In order to give the superiors a little encouragement in the way of making a missionary of me, I at last was able to acquire a second hand motor-bike and sidecar (plus of course a debt!) and was given charge of five villages (don’t imagine “village”, think of forests, banana gardens, cotton fields + very scattered huts). I did the sick calls for a month + two safaris. Bedding and everything packed off to a mud house in the woods seven miles away and then I nearly died of fatigue. Quite frankly exhausted. Hut to hut visiting over fields, rocks, ruts …. For hours and hours each day. Little sleep at night because of rats and spiders …. How I learnt to admire the real missionaries! Those who do this always.
It’s 1934, and Fr Arthur Hughes, recently arrived in Uganda, is trying to get away from being a desk jockey; he was the bishop’s secretary. Different times! The missionaries had vast areas to cover and the motor bike was a reasonably efficient and cheap means of getting about; he had used one extensively in England earlier. Not very many years before this, a push bike was considered something of a luxury for a missionary. Arthur is writing to his sister Winifred in London; we have kept his punctuation.
Nowadays there are many Ugandan priests, serving God and their people, but from before Fr Hughes’s time to the present day, the Church has been held together through the work of lay catechists. Tomorrow we will be visiting them in Uganda, and finding more about this long-established ministry which has at last been formally recognised by Pope Francis.
Spiders look bigger in the dark with only a hurricane lamp to see by.
Today and tomorrow we are glad to share two posts from Sister Johanna that follow on nicely from Emily yesterday.
Lord, even the devils submit to us when we use your name (Luke 10:17). The disciples were elated. Seventy-two men had been appointed missionaries by the Lord and had been given their first assignment: to visit towns in the area where the Lord himself would soon be visiting (Luke 10:1f). They were meant to prepare the people for Jesus himself. Jesus gave them explicit instructions about what to wear for this, their first official engagement: normal clothes – nothing to distinguish them from anyone else, and what to pack: nothing. Indeed, they were to bring no food, no money, not even a change of clothing. No place had been arranged for them to stay when they arrived in a town: they would have to work that out when they got there. They were not to equip themselves ahead of time with anything that would allow them to feel self-reliant.
We know this story so well that we can forget how this must have sounded to the seventy-two when they listened to Jesus telling them what to do. Perhaps it seemed exciting – but I should think, too, that when they actually set out, without food supplies and with their pockets empty, they must have felt vulnerable in the extreme. It was their very first journey for Jesus, after all. They had no experience of past successes to give them confidence. They were only told by Jesus to heal the sick and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” Some must have secretly worried that they’d become tongue-tied when they started to preach, or would fail miserably in their first attempt at healing. Maybe they’d even be laughed out of town.
But instead, the gospel tells us that their missionary journey was a smashing success. The actual stories of their successes are just a few of the many untold tales that lie hidden behind what is recounted in the gospels. The evangelist skips them all in this instance, and zeroes in on something else – something of greater depth and importance. Luke tells us what happens after their triumph, when they return to Jesus like conquering heroes. For, when they see him, the first thing out of their mouths seems to have been that “even the devils” submitted to them.
Now, this is truly success on a spectacular scale. Perhaps the hopes of the missionaries had been much more modest: maybe they felt that they’d be doing well if they could make the child with the tummy-ache feel better, and manage to interest a small audience in stories of Jesus’ healings and sayings. But to tangle with devils and come up trumps – would they even have imagined this ahead of time? They must have said to each other as they journeyed home, “Won’t the Lord be overjoyed when he hears! I can’t wait to see his face when we tell him!”
And Jesus is overjoyed, just as they had hoped. He affirms them. It seems that he already knew what had happened – this kind of sensational news must have spread from village to village like wildfire. He declares: ‘I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven.’ Hearing these words of Jesus must have felt good, very good to the disciples. And Jesus is generous, not only with his praise, but with his promises. He has more to say here about what they will be able to do. “Look, I have given you power to tread down serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you.” I like to think of the disciples’ silence as they bask for a few minutes in Jesus’ assurances – their sense of wonder and gratitude must have been profound. They would be taken care of by the Lord whenever they were doing his work. They have just had their first experience of this. They would be powerful in his name. This was an important moment for the seventy-two. Let us leave them for twenty-four hours in this state of glowing wonder, and come back tomorrow to continue our reflections.
This is an extract from an article by Dominique Greiner, editor in chief of Croire-La Croix.
Pope Francis is due to visit Iraq from today.
