhythmically to the singing of the choir, brought a gift to the bishop. Coming from various countries in Africa they, together with the ‘Senior Citizens’ and the several other Missionaries of Africa present, witnessed to the international and multiracial character of the Missionaries of Africa.

After Mass all present were invited to a meal that had been prepared for us by our hosts and shared in the dining halls that the Montfort Fathers have had constructed for such events as that of today. From there we all departed in thankfulness and peace to our communities and homes.

ZAMBIE 1

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27 September. Truth telling XI: Due Diligence, or the truth is more interesting than you assumed.

In 2002 I wrote a history of Saint Thomas’s School in Canterbury to mark its centenary in its present building. There had been a few changes of address over some fifty years before that, when the school occupied one inadequate building after another. The parish and most of its families were poor.

The logbook of the school records how one Christmas Mr Henry Hart, of the Red House, gave cloth for the girls to make cloaks to keep themselves warm in wintertime. I knew of two buildings from that time called the Red House; the more likely one was near the shopping centre and close to the present-day Oxfam charity shop, which has a mosaic threshold bearing his name. Very interesting, and duly recorded.

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When I came to revise the story I was already a bit of a silver surfer and typed in Mr Hart’s name, occupation, and trade. I learned to my surprise that he was Jewish, (yet giving Christmas presents) and the first Jewish Mayor of Canterbury. That information was published on a couple of Jewish websites.

I certainly had not suppressed Mr Hart’s Jewishness, I just had not discovered it. In his lifetime the city was much smaller than it now is, and he was a member of the School Board as well as mayor. Everyone knew he was a Jew so nobody needed to record the fact. But it is an interesting fact and it points to something good about the integration of Jews – and Catholics – in Victorian Canterbury.

Keep on asking questions – such as who was Henry Hart. What you discover may be an interesting detail or a vital missing link.

This newer web page tells more about Henry Hart  .

MMB.

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September 20: What is Theology Saying? XXX: I long for God who is freely given.

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History is not just the logical narration of events, it is about human beings fashioning themselves within the places and cultures that surround them, making choices, relating, seeking to belong. There are two aspects to this: the one [Immanence] is literally living out things as we find them; the other [Transcendence] allows us to rise above what is – I can accept or reject what is the given situation, I can be open to a future that has never happened before.

These are not separate entities, but different dimensions of one life. We are beings already fashioned yet still in the making! To speak meaningfully of God can only happen from within such experience. “Experience” is a compound of two words: “ex” [from or out-of] and periri [try, attempt, risk…], it also is associated with the Latin word peritia [knowledge gained from experience]. Experience is risk, based on some form of justifying knowledge, the radical experiences of individuals attempting to face up to life. This is how St. John talks about his awareness of Jesus: “what I have seen, touched and held in my hands, this is what I preach”.

My spirit is not a reality alongside my body. My spirit is me, the whole me, my manner of being in so far as it is open to transcendence, a yearning for the infinite. I have a natural need for “God”. But if it is natural, why is there such talk about supernatural? God created me to be one with God, and my life gives evidence of this. This is gratuitousness, it does not have to be there, and it is put there, within me. The gratuity becomes apparent from the experience itself: I long for God who is freely given, it is from love, not command or force or coercion.

AMcC

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September 16: What is Theology Saying? XXVI: What is Grace and what does it do?

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We live in secular times – in the course of the ages we have taken more and more possession of the earth and all it contains; we control much more than people of ages past. We also have better self-awareness – realising that customs, rules and ideas of order and beauty are not always shared by other societies. Customs and traditions are not the inevitable and only right way of doing things.

