Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

23 September: Called Back

There are times when life could change dramatically, or even come to an end. One such was when I had brain surgery, a job that took twice as long as it should have done. I eventually woke from the operation with Mrs Turnstone beside the bed, glad to see my eyes opening, and I was happy to be called back to spend more years beside her. I cannot claim any memory of the dreams I enjoyed or endured during those four hours, but here’s Emily Dickinson!

Called Back by Emily Dickinson

Just lost when I was saved!
Just felt the world go by!
Just girt me for the onset with eternity,
When breath blew back,
And on the other side
I heard recede the disappointed tide!
Therefore, as one returned, I feel,
Odd secrets of the line to tell!
Some sailor, skirting foreign shores,
Some pale reporter from the awful doors
Before the seal!
Next time, to stay!
Next time, the things to see
By ear unheard,
Unscrutinised by eye.
Next time, to tarry,
While the ages steal, —
Slow tramp the centuries,
And the cycles wheel.

From “Poems by Emily Dickinson, Series Two.

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18 September: Matthew’s Call I.


We now have a little series of four reflections from Sister Johanna of Minster Abbey, this time on Jesus’ calling of Matthew the tax collector. It is his feastday at the end.

The picture shows two of the tools of the trade. They were brought home by a retiring taxman in England. By the time he retired, IT had replaced flimsy paper and Stationery Office wooden rulers, he dug them out from the bottom of the drawer and brought them home. Over to you, Sister!

And Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And Matthew got up and followed him. (See Matthew 9:9).

The writers of the synoptic Gospels rarely relate the same episode in the same way. One notable exception is the account of the calling of Matthew. The three synoptic writers, Matthew, Mark and Luke, all tell the story in the briefest way possible. Jesus just turned up at Matthew’s tax office one day, said two words, “Follow me,” (or the Aramaic equivalent) and Matthew did. Immediately.

We know this text so well that its power to astonish us may have worn off. I, in fact, have always found this text a bit skimpy on description, rather un-dramatic and a little flat. I want to know more about the back-story, about Matthew’s state of mind on that day. Consequently, I probably haven’t given the story enough of a chance to talk to me. So I resolve today to slow way down and try to look at this text as though I’ve never seen it before. This is what lectio divina is about: diving down into a text’s deep pool and, through the grace of the Holy Spirit at work, both within the text and within my mind and heart, finding the story’s hidden meaning – and, yes, even its drama. The exercise never disappoints me. I begin, asking for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

The first thing I notice, then, is that Matthew, the tax collector was “sitting” in the tax office. We don’t usually get descriptions of body-language in the New Testament, but a quick flip through the pages of my New Testament confirms what I suspected: in all three synoptic gospels, Matthew’s physical position is given. It must be important I think, but why? Who cares that Mathew’s sitting down?

As I pray about this seemingly insignificant detail, it occurs to me that a sitting person is not only stationary but apt to be quite engaged on the interior level – more so, anyway, than when charging around busily, focusing on accomplishing tasks. Matthew was sitting because his work usually required it; he’d have been at a desk or table, writing, counting money, adding up columns of figures, absorbed in his intellectual work. He was occupied, even preoccupied – presumably not in the mood for a spiritual event of life-changing proportions. He was also doing things that would have been distasteful to a decent human being. Was he a decent human being? Many of the townspeople would have denied it roundly. He was, after all, taking the tax money from his own people who could ill afford to pay it, pocketing a certain percentage of the proceeds, giving the rest to the Romans, and, even more scandalously, turning the screws on those who did not, or could not, pay. But it was part of the job; he had to do it and he did do it. I see him now, sitting, head down, counting, adding up, writing, not making eye contact with anyone, not smiling, brow furrowed in concentration.

I wonder what this was like for Matthew. Matthew was a Jew in the employment of the Romans – the occupying political power. He, like all the Jews, was in a difficult situation. Matthew, however, had figured out how to manipulate the situation to his financial advantage. But at what emotional and social price? Of what use to him, he may well have wondered, was his financial security when he had no friends? For any friend of the Romans, anyone who voluntarily did their dirty business for them – and particularly, any Jew who did the Romans’ dirty business – was doubly scorned by the other Jews. Matthew was a traitor. No one liked the tax collectors. In Matthew’s case, he was probably intensely hated. But this was a normal working day for Matthew, differing little from every other working day. He was sitting down, adding up figures, getting on with it. Or was it really a normal day for him?