Pope Francis’s journey has a strong interfaith element. It’s notable that he is going to Ur, the tradition starting point for the journey of Abraham the common patriarch of the three great monotheisms. Those who claim him as such cannot but recognise each other as brothers and sisters, and work together for the future of their country. This call to fraternity is an invitation not to remain prisoners of the sufferings of the past and to work for the material and spiritual rebirth of Iraq. It is a call which goes out to us too.
The final part of Sister Margaret’s reflection on the way of penance, Franciscan style. Thank you again, Sister! The last sentence is enough to ponder on throughout Lent.
We, as Franciscans, have been invited to join the way of penance. At times we will fail, for it is not always easy to turn away from ourselves, or to turn away from the values of the world which are, for the most part, so different from the values of God. When we do fail it is then, more than ever, that we need to turn to God and tell him we are sorry and carry on in our journey of penance – our journey of love, our soul’s journey into God.
There has been an intimacy about our walks in the countryside during this virus time: Mrs Turnstone, our daughter and I have trodden paths, lanes and byways, often along the Pilgrims’ Way that crosses Kent, making for Canterbury and then down to Dover for Rome or Compostella. Sister Margaret offers us the insight that the way of penance is the way of intimacy with God.
The way of penance, the life of penance, is a call to a life of intimacy and union with God. The way of penance began for Francis, as we have seen, with an experience of God that radically changed his whole life. Because of this he was able to take up daily this life of penance, this daily turning away from himself to His God. It was through this way, the way of penance, that Francis found union with God.
One of my favourite stock images, this heart was left on our step by a neighbour after a gift of homemade preserves. More recently, last summer, five year old Abel found beach pebbles eroded into a heart shape. Months later he discovered one of them and gave it to his mother, ‘because I love you, Mummy.’
A heart of stone, a heart of pebbles, to stand for a flesh and blood heart. This old Irish hymn, translated by Eleanor Hull expresses the mixed emotions of the poet contemplating his or her relationship with Jesus. For many of us life has been a toilsome path these last months, we may well request, ‘Peace on my head, light in my heart.’
Let’s pray for all whose lives continue to be toilsome. Even the dustiest, least frequented church is a sanctified temple; with Christ’s help any of us can be a temple sanctified to him, welcoming those who seek him.
How great the tale, that there should be,
In God’s Son’s heart, a place for me!
That on a sinner’s lips like mine
The cross of Jesus Christ should shine!
Christ Jesus, bend me to thy will,
My feet to urge, my griefs to still;
That e’en my flesh and blood may be
A temple sanctified to Thee.
No rest, no calm my soul may win,
Because my body craves to sin;
Till thou, dear Lord, thyself impart
Peace on my head, light in my heart.
May consecration come from far,
Soft shining like the evening star.
My toilsome path make plain to me,
Until I come to rest in thee.
Eleanor Hull From the Irish
I was looking for more poetry (What you might call ‘free verse’!) to read on my Kindle. Since we’ve used Joyce Kilmer a couple of times, I thought I’d look at some of his writing. This poem, The Twelve-forty-five seems appropriate coming up to Christmas. There were no motor cars on the road then, so people depended on the night train to get home late. Let’s pray for all travellers this Christmas, for those who would like to travel but cannot, and for all who will be apart when they would be together if they could; for those who have died and those left behind: the stars – the angels – are watchful over them.
Upon my crimson cushioned seat, In manufactured light and heat, I feel unnatural and mean. Outside the towns are cool and clean; Curtained awhile from sound and sight They take God’s gracious gift of night. The stars are watchful over them. On Clifton as on Bethlehem The angels, leaning down the sky, Shed peace and gentle dreams. And I — I ride, I blasphemously ride Through all the silent countryside.
What Love commands the train fulfills, And beautiful upon the hills Are these our feet of burnished steel. Subtly and certainly I feel That Glen Rock welcomes us to her And silent Ridgewood seems to stir And smile, because she knows the train Has brought her children back again. We carry people home — and so God speeds us, wheresoe’er we go.
The midnight train is slow and old But of it let this thing be told, To its high honor be it said It carries people home to bed. My cottage lamp shines white and clear. God bless the train that brought me here.
(The Twelve-forty-five, from “Trees and Other Poems” by Joyce Kilmer)
Doctor Johnson, on his 18th Century tour of Scotland, got into a discussion about Catholics. There were thousands of Catholics in the Highlands and Islands, served by missionary priests largely trained overseas; a seminary in the Highlands was illegal and repeatedly destroyed. Johnson was misinformed about where the Catholics were, but it would not be long before many were driven out during the Clearances, though Johnson would not have seen that coming.
Roads were poor or non-existent; to cross this loch would have meant hiring a rowing boat or sailing vessel, there was no telephoning ahead to warn people a priest was coming, and he was a more or less tolerated outlaw. He was, however, a worthy son of Saint Andrew, patron of Scotland.
“There is in Scotland, as among ourselves, a restless suspicion of popish machinations, and a clamour of numerous converts to the Romish religion. The report is, I believe, in both parts of the Island equally false. The Romish religion is professed only in Egg and Canna, two small islands, into which the Reformation never made its way. If any missionaries are busy in the Highlands, their zeal entitles them to respect, even from those who cannot think favourably of their doctrine.” (from “Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland” by Samuel Johnson)
Sister Johanna is back! With Advent just around the corner, we find Jesus and the disciples looking for peace and quiet to absorb the news about the prophet of Advent, John the Baptist.
Jesus and the disciples withdrew by boat to a lonely place…. But the crowds heard and went after him on foot. So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them and healed their sick (Mt.14:13f.).
Jesus and the disciples are taken by surprise here – several surprises. The first surprise is a shattering piece of news: they had just heard of the death of John the Baptist – that’s why they wanted to go off by themselves. It’s easy to forget that Jesus and his disciples were like us, and the death of Jesus’ cousin John, who had been a profound spiritual force in their lives, was as traumatic for them as such a thing would be to us. Jesus knew that they all needed some space in order to come to terms with their grief – to some extent anyway. So Jesus organises a boat, and they go by sea to what they hoped would be a place of solitude. They needed to talk about John together, to weep, to pray.
But no solitude was given. Second surprise: a large crowd met them as they got out of the boat. Jesus was grief-stricken, but he saw the faith-filled, needy crowd, and was filled with pity. It’s possible, in fact, that their great faith strengthened Jesus, and enabled him to heal their sick. As I read this, however, I found myself thinking about the disciples, rather than the miraculous healing of the crowd. The disciples don’t seem able to draw energy from the crowd. What happens to them? The text doesn’t say, but during the time when Jesus is healing the crowd, the disciples seem to have disappeared. They are still overwhelmed by grief, surely; I imagine them creeping away, out of sight of all the people who are focused on Jesus. They try to watch the action from a safe distance maybe. As I read on, I realise that Jesus also remembers his disciples, even while he is taken up with the needs of the crowd. He knows that his sorrowing disciples need healing, too.
At length, a further situation develops. Evening comes. Those whom Jesus had healed need to eat. The disciples materialise now, finally, and suggest that Jesus draw the event to a close so that they can all find some food somewhere. Jesus has a different idea. ‘There is no need for the people to go,’ Jesus tells the disciples. ‘Give them something to eat yourselves.’ They must have groaned inwardly at Jesus’ words, and wondered what madness had possessed him. They only had the provisions they had brought with them: five loaves and two fish – barely enough for their own meal. There are over five thousand people to feed. Jesus, always good at registering unspoken words, reads the disciples’ stunned and tired faces and doesn’t even try to dialogue further with them, in Matthew’s account. Jesus simply tells the disciples to bring him their food. Jesus himself instructs the people to sit down on the grass. Then, quietly blessing the food and breaking the five loaves, he gives the bread and fish to the disciples to distribute to the five-thousand-plus people. We know how this story ends. Everybody eats – and well. Third surprise for them.
Why does Jesus do this? The people could probably have managed to get home without expiring, picking up some food as they went through different villages on the way. This miracle of feeding doesn’t seem to be one that addressed a desperate need, as did the physical healings Jesus had performed for them earlier in that day. But Jesus has a message here. He seems to be saying: “I do not fulfil only the minimum requirements of a needy situation, and I do not address only the most obvious and most desperate troubles of my people. I am willing to do more – so much more than you have asked or think you need. Or rather, I show you that you need more than you think. The healing that you sought from me is not complete without the food that I alone can give you.” That was perhaps Jesus’ primary message, and it was addressed both to the crowd and to the disciples. And now to us. But something more was involved here for the disciples. I would like to explore this tomorrow in a second reflection on this story.
After an arduous journey Doctor Johnson has arrived at Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye. He is made welcome by Lady Macleod, and writes:
Here therefore we settled, and did not spoil the present hour with thoughts of departure.
Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, Samuel Johnson
Johnson, of course, was not a travelling missionary, but a tourist. However, I’m reminded of Jesus’ word to the 72 disciples as he sent them out:
Into whatsoever house you enter, first say: Peace be to this house. And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon him; but if not, it shall return to you. And in the same house, remain, eating and drinking such things as they have: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Remove not from house to house.
And there is plenty to be said for being at peace in our surroundings. May we be welcoming, and may we be the sort of tourist or visitor who does not have hosts thinking longingly of our departure.
Photograph of Dunvegan Castle: Pam Brophy, via Wikipedia