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29 December: The Holy Family

 

Holy Family Window, Catholic Church, Saddleworth

Holy Family Window, Catholic Church, Saddleworth

There always seems to be a romantic air to images of the Holy Family, at least when baby Jesus has become a boy. Here He seems to be concentrating hard, learning poetry by heart – a Psalm, perhaps Ps 22/3, since the shepherd and his sheep are within sight, making for quiet waters. The style of this window suggests it was created before 1967, when the building was acquired by the Catholic community from Ebenezer chapel. 

There are traditional representations of Mary as a girl with her mother, reading together; since we have no Scriptural reference to Mary before her Annunciation, such an image would not have appeared in a Congregational chapel. Mary surely taught Jesus in many ways. and perhaps the artist was sending a message that parents should be teaching their children to read the Bible and learn some verses.

… That is as far as my thoughts had taken me when I went to a funeral of Theresa, someone I probably knew by sight – Saint Thomas’ in Canterbury has the excellent tradition of holding funerals at the daily noontime Mass, so there is always some silent support for the family. At the end her grandson said a few words, describing how she had taken great pride in her role as home-maker: that was her job, she said. She always had time for her grandchildren, hosting them for the summer holidays, walking through the orchards or into the city. Time and good meals! Love was her way.

We parents and grandparents may need lessons from Scripture and stained glass, but – is not this the carpenter’s son? The Gospel writers suggest that Jesus and his family did not stand out as specially different in Nazareth. As the window suggests, Joseph and Mary both played their part in making a home in Cairo and in Nazareth; we talk about those times as ‘the Hidden Life’. Our families’ lives are, mercifully, hidden most of the time; may they be Holy Families and grow in holiness.

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27 December: Look deeper than this pleasant scene.

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Like me, you have probably heard tell of  Saint Francis and the crib but like me, you may never have heard the full story. Follow the link to Friar Jack Wintz’s excellent telling of the story. I won’t attempt to precis his account as I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. I leave you with Friar Jack’s final paragraphs. 

Peace be with you and yours!

Will Turnstone.

Francis would smile at our nice varnished cribs, though he would bless any home that has one. Probably he would prefer those set up outdoors with live animals. And if he were to stand by one and preach today, he might say something like this:

“Look deeper than this pleasant scene. See your God become your food for eternity in a feeding place for animals. See the simple bands wound around the helpless baby, not the embroidered dress. See a man and woman wearing the clothes of the poor. See and smell the animals. Feel the cold and dirt of the cave, lighted only by a little fire. And adore your God, who took a human heart that could know the greatest love and the sharpest pain, arms that could embrace the sinners, the neurotics, the lepers, and hands that could touch cheeks running with tears, and be pierced with nails. Adore your poor and humble God.”

 

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16 October: Month of Mission: Close to Home


Canterbury Street Pastors

Today is the feast of Saint Paulinus the Apostle of Yorkshire and first Bishop of York. He went up there from Canterbury about 1400 years ago. This post is about missionary activity in Canterbury today, and an ecumenical mission at that.

The Night Economy has grown in Canterbury over the last few years, and a night on the town leaves some people very vulnerable. Street Pastors are not there to take advantage of them as potential pew fillers but to see them safely home.

We are part of a national team first pioneered in 2003, and Street Pastors continues to grow throughout the UK and across the world.

Street pastors are trained volunteers from local churches and we care about our community.

We are usually on patrol from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. on a Friday or Saturday night to care for, listen to and help people who are out on the streets.

We are led by our local coordinator and we also have support from local churches and community groups in partnership with the police, local council and other statutory agencies.

If you are interested in finding out more about our work, or are interested in becoming a Street Pastor, please visit: https://streetpastors.org/locations/canterbury/

Canterbury Street Pastors- Registered Charity Number 1164627

 

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30 September, the Franciscans come to Mount Alvernia III: by divine decree made ready for us

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When Saint Francis had returned to Saint Mary of the Angels, he sent two of his companions to the said Orlando; who when they were come to him, were received of him with exceeding great joy and charity. And desiring to show them the mount of Alvernia, he sent with them full fifty men-at-arms to defend them from the wild beasts of. the wood, and thus accompanied these brothers climbed up the mountain and searched diligently and at last they came to a part of the mountain that was well fitted for devotion and contemplation; for in that part there was some level ground; and this place they chose out for them and for Saint Francis to dwell therein; and with the help of the men-at-arms that bore them company, they made a little cell of branches of trees: and so they accepted in the name of God, and took possession of the Mount of Alvernia and of the dwelling-place of the brothers on the mountain, and departed, and returned to Saint Francis.