Those who’ve read my posts before know I’m apt to leave certain things dangling for twenty-four hours so that the reader has time to pray over the text and perhaps ask questions of the Holy Spirit. I hope you will come back tomorrow for the continuation of our meditation.

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21 July: Another view of eternity.

Yesterday we advocated butterfly’s days: no set agenda, no targets, no business, no busy-ness. Today we open the Book of Common Prayer to read a collect that is complementary to Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘The Butterfly’s Day’. It makes explicit that we are passing through this life, and need God’s guidance and rule to survive passing through things temporal, but we can keep a hold on things eternal with Our Father’s mercy.

Our picture from Saint David’s Cathedral invites us to be still – Emily might say ‘idle’. And knowing that Our Father is God will follow; we will be given a hold on things eternal

O God, the protector of all who trust in you,
without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:
increase and multiply upon us your mercy;
that with you as our ruler and guide
we may so pass through things temporal
that we lose not our hold on things eternal;
grant this, heavenly Father,
for our Lord Jesus Christ's sake,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.


			

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4 July: Hope.

July 4 creeps in as fast as any other day of the year. What can an Englishman say about it and not appear ignorant or patronising?

I’ve been saving this poem by America’s Emily Dickinson for a suitable occasion. Perhaps we need hope on both sides of the Atlantic? It can be ours, if we listen for the tune without words; too many hasty, unreflective words have been spoken of late, threatening unity rather than building it up. Let us pray for unity as we listen to the Spirit within.

Hope is the thing with feathers 
That perches in the soul, 
And sings the tune without the words, 
And never stops at all, 

And sweetest in the gale is heard; 
And sore must be the storm 
That could abash the little bird 
That kept so many warm. 

I 've heard it in the chillest land, 
And on the strangest sea; 
Yet, never, in extremity, 
It asked a crumb of me.

From “Poems by Emily Dickinson, Series Two”.

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23 June: Feast of John the Baptist: called to be Faithful witnesses.

walking together

This post is from Vincent Cardinal Nichols’ Chrism Mass homily, 13.4.22.

Faithful witnesses. Through our baptism, we are set apart to be the sign and agent of God’s love and compassion. Every word and deed we make is to breathe the saving truth that God is with us, that our Blessed Lord accompanies us at every turn. Can we not offer this accompaniment to each other? Can we not lay aside the instinct to criticise, belittle, isolate, judge and condemn those we meet, those who are different, those we do not like? Perhaps this aggressive confrontation is the air we breathe, but our witness is to something different: to the gracious acceptance given us by God, an acceptance that we, in our turn, are called to offer to all. As we venerate the Cross on [Good] Friday, we are promising to be like him, without judgement, without condemnation, whispering only ‘Father forgive’. This is the key quality of the Church called for by the voice of our Synodal pathway. As our baptismal calling, let us put it into practice.

Jesus, the faithful witness, teaches us that in him our very humanity is being lifted up to God. In him we are made partakers of that divine life, through his Body and Blood, given on the Cross and raised in glory by the Holy Spirit. It is the great privilege of ordained priesthood to make this, the very heart of salvation, freshly presented in every age and in every place.

My brother priests, we are anointed, ordained, to take the very stuff of life and reveal it to be the gift of heaven, the means of our salvation. The bread which we accept from the people is the daily toil which is the lot of us all. The wine we receive from them is the participation, of every person, in the suffering of this world. Our words of consecration witness to the truth that God takes the toil and pain of this world and transforms it into the saving mystery it truly is. ‘Take and eat this bread’; ‘take and drink this chalice’ refer first to the daily reality of living, suffering and dying from which no one is excused. This reality, already suffused with the Holy Spirit, is now, through that same Spirit, revealed to be the substance of our salvation, for it is all taken up by Christ in his one redeeming sacrifice. In him, the texture of and content of our day, of every day, is transformed. In him, we see that the reality that awaits us each morning, and the reality within us, is the ‘first matter’ of the sacrifice we celebrate and the sacrament we bring.

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20 June: He comes and goes, like the ferry-boat.

XXI Century Ferryboat, Mallaig, Scotland.

Tagore is writing in the last years of the XIX Century from Bengal, a region today split between India and Bangladesh.


Why is there always this deep shade of melancholy over the fields and river banks, the sky and the sunshine of our country? I came to the conclusion that it is because with us Nature is obviously the more important thing. The sky is free, the fields limitless; and the sun merges them into one blazing whole.

