I wanted to share this section of it after yesterday’s visit to Korea and the ladies with Down’s syndrome who attended Mass by down-streaming. They still expressed their faith and devotion, most eloquently at Communion time.
What is a Down’s person worth in your view?
Some years ago I had the privilege of singing in a production of Handel’s Messiah. An alto in the choir had a son with Down’s, called Felix. Felix came to every rehearsal. Standing behind the conductor, he co-conducted vigorously. When the music was sad, he wept. When it was joyful, he was radiant. After the performance, he gave a noble speech to the choir, whom he addressed as his friends. I dare say each of us thereby felt ennobled.
I got to know Felix only slightly. Still I can say: he impressed me, taught me important lessons. The thought of Felix (whose name means ‘happy’) gives me joy. There are countries now, in the Western world, that no longer register any births of children with Down’s. This is presented as scientific progress. The Felixes of this world are unwanted, deemed encumbrances. Euthanasia, likewise, is spreading from country to country, advertised as a human right. Yet wherever euthanasia is available as choice, involuntary euthanasia is soon being practised. Underneath a surface of what can seem like impenetrable bureaucratic discourse, an existential combat is taking place.
Faced with such sinister developments, we have work to do. The pursuit of humility is not just a matter of devotion; it is about upholding the dignity of all human life, recognising ourselves among the weak and outcast, standing up for table fellowship. To be humble on these terms is not to be meek and mild; it requires courage, strength, and perseverance in the face of hostile opposition. We are to rise to this summons, strengthened by the food of immortality. May we not be found unworthy of Christ’s example and sacrifice.
Santa Maria degli Angeli was, of course, not the great basilica that greets the pilgrim today, but a little chapel.
Francis and his companions continued their journey and came to Santa Maria degli Angeli; and, when they were nigh thereunto, Friar Leo lifted up his eyes and looked toward the said Place of Santa Maria degli Angeli, and saw an exceeding beautiful Cross, whereon was the figure of the Crucified, going before Saint Francis, even as Saint Francis was going before Him; and on such wise did the said Cross go before the face of Saint Francis that when he stopped it stopped too, and when he went on it went on; and that Cross was of such brightness that, not only did it shine in the face of Saint Francis, but all the road about him also was lighted up; and it lasted until Saint Francis entered into the Place of Santa Maria degli Angeli.
Saint Francis, then, having arrived with Friar Leo, they were welcomed by the friars with very great joy and charity. And from thenceforward, until his death, Saint Francis dwelt for the greater part of his time in that Place of Santa Maria degli Angeli. And the fame of his sanctity and of his miracles spread continually more and more through the Order and through the world, although, by reason of his profound humility, he concealed as much as he might the gifts and graces of God, and ever called himself the greatest of sinners.
I can recall my heart leaping when we drove through an area of the Scottish borders where I had spent a year as a teenager. That visitation was unplanned and quite unexpected, our route had been determined by the morning traffic in Edinburgh. Wordsworth came to his old haunts, distressed with a burden of sad anticipation. But he like me, was surprised by joy.
It had not been the happiest year of my life but it was in the beautiful Tweed Valley, beauty that resonated with my adult self decades later, all unexpectedly. A moment to be grateful for. Now here’s Wordsworth.
“Beloved Vale!” I said, “when I shall con Those many records of my childish years, Remembrance of myself and of my peers Will press me down: to think of what is gone Will be an awful thought, if life have one.” But, when into the Vale I came, no fears Distress’d me; I look’d round, I shed no tears; Deep thought, or awful vision, I had none. By thousand petty fancies I was cross’d, To see the Trees, which I had thought so tall, Mere dwarfs; the Brooks so narrow, Fields so small. A Juggler’s Balls old Time about him toss’d; I looked, I stared, I smiled, I laughed; and all The weight of sadness was in wonder lost. From “Poems in Two Volumes, Volume 1” by William Wordsworth)
The night was far advanced. I closed the book with a bang and flung it on the table. Then I blew out the lamp with the idea of turning into bed. No sooner had I done so than, through the open windows, the moonlight burst into the room, with a shock of surprise. That little bit of a lamp had been sneering drily at me, like some Mephistopheles: and that tiniest sneer had screened off this infinite light of joy issuing forth from the deep love which is in all the world.