And when they were come unto him, they told him how and in what maimer they had taken a place on the mount of Alvernia, most fitted for prayer and meditation. Hearing these tidings, Saint Francis was right glad, and praising and giving thanks to God, he spake to those brothers with joyful countenance, and said, “My sons, our forty days’ fast of Saint Michael the Archangel draweth near; I firmly believe that it is the will of God that we keep this fast on the mount of Alvernia, which by divine decree hath been made ready for us, to the end that to the honour and glory of God and of His Mother, the glorious Virgin Mary, and of the holy Angels, we may, through penance, merit at the hands of Christ the consolation of consecrating this blessed mountain.”

Today is the Feast of Saint Michael.

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9 May: Jean Vanier: a welcome for all.

jean.v.letter

As our friend and contributor Rupert Greville says, ‘there’ll be a great deal of reflection to read over the coming days on Jean Vanier’s life and work.’ Here is a short memory from Laurent de Cherisey, founder of the Fondation Simon de Cyrene, which develops and animates shared homes on a human scale. These welcome abled bodied people and those who have become disabled during the course of their lives. He shared a platform as a speaker with Jean and they co-wrote a book,  “Tous intouchables ?” (All of them Untouchable?) with Philippe Pozzo di Borgo.

He challenged us to live fraternally, as brother and sister with the most fragile, to go beyond our private fears and build a world that welcomes everyone. He was one of those prophets who bear witness to a possible way forward for humanity, at a time when it shows itself to be extremely disturbed and anxious about living with one’s neighbour.

On the contrary, the experience of Jean Vanier and L’Arche demonstrates that when we pull down the ‘walls of fear’, as he called them, we can become co-creators of that common home where there is a fulfilling place for each one of us. 

From La Croix Newspaper

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1 May: The happy commuter

steamtrainNI

The feast of Saint Joseph the Worker seems a good time to share this story. Joseph, I guess, had his workshop in the house or close by. Not so for many in the world today. And how many of us are less than happy with our work, and with getting there and back? Can we improve things for our colleagues by our attitude towards them?

It’s Wednesday evening and I’m at Canterbury West station, chatting to a railwaywoman while I await my chance to slip onto the platform. Hundreds of people were streaming away from an incoming train.

‘You’d think if they were going home they’d look happy!’ she said, and truly, they did not. ‘I’ll get one smiling’, I said, as I saw M coming into view. To be fair, I’d seen him smiling already. I know he likes his job, and I knew he was not going home for long; he was due to attend the SVP meeting (Saint Vincent de Paul Society) about an hour later on that cold windy night. But he smiled and chatted and went on his way.

‘Now you can start working in the other 451!’ said the railwaywoman. (With a smile.)

So maybe I’ll share one of the staff’s efforts to raise a smile at Christmas with this little plum.

  • Why did the bicycle catch the train?
  • Because it was two-tyred!

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March 13. Jesus and Zacchaeus VII: The Beloved Friend

 

Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham, for the Son of man has come to seek out and save what was lost.

Yesterday, we began to ponder these remarkable words of Jesus. Today, we can continue to turn these words over in our minds – as Zacchaeus must have done late that night when everyone else had fallen asleep. How healing Jesus’ words are.

There is no hesitation on Jesus’ part in accepting Zacchaeus’s promise. No cynical words, such as, “Ha. We’ll see how long this lasts. You’ve been a liar and a thief most of your life and now you expect us to believe that you will keep these promises?” Not a word was spoken to that effect. Such remarks would have immediately condemned Zacchaeus to failure, imprisoned him in his past. But that is emphatically not the way Jesus treats anyone: certainly not Zacchaeus, and not us. Instead, Jesus reinforces Zacchaeus’s good resolution by believing in it and in him. How creative and life-giving Jesus’ belief in Zacchaeus is for him.