In the midst of this, man seems so trivial. He comes and goes, like the ferry-boat, from this shore to the other; the babbling hum of his talk, the fitful echo of his song, is heard; the slight movement of his pursuit of his own petty desires is seen in the world’s market-places: but how feeble, how temporary, how tragically meaningless it all seems amidst the immense aloofness of the Universe! The contrast between the beautiful, broad, unalloyed peace of Nature—calm, passive, silent, unfathomable,—and our own everyday worries—paltry, sorrow-laden, strife-tormented, puts me beside myself as I keep staring at the hazy, distant, blue line of trees which fringe the fields across the river.

Where Nature is ever hidden, and cowers under mist and cloud, snow and darkness, there man feels himself master; he regards his desires, his works, as permanent; he wants to perpetuate them, he looks towards posterity, he raises monuments, he writes biographies; he even goes the length of erecting tombstones over the dead. So busy is he that he has not time to consider how many monuments crumble, how often names are forgotten!

From Glimpses of Bengal Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore.

The war in Ukraine should remind us that monuments do crumble and most names are forgotten. So are we and our desires tragically meaningless? We are certainly strife-tormented, but is the Universe aloof, or is it just that so much of our works look trivial set against Creation? Christians assert that behind ‘Nature’ or the ‘Universe’ is a loving Creator whose Spirit hovered over the Deep and will fill our hearts with Love, if we allow it to happen.

The Spirit may inspire some to study and contemplate the stars and galaxies which do make our works look trivial, but it is these very works – the telescopes, the computer-driven maths – that give us that sense of wonder, of littleness, and please God, of humility. The Spirit inspires others to practical love of fellow human beings or to revive and restore our living but damaged planet. We are given the power of reason to use as humble, fellow creators, not to despait, nor to amass a personal fortune, because there is nothing better to be done in a melancholy world. We are people of hope!

Come, Holy Spirit and kindle in us the power of your Love.

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11 June: Traherne XLII: Acquainted with celestial things.

To be acquainted with celestial things 
is not only to know them, 
but by frequent meditation to be familiar with them. 
The effects of which are admirable. 
For by this those things that at first seemed uncertain become evident, 
those things which seemed remote become near, 
those things which appeared like shady clouds become solid realities: 
finally, those things which seemed impertinent to us and of little concernment, 
appear to be our own, according to the strictest rules of propriety 
and of infinite moment.

I felt like adding, ‘Come Holy Spirit’, to this meditation by Thomas Traherne. He seems to be writing about the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. These are given to us at Baptism and Confirmation, and reinforced by frequent meditation – or as we at Agnellus’ Mirror would say, frequent reflection.

‘Impertinent’ here seems not to mean ‘cheeky’ but ‘irrelevant’; ‘little concernment’ is more like ‘nothing to do with me’. But the things and people that seem that way are connected to us; they are our brothers and sisters as Saint Francis would remind us. And of infinite moment – ‘moment’ meaning both ‘momentum’ and ‘importance’.

All is gift.

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5 June: Pentecost.

Saint David’s Cathedral, Pembrokeshire.
Direct, O Lord, our actions by thy inspiration 
and further them by thy continual help, 
that every prayer and work of ours may always begin from thee, 
and through thee may be happily ended. 
Through Christ our Lord. 
Amen.

This prayer was recited before his lessons by Mr Norris, history teacher at St John's College Southsea. It succinctly expresses what we have been circling around these last couple of days: our role as baptised Christians as co-creators of this Earth under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. 
Come, Holy Spirit!

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4 June: Make your home in me.

Some years again when reflecting the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, I imagined, in my prayer,
that I was Zacchaeus in the tree and Jesus stood looking up at me and saying to me “I want to stay at
your house”. My reply to him was “I have no home”.

It is true that as a priest I have moved from presbytery to presbytery, from place to place. The last place I called home was when I lived with my Mum and Dad and brothers and sister in Clapham, before I went away to school. I was part of a family. I had a sense of belonging.

Many people in life move many times, because of their job or perhaps they have traveller blood in them and are always on the move.

‘If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him.” The loving Father, Jesus our brother and the Advocate, the Spirit desires to
make their home with us. They wish to abide or live in us. Home is a relationship of love. Am I willing
and ready to welcome God into my home, that is into my heart.? Am I prepared to allow God to live or
abide in me?

