Tag Archives: Italy

12 February, Little flowers of Saint Francis LXII: Brother Conrad and the young nuisance, 1.

offida.townhall

Should young boys, teenagers maybe, be encouraged to join religious communities? Before there was universal education, they might well have had to pick up the basics in their monastery before their higher studies. Here we read about one such brother in the community of Offida, another hilltop town.

It appears from this distance in time that some of the brothers had forgotten what it was to be young, and their grumbling had the predictable effect of driving the lad crazy. Until Brother Conrad came along and encouraged young man to be studious of all virtue. We must not force young people back into a corner whence they have to fight to get out, but let us try to maintain the ‘fervour of charity’, and help them to find another way.

And let’s admit that it can be a good thing to be disturbed out of our complacency.

Brother Conrad of Offida, having come on a time as a guest to the House of Offida, the brothers prayed him, for the love of God and of charity, to admonish a young brother that was in that place, the which bore himself in a manner so childish and unruly and ungovernable, that he disturbed both old and young of the community in the divine office, and for the other observances of the rule cared little or naught.

Wherefore Brother Conrad, in pity for the youth and at the prayers of the brothers, called the said brother aside and in fervour of charity spake unto him words of admonition so effective and devout, that by the working of the divine grace he suddenly changed in his behaviour from a boy to an old man, and became so obedient, and gentle, and careful, and devout, and thereafter so peaceful and serviceable, and so studious of all virtue, that, as at the and first all the community had been disturbed by him, so were they all content with him and comforted, and loved him exceeding well.

Offida Town Hall, Wikipedia.

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February 7, Praying with Pope Francis: Listen to the Migrants’ Cries.

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Pope Francis’s mission prayer for February is: We pray that the cries of our migrant brothers and sisters, victims of criminal trafficking, may be heard and considered.

Pope Francis made a point of visiting Lampedusa within days of becoming Pope. That is the Italian island, close to the North African shore, where many migrant ships and boats have landed. The cross is one fashioned by an Italian artist from the timbers of such a boat, stranded on the island, its battered paint reminding us of the dangers of even such a short crossing.

The Colombian artist Oscar Murillo created this scene of waiting migrants for the 2019 Turner Prize exhibition in Magate, Kent. In a darkened room that would overlook the sea if a blackout curtain was not there, they sit in rows, waiting. Is it a church they are in, with its wooden benches, or a run-down station waiting room? Either should be a safe place, but it’s clear that this is not: the benches have been hacked about, and that only recently.

The three men on the right hand end of the benches seem to be listening: listening to someone or listening for someone? Are they waiting for a foreman’s call to work, one day at a time, or for the train to take them where they can earn for their families back home? Imagine your own stories.

murillo migrants

The two women on the front row have been eviscerated, their wombs and vital organs replaced by lengths of what looks like stainless steel waste gas ducting.

Hands pressed hard against the bench, the figures are ready to move, but where to? Each one is isolated in his or her own suffering, yet they form a group in our eyes. But let us remember that they stand for individual human beings with families and loved ones who may be anxious over them, hearing no news from the waiting room, the salle des pas perdus as the French have it, the place of lost footsteps. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here?

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17 January, Church Unity week: Rebuild my Church

 

st damiano wall repaired

On the train towards Assisi, a Canadian was singing the praises of the Saskatoon winters, ’40° below, Fahrenheit or Celsius’, then announced to whoever was not listening, ‘In North America we would knock these buildings down and build something bigger; but here they repair and restore them.’

This particular wall is a stiff walk up from the railway station, at San Damiano in Assisi, the place where Saint Francis heard the call from the Crucified to ‘Rebuild my Church, which is falling down.’ That is a story that the Franciscans are living to this day; it was not just the ruinous chapel of San Damiano that needed rebuilding, but the whole of God’s Church, a project that should involve every group of people who claim to be Christian.

Pope Francis is calling us to rebuild the Church for today and tomorrow. What might that look like? A brand new building or a much-loved one, patched, repaired and altered to house a changing mission, and stones which the builders may have rejected in the past?

This wall is hundreds of years old; how many times has it been altered – and drastically altered – to fulfil changing needs or to strengthen it after earthquakes or erosion? For sure the big arch replaced he smaller one, to create a cart shed maybe, but in its turn it was no longer needed, so was filled in with irregular stone, its crest replaced by a horizontal course to support a new floor.

Successive architects could not have foreseen how their wall would become less fit for purpose, but they confidently built what was needed in their own life time. And that too would be rebuilt, centuries later.