Jesus also regards Zacchaeus’s promise as sufficient. There is no lecture from Jesus along the lines of, “Right, my good man. Is that all you mean to do? Repaying those you ruined four times the amount you stole is not as generous as it sounds! Those people need at least that much in order to start all over again. And as for giving half your property to the poor, you will barely even feel the loss, you have so much property as it is.” Jesus does not say anything of the sort here, nor does he ever do so. Jesus is friendship, love and forgiveness. So great is his mercy and love that he immediately accepts our good resolutions wholeheartedly and envisions them not as unfulfilled promises but as actual achievements, meriting praise. Today salvation has come to this house, he says. It has already happened. This is what friendship with Jesus means.

Jesus’ friendship gives us the grace of a conversion that almost seems to reach back in time and not merely forward. Jesus can give us a new heart, and new inner desires for goodness, along with the determination to act on these desires – as we see in Zacchaeus’s resolutions. Jesus’ forgiveness is one with his friendship, which means we enter into a continuous inner relationship with him who is goodness. He can therefore fill our present with potential for good – because we are with him. This can enable us to fulfil our potential for goodness by drawing on an inner store of grace and wisdom, which have their source in Jesus.

Zacchaeus had been an unhappy, wounded, even tragic person. He had managed to surround himself with the comforts of wealth, but he did so to the detriment of his emotional life and his need for human relationships. Jesus, simply by being Jesus, swept away the tragedy like fallen leaves in the autumn; Jesus awakened Zacchaeus both to his own human longings and to his deepest human potential. In awakening these longings, Jesus also immediately offered himself as the fulfillment of Zacchaeus’s longings, and as the power behind all his potential. This shows us what we may hope for from Jesus, our beloved Friend.

good shepherd mada3

Perhaps we are tentatively groping toward something, and we do not know what it is. Maybe we are metaphorically on that tree branch, just watching, as Zacchaeus was. Maybe we see Jesus turning to us. Maybe we are very clear only about one thing: that we are lost. Zacchaeus’s story tells us that we can be confident that Jesus will befriend us, too, and offer us as much healing forgiveness, with as much joy as he gave to Zacchaeus. He will also ask something of us: to allow him, and his dearest companions, into our home. Today.

SJC

 

 

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11 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus V: Healing through Friendship

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When someone undergoes a sudden conversion, time seems to be derailed from its usual track of swift seconds and minutes, and to slow down. Every moment of the conversion experience has an overflowing content of grace. So much grace that it cannot all be absorbed at once. This is what happened when Zacchaeus hears Jesus call him by his name.

How powerful the use of our name can be. In one of the more subtle forms of bullying, the bully pronounces our name with an accent of mockery, making our very name sound contemptible. We feel the insult intensely. It is very hard to shake off the sense that the bully is right, that we are contemptible. In Zacchaeus’s case, he suddenly wakes up to the fact that he himself had been such a bully. But, no time to dwell on this now, for he hears the syllables of his own name ring out not in the tones of contempt, nor in the tones of formality and coldness that people used when speaking to the chief tax collector – if they spoke to him at all. Now, Zacchaeus’s name is called by the person of Love incarnate. Probably for the first time ever, Zacchaeus hears his own name resound in warm tones ringing with delight, friendliness and affection. It sounds as though Zacchaeus were dearer to Jesus than life; as though Jesus had now found the one he had been searching urgently for – for years.

Zacchaeus has rarely been at a loss for words in his adult life. He usually responds to whatever is said to him with a witty remark. In business affairs, his sarcasm was dismayingly prompt and devastating. But suddenly, he cannot think of what to say to this man whose very aura is compelling and whose face is radiantly welcoming. He stares at Jesus, feeling like a young child. He so wants what Jesus has, so wants to be part of who Jesus is.

After a moment, Jesus continues in the same glad and hearty tones, Come down! Years later, Zacchaeus will tell how he knew even at that moment that those words meant more than simply “Come down from that tree.” They meant, re-evaluate your whole way of being. Come down from this pseudo-tough, rich-man persona you have created and think you need. You don’t need it. You don’t even want it any more. Come down to where I am.

But at this particular moment in the encounter, Zacchaeus continues to stand on his tree-branch like a statue. He is shocked. He doesn’t stir. So Jesus urges him, Hurry! This word is also a resonating word for Zacchaeus. Slaves hurried. Zaccheus was a wealthy man and didn’t need to hurry. It wasn’t fitting. He was too important. But he longs to hurry now. He still doesn’t budge. He is too confused, too startled. Too happy. He desperately wants to jump down from his branch, but he is momentarily stuck.