We are very familiar with the Holman Hunt’s painting “The Light of the World.” A copy can be seen in St. Paul’s Cathedral. It shows the figure of Jesus preparing to knock on an overgrown and long-unopened door, illustrating Revelation 3:20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will eat with him, and he with Me”. The door in the painting has no handle, and can therefore be opened only from the inside. Jesus might be persistent in his knocking at the door of our heart but will come in when invited. We need to open the door.
Before he returned to the Father, Jesus promised that the disciples would receive the power of the Holy Spirit. This is an ideal time to invite the Father, Son and Spirit into us so that they make a home in us.

You could pray this prayer of St Augustine to the Holy Spirit.


Breathe into me, Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy.
Move in me, Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy.
Attract my heart, Holy Spirit, that I may love only what is holy.
Strengthen me, Holy Spirit, that I may defend all that is holy.
Protect me, Holy Spirit, that I may be holy.

From Canon Anthony Charlton, St Thomas’, Canterbury.

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28 May: The Church is your home: The contribution of people with disabilities to the Synod.

The Church still has a way to go to truly and fully include disabled people. But the Synod intends to hear what they have to say. Let’s hope it results in more than pious aspirations.

General Secretariat for the Synod of Bishops

The Church is your home
The contribution of people with disabilities to the Synod on Synodality 19 May 2022 
 
An online listening session, lasting about two hours, was held yesterday afternoon on the theme “The Church is your home. The contribution of people with disabilities to the Synod on Synodality” promoted by the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life in collaboration with the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.
 
The session, attended by representatives of bishops’ conferences and international associations, aimed to “give voice” directly to people with disabilities, faithful who are often on the margins of our Churches. Although many of them have already been involved in the meetings promoted by parishes, dioceses and associations, the meeting was in fact the launch of a true international synodal process dedicated to them.
 
In a dynamic of dialogue, approximately 30 participants with sensory, physical or cognitive disabilities – connected from more than 20 countries around the world – were able to express themselves in their own languages (including three sign languages) in sight of the joint drafting of a document to answer the synod’s fundamental question: How are we walking with Jesus and our brothers and sisters to proclaim Him? For the future, what is the Spirit asking our Church to grow in our journey with Jesus and with our brothers and sisters to proclaim Him?

Four moving testimonies from Liberia, Ukraine, France and Mexico drew attention about the need to overcome discrimination, exclusion and paternalism. Very touching were the words of a French catechist with Down syndrome: ‘At birth, I could have been aborted. I am happy to live,’ she said, ‘I love everyone and I thank God for creating me”. Consecrated, she received a double mandate from her bishop: prayer and evangelisation. 
 
At the opening, Card. Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, shared his personal experience: ‘I’m in debt to people with disabilities. One of them lead me to path priestly vocation. If the face of the disabled brother or sister is discarded, it is the Church that becomes disabled’.
 
The Secretary of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life, Fr. Alexandre Awi Mello, told the participants that in the synodal process the challenge is to “overcome every prejudice of those who believe that those who have difficulty expressing themselves doesn’t have a thought of their own, nor anything interesting to communicate”.
 
In closing, Sr. Nathalie Becquart, Undersecretary of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, proposed that participants observe a moment of silence, to “hear,” she said, “how the Holy Spirit has spoken to each one. There are treasures of humanity that have been shared and are offered to the Church”.
 
The participants were invited to elaborate in the coming months a common document based on their experiences and knowledge of the world of disability that they have gained first-hand and through their pastoral commitment. The document will then be delivered to the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops to be considered in the continuation of the synodal path.
 
 
The meeting is part of a path started in December 2021 by the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life with the video campaign #IamChurch, on the ecclesial protagonism of people with disabilities and desires to be a response to the appeal of the Pope in Fratelli Tutti (n.98) when he invites communities to “give voice” to those “hidden exiles” …who feel they exist without belonging and without participating”. “The goal,” the Holy Father continues, “is not just assistance, but ‘active participation in the civil and ecclesial community.
The process will be concluded in the coming months with a presential meeting in Rome.
 
 
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Photos of the meeting are available through this link: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzQCVg.
 
Press contacts
 
Pamela Fabiano
Communication and Press Office
Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life
p.fabiano@laityfamilylife.va
mobile: +39.3394034163
 
Thierry Bonaventura
Communication Manager
General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops
media@synod.va
mobile; +39351 9348474
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