When we understood less we tended to see the transcendent God as the all-powerful organiser. This God made thunder when he was angry, sent plagues and disasters to punish and redressed everything that had gone wrong. God worked in unseen ways. Outwardly a man might seem good and virtuous, inwardly he could have lost God’s grace and be out of sorts with God and living in darkness. Lost God’s Grace – outwardly, before and after baptism there might be no difference in a person – inwardly there can be all the difference between night and day in that realm where God is active and inaccessible to our experience. As we began to take more control of the world, we also took more responsibility for what was going on – in the external world. We have lightening conductors replacing the sign of the cross; we have air traffic control instead of prayers for travellers; we have learned to seed clouds from the air instead of novenas for rain.

This has also made its way into the inner world of our spiritual life. We are starting to distrust ritual ways of obtaining God’s favour. We have reasoned that a person can’t receive additional charity unless we are really loving more and more. Accounts of the spiritual life, the redemptive work of Christ and the service of the Church are now sounding more like common sense psychology than strictly Christian teaching. Some are even doing away with the idea of Grace.

AMcC

Mosaic from S Aloysius, Somers Town, London, (near Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross). While I know trains are very safe, I like to make a pilgrim’s prayer if I find this church open. MMB.

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19 August. Telling the Truth X: Thanks to dedicated librarians.

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I could and should thank many librarians for their help in my research, including those in Canterbury and Folkestone who sourced books from elsewhere in Kent or other libraries in England. The small fee for interlibrary loans avoids my spending a couple of hours on trains to the British Library, and I can usually take the books home.

University libraries especially have scanned out-of-copyright works on the web. One such book Action this day by Archbishop Spellman, mentioned a Jesuit, Francis Anderson, as a connection of my subject Arthur Hughes MAfr, Internuncio to Egypt.

More search on the web led me to the Jesuit Archive in St Louis, where they hold letters from Hughes to Anderson, revealing something of himself. I know this because the good people there, Ann and Jeff, scanned them and emailed them to me.

No human can ever know or express the whole truth about anything, but we can help each other to come to a closer understanding. The paths of all genuine seekers after truth converge – scientist, historian, artist, philosopher, theologian. And the focal point of our searching is Truth itself.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.

MMB

photo from Jesuit Archives website.

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What is Theology Saying? XXII: God revealed in their friendship with Jesus

As time passed, Christians kept asking questions about Jesus’ unique relationship with the Father, and about the title Lord. Here again, as with the Eucharist, we face a mystery. We have the living experience of Jesus, and of the risen Christ in the early Church along with their testimony of what this meant for them. They used whatever words they could put together to express this in language that was mysterious and religious and which hinted at more than it said. God had been revealed to them in their friendship with Jesus in an overwhelming way.

The questions they asked were against a background of Greek philosophy and religion – a vision of the universe in which their time and space were somehow contained within eternity and infinity as though these were continuations of time and space. This was a world that believed that gods sometimes descended and mingled with humankind, intervening and then withdrawing again. In fact, their great problem – and ours – was to find any way to express religious experience and faith. No matter what words are used to explain mysteries, they are analogies and comparisons that never quite fit. Gradually, formulations were worked out to answer the questions, and examples remain with us today in what we know as the Nicene Creed of 325 AD.

This is a statement of what Jesus Christ means to us. We say it so frequently as almost to take it for granted. Yet if we read it as for the first time we will see in a single recital two kinds of information. Jesus born of Mary, executed by crucifixion and buried. This account comes from observation and could be found in any police record. But the facts are set within a different recital, which says: before the beginning of time Jesus was born as the only Son of God; at a point in time he became incarnate [before this he was son of God but not human]. After his death he was back again and at another point in time went back to the Father; he will return, establishing the endless kingdom.

This second recital could not have been checked by observation – yet the account is written as though it could have been observed: a story of two persons, one who stays always in that upper region, the other moves to and fro between heaven and earth, linking them in one experience. They did not think that Jesus came down from heaven like he came down from Mount Olivet, nor that he sat next to the Father in the way he sat next to John at the Last Supper.