Even today repairs and alterations continue around the monastery to make pilgrims welcome: electricity, running water, more even floors and steps, but the core of the church is as it was. The notice on the wall says that this is a Unesco World Heritage Site, not, though, a museum.

Our Faith is more precious than any Unesco heritage site. We will not preserve it as a treasure hidden in a field (or around San Damiano, an olive grove) but by bringing into the open, and using, treasures old and new.

Let us pray during Christian Unity Week, which begins tomorrow, for courage in our daily mission to rebuild Christ’s church together.

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1 November: All Saints?

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As part of my random self-education in the classics, I’ve been reading Cary’s Victorian translation of  Dante’s Divine Comedy. This passage is very near the beginning. Dante in his vision or dream is in a forest, where he meets Virgil, the Roman poet and philosopher, who offers to guide him through the world to come, as far as Heaven’s Gate. But he adds:
“The blest,
Into whose regions if thou then desire
T’ ascend, a spirit worthier then I
Must lead thee, in whose charge, when I depart,
Thou shalt be left: for that Almighty King,
Who reigns above, a rebel to his law,
Adjudges me, and therefore hath decreed,
That to his city none through me should come.
He in all parts hath sway; there rules, there holds
His citadel and throne. O happy those,
Whom there he chooses!”
In other words, Virgil himself is banned from heaven as ‘a rebel’ to God’s law, and no-one can come to heaven through him. This is in contradiction to what happens in the book! He does indeed guide Dante towards heaven.
On All Saints Day, let us be mindful of the good, non-Christian people whom we know, who live exemplary lives, perhaps with no thought of an afterlife or a heavenly reward. Happy, perhaps, to accept just one earthly  life and the prospect of final extinction at 70 or 80, but to live a life of loving service to the end.
May God choose them – Virgil included – to join him in his citadel!

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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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29 September, The Franciscans come to Mount Alvernia II: An after dinner conversation.

pope-xmas-meal

Saint Francis said to Orlando: “Go this morning and do honour to thy friends, who have called thee to the feast, and dine with them, and after thou hast dined, we will speak together as much as thou wilt.”

So Orlando gat him to the dinner; and after he had dined, he returned to Saint Francis, and conferred with him, and set forth unto him fully the state of his soul. And at the end this, Orlando said to Saint Francis: I have in Tuscany a mountain, most proper for devotion, the which is called the Mount of Alvernia, and is very lonely and right well fitted for whoso may wish to do penance in a place remote from men, or whoso may desire to live a solitary life; if it should please thee, right willingly would I give it to thee and thy companions for the salvation of my soul.”

Saint Francis hearing this liberal offer of the thing that he so much desired, rejoiced with exceeding great joy and praising and giving thanks first to God and then to Orlando, he spake thus: “Orlando, when you have returned to your house, I will send unto you certain of my companions and you shall show them that mountain; and if it shall seem to them well fitted for prayer and penitence, I accept your loving offer even now.” And this said, Saint Francis departed and when his journey was done, returned to Saint Mary of the Angels: and likewise Orlando, when the festivities of that knightly company were over, returned to his castle, which was called Chiusi, the which was but a mile distant from Alvernia.

Pope Benedict XVI broke with protocol to share his Christmas dinners with poor people of Rome. (And like Saint Francis, he broke with protocol; in other ways too!)

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6 August, Little Flowers of Saint Francis LVII: Saint Antony and the fish, 3.

anthony and Francis

At these and the like words of Saint Antony, the fishes began to open their mouths and bow their heads, and with these and other signs of reverence in such fashion as best they might, gave praises unto God. Then Saint Antony, beholding this great reverence of the fishes unto God their Creator, rejoiced in spirit, and cried with a loud voice: “Blessed be God eternal, sith the fishes of the waters give Him more honour than do the heretics; and the animals that have no reason pay more heed unto His word than unbelieving men.” And the more Saint Antony preached, the more did the multitude of the fish increase, and no one of them left the place that he had taken. At the which miracle the people of the city began to run together, and among them the heretics aforesaid also drew nigh: the which beholding the miracle so marvellous and so clear, touched to the heart, fell all at the feet of Saint Antony to hear his words.

Thereat Saint Antony began to preach of the catholic faith; and so nobly did he preach that all those heretics were converted, and turned them to the faith of Christ; and all the faithful abode in joy exceeding great, being comforted and strengthened in the faith.

And this done, Saint Antony bade the fishes depart with the blessing of God; and all went thence with marvellous signs of joy, and likewise the people also. And thereafter Saint Antony abode in Rimini many days, preaching and reaping much spiritual fruit of souls.