But here now, Zacchaeus, Jesus is speaking to you without ceremony, and with urgency, as a man speaks to a close friend: he is smiling and telling you to get moving. He has something to ask of you. Here it is: Because today I must stay at your house!

Jesus is also offering something to you. He is offering himself. He is offering you his greatest gift: his healing friendship. He’s saying, “I, Jesus, am your friend, and I invite myself and my followers to your house for dinner. Only friends make so bold. Only friends are fearless enough with each other to admit that they need each other. I need you now! I am tired and so are my companions. And we are all hungry. You have a big house and a lot of servants. But it’s not merely your house and your food we need. We need you to be uniquely you. You have a sad history, it is true, but you are more than your history. You have human capacities that will grow and blossom when planted in the soil of friendship. Well? Will you be you? Will you offer yourself in friendship to us? I offer you a place among my friends. Isn’t this exactly what you long for?”

At last Zacchaeus seems to come out of his trance. He looks dazed, but he suddenly comprehends something of what it all means. Jumping from his branch like a boy, he hurries down and welcomes Jesus joyfully. He is not the same man who had swung into that tree a short while before. Everything is different now. He knows that this is not simply about dinner. Zacchaeus is getting ready to shed years of pain – emotional pain he had lived with for so long that he had ceased to regard it as pain at all. He had thought that what he felt inside was simply the price of existence itself – if he thought about it at all. But now he sees that there is a different way to exist. He was barely able to articulate this difference just yet, but as he strode ahead, excitedly pointing out the way to his house, and talking now with a ready flow of words, he was inwardly planning how he would be the friend of Jesus; how he would be the new person he felt he had suddenly become, and not merely today, but for the rest of his life.

SJC

 

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30 December: The Holy Family

flight.egypt.amsterdam

Before Amsterdam had numbers for houses, people used plaques on their walls to identify their home or business premises. Perhaps this one belonged to one of the many exiles living in what was then a small city on a marshy riverside. Here is Joseph taking a watchful Mary and Baby away to Egypt; He has his tools with him, including one very long saw. Perhaps he cut his own planks from the tree, or maybe it pleased the artist’s eye to show it at the pinnacle of the picture. Joseph may have given up his business but he was not giving up work.

Exile was a serious business, true enough, but Joseph was able to start work in Cairo and support his family. (The Franciscan church there that bears his name is said to be near the Holy Family’s home.)

Here is a prayer from USPG.

O God, who made your home among us in Jesus of Nazareth, we pray for those who have been forced from their homes and now live as migrants and refugees. Bless them and all who work to bring them relief, comfort and a new home.

Amen.

We could pray, too, that refugees may be allowed to find work and education in their exile, that they may be better equipped to help restore their homeland when they are able to return.

 

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November 13. Remembrance and beyond

southsea

During the Second World War in Britain, while men were fighting and the war effort seemed to be paramount in people’s minds, in the background other politicians and civil servants were drawing up plans for important areas such as housing, health and education. This time it would be a ‘land fit for heroes’. In the event, prefabricated houses and schools were erected with a speed and in numbers never again seen and the National Health Service came into being.

A better housed, better educated and generally healthier population was the result. But planning can only go so far, as the Times Literary Supplement columnist Charles Morgan pointed out.

In all the plans that are made for the life we are to lead, how seldom is there evidence of any wish that life shall be enjoyed: that it shall be safe – yes; that it shall be instructed, equalised, rubbed smooth, supplied with dustless corners and chromium-plated taps; but that there shall be grace or charm or quiet or gaiety or sweetness or light in it, there is among the sterner planners neither hope nor desire. Utility and sameness are their guiding stars … Their ideal is to make of the art of life what a timetable is to a poem.1

He wrote, of course, from a position of privilege, and exaggerates in his last two sentences to make a polemical point. Certainly I have visited prefabs that have lasted nearly three times their planned lifespan, are light and airy, and well loved by those who have made their homes therein. And G.K. Chesterton considered timetables poetic; especially when they work! And what joy, post-war, when such things could be more or less relied on again!

MMB

Portsmouth, largely rebuilt after World War II

1Charles Morgan, Reflections in a Mirror, London, MacMillan, 1944, p.93.

 

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