Bring the two recitals together as one and see that the historical facts provide the immediate experience which the Christian community has always wanted to interpret. It does not matter that theology through the ages has discussed the mysteries of his life, treating both accounts on equal footing. The whole account means we see Jesus as the meaning of history, everything was at the beginning with God, and at the end linking everything together reconciling human and divine.

AMcC

Canterbury Cathedral Easter Tomb;
African Pilgrims at St Maurice, Switzerland (MAFR)

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19 May: Saint Dunstan, Bishop and Blacksmith. Relics XI

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It’s comforting to learn that a bishop has a hinterland, that he has not been born and bred in a purple cassock. Eric Treacy of Wakefield with his steam trains or the poet Archbishop Rowan Williams in more modern times, Peter the fisherman  and Paul the tentmaker at the beginning. But halfway between them we find Dunstan of Canterbury, bishop, blacksmith, harpist and illuminator of manuscripts. Who mentioned Dark Ages?

Back in September, Janet and I visited Canterbury Cathedral for their annual Open House day. There was a stall for the archaeologists, who had a dish of slag, the product of smelting iron from rock, just like that to be found around the tips of Merthyr Tydfil. In another dish alongside it were magnetic black chippings, typically 3mm long: these were shards of iron thrown off when a piece of hot iron was hammered on the anvil. ‘Is this from Saint Dunstan’s workshop?’ I joked. ‘Perhaps’, they said, ‘it’s certainly Saxon.’

It seems that Saxon Canterbury was a centre for fine ironwork. As that fact sank in, suddenly the portly monk was there beside us, just a few steps from his grave, wearing his leather apron, hammer in hand. Of course that was my fond imagination, though I had seen the self-portait of Dunstan kneeling before Christ when it was exhibited here and so knew what he looked like.

But those relics of manual work – maybe of Dunstan’s labour, but probably other monks’ really – said more to me than any bone in gold and crystal reliquary.

MMB.

Public Domain, Wikipedia.

 

 

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12 May: What is theology saying? VII: Scripture speaks of God’s self-revealing

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There are three important aspects to the biblical understanding of Revelation. A progressive understanding of what Revelation is about – God is becoming more and more personal in the demands he makes. These demands find their concrete definition in Jesus, who speaks clear words in a human language with ordinary signs of love and trust. It is the nature of Revelation to be progressive – with signs that become clearer and demands become more specific for us individually and all of us together.

Scripture speaks mainly of God’s self-revealing – but keeps referring back to the Word already spoken in creation – and not just Genesis, but Psalms and the Wisdom literature – Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiasticus [Ben Sira], Wisdom of Solomon – all make references to God self-revealed in Creation. The New Testament writers frequently echo this.

Prophetic interpretation – the events of history by themselves do not constitute revelation, nor does the simple narration of them – it is only by prophetic interpretation they become revealing. The prophet speaks for God, telling the meaning of events that are happening. This is why Roman or Syrian records of the Maccabean wars would not be testimony of God’s revelation to us, while the Jewish accounts do give such testimony.

This raises the question as to how people come to speak of God, how they know what to say, and how specific words and expressions become canonical – binding for the whole tradition. Revelation is a constant dialogue/conversation between God and us, and the focus is Jesus Christ. Jesus is in the world not simply to bring revelation, like a message from above. He is in the world to be Revelation. He is a happening and gives his own prophetic interpretation of himself. As a happening he is a human being totally open to all possibilities of being and love offered by God. As a prophetic interpretation he explains the nature of God as a huge welcome to all existence and becoming.

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As a happening he is fully alive among us – which makes him the first recipient of God’s self-revealing. The Gospels show him constant in prayer with the Father, growing in wisdom, admitting there were things he did not know, gradually becoming more aware of his own mission and destiny. The New Testament shows him living his life in such a way as to become more constantly aware of what being human really means, and sharing this with his followers.

Our faith confesses Jesus as Lord, uniquely Son of God, and therefore the definitive Word of God spoken in history.

AMcC

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