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5 August, Little flowers of Saint Francis LVI: Saint Antony and the fish, 2.

anthony and Francis

What did you expect from a sermon to the fish? They got a brilliant theology of Creation, from Scripture to science without any contradictions. Laudato Si!

The fishes being set in order and array, Saint Antony began solemnly to preach, and so spake: “My brothers the fish, much are ye bounden so far as in ye lies, to give thanks to our Creator, who hath given you so noble an element for your abode; in such sort that as it pleaseth you, ye have sweet waters and salt; and hath given you many a refuge to escape the storms withal; nay more, hath given you a clear, translucent element, and food by the which ye may live.

God, your kind and bountiful Creator, when He created you, gave you commandment to increase and multiply, and poured on you His blessing: then whenas the deluge came and one and all the other beasts all died, you alone did God keep safe from harm. Moreover hath He given you fins that ye may roam where’er ye please.

To you the grace was given, by God’s command, to save the prophet Jonah, and after the third day to throw him safe and whole upon the land. Ye brought the tribute-money to our Lord Jesu Christ, who was so poor, He had not aught to pay.Ye were the food of the eternal King, Jesus Christ, before the Resurrection and thereafter, through a mystery wondrous rare; for all the which things much are ye bound to bless and praise God, who hath given you so many and so great blessings more than to other creatures.”

Antony with some of his fish, alongside Francis. Public Domain via Wikipedia.

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4 August, Little Flowers of Saint Francis LV: Saint Antony and the fish, 1.

anthony and FrancisAny teacher or preacher would have to admit to moments when we’d as soon address the fish of the sea or the school pond, than humans who don’t want to be taught. Abel enjoyed a response from the university carp a few weeks ago, but he was tossing lumps of bread, not words of wisdom. 

The blessed Christ, desiring to set forth the great sanctity of his most faithful servant, Saint Antony, with what devotion men should give ear unto his preaching and his holy doctrine, once on a time, amongst others, reproved the folly of the infidel heretics by means of the animals that have no reason, to wit, by the fishes, even as in old time in the Old Testament he had reproved the ignorance of Balaam by the mouth of the ass.

Wherefore on a day Saint Antony being in Rimini, where was great company of heretics, desiring to bring them back to the light of the true faith and to the path of virtue, preached unto them for many days, and disputed of the faith of Christ and of the Holy Scripture; but they not only gave no consent unto his holy words, but therewithal, as men hardened and stiff-necked, would give no ear unto him.

Inspired of God, Saint Antony went one day to the river-side hard by the sea; and standing thus upon the bank betwixt the river and the sea, began to speak after the manner of a preacher sent by God unto the fishes: “Hear the word of God, O ye fishes of the sea and of the river, since the infidel heretics refuse to hear it.” And when he had thus spoken, forthwith there came unto him to the bank a multitude of fishes, great and small and what between, that never in that sea nor in that river had been seen so great a multitude; and they all held up their heads above the water and all stood attentive towards the face of Saint Antony, one and all in much great peace and gentleness and order; for in front and more a-nigh the bank stood the smaller fish, and behind them stood the fish of middle size, further behind where deeper water was the greater fishes stood.

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21 July, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLIX: Kindred Spirits 2.

st louisSaint Louis, King of France, had come in disguise to visit Brother Giles. They spent the whole of his visit in loving silence.

And whenas they had a long time continued together without having spoken together, they parted the one from the other, and Saint Louis went his way on his journey, and Brother Giles returned unto his cell.

When the king was gone, a certain brother asked one of his companions who it was that had embraced Brother Giles for so long time; and he replied that it was Louis, King of France, the which had come for to see Brother Giles. When this he told to the other brothers, they were exceeding sorrowful for that Brother Giles had spoken never a word to him: and murmuring thereat, they said to him: “O Brother Giles, why hast thou shown thee so discourteous as to say naught at all to so holy a king that had come from France to see thee and hear from thy lips good words?’

Replied Brother Giles: “Dear brothers, marvel not thereat, for neither I to him nor he to me could speak a word, sith so soon as we embraced each other, the light of heavenly wisdom revealed and showed to me his heart, and mine to him, and thus through divine working, each looking on the other’s heart, we knew what I would say to him and he to me, far better than if we had spoken with our mouths, and with more consolation than if we had sought to show forth in words the feelings of our hearts.

Through the weakness of human speech, that cannot express clearly the secret mysteries of God, it would have left us all disconsolate rather than consoled; wherefore know ye that the king departed from me with marvellous content and consolation in his soul.”

 

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