What, forsooth, had I been looking for in the empty wordiness of the book? There was the very thing itself, filling the skies, silently waiting for me outside, all these hours! If I had gone off to bed leaving the shutters closed, and thus missed this vision, it would have stayed there all the same without any protest against the mocking lamp inside.
Even if I had remained blind to it all my life,—letting the lamp triumph to the end,—till for the last time I went darkling to bed,—even then the moon would have still been there, sweetly smiling, unperturbed and unobtrusive, waiting for me as she has throughout the ages.
From Glimpses of Bengal Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore
And we conceal the stars and dim the moon with our wasteful lighting of homes, workplaces and streets. Once again Tagore’s reflections chime in with my Christian sensibilities. I was first introduced to him by my mother, who heard of him from a Cistercian monk.
Caroline B. Piercy’s mother was a frequent visitor to a Shaker Community, back in the 19th Century. There she learnt many of the recipes in her daughter’s The Shaker Cook Book. But what attracted people to these celibate communities, and what kept them there? An interesting question a semi-detached member of a L’Arche community.
I would rule out celibacy as an over-riding motive for joining a community: many L’Arche members do remain celibate, but like many couples Mrs T and I met at L’Arche more than 40 years ago. We feel part of the family even though our lives are lived largely outside the community.
We come closer to answering our question when we read how, ‘These devout Shakers love one another as brothers and sisters. They have withdrawn from the world in order to establish villages where the Golden Rule is the one law by which they live. When their many tasks are completed, daily they gather at their meetings where they dance before the Lord for pure joy and gratitude for the countless good gifts He has bestowed upon His children and, also, in order to drive away any wrong thoughts or desires which may come to them.’
A good session of dancing might do more good than a couple of hours slumped in front of the television, but could the shakers have schooled my toes into something approaching co-ordination? Somehow I very much doubt it.
Celibacy, voluntary or involuntary, lifelong or temporary, enables a person to be available to others and to God, their Creator, in ways that married people cannot always manage. Rightly, the spouse puts their other half and their family above other obligations, and may have to say ‘no’ to interesting opportunities. That is one way to make the earth holy. Cheerfully accepted and faithfully lived celibacy gives different freedoms and different crosses, and it too makes the world holy by living out the Golden Rule.
Let’s thank the Lord for the contribution of faithful brothers and sisters living the celibate way in community or as singles, and pray that they may be happy and fruitful in their way of life, their following of Jesus’ footsteps.
I wonder if the sap is stirring yet, If wintry birds are dreaming of a mate, If frozen snowdrops feel as yet the sun And crocus fires are kindling one by one: Sing, robin, sing; I still am sore in doubt concerning Spring.
I wonder if the springtide of this year Will bring another Spring both lost and dear; If heart and spirit will find out their Spring, Or if the world alone will bud and sing: Sing, hope, to me; Sweet notes, my hope, soft notes for memory.
. The sap will surely quicken soon or late, The tardiest bird will twitter to a mate; So Spring must dawn again with warmth and bloom, Or in this world, or in the world to come: Sing, voice of Spring, Till I too blossom and rejoice and sing.
It feels here like Christina Rossetti never got out of doors, which was sometimes the case as she often was in poor health. The last verse reads like, ‘Pull yourself together, girl!’ She doesn’t much feel like rejoicing, but all the same is listening out for the voice of Spring, the sound of her Creator at work.
However miserable we may feel, let us pray this Lent that we may hear the voice of spring, ready to bloom in this world AND the world to come.
Nature, in zeal for human amity,
Denies, or damps, an undivided joy.
Joy is an import; joy is an exchange;
Joy flies monopolists: it calls for two;
Rich fruit! heaven-planted! never pluck’d by one.
Needful auxiliars are our friends, to give
To social man true relish of himself.
From Edward Young's Night Thoughts.
I turned the corner into our street; at almost 4.00 p.m. dusk was falling, so why was a woman crouched down outside the piano workshop looking through her phone towards the dental surgery? Surely not to capture their new paint job, which needs a few brush strokes where the scaffold had stood.
A jerky movement in front of the photographer revealed a pied wagtail, rather whiter about the head than this one, maybe three metres away from her. She will have gone home happy for having seen this trusting creature up close and personal, and at least having tried to take its picture.
And so did I rejoice in bird and birder! Well, I had discovered something of human nature as well as having a good look at the wagtail.
Father James Kurzynski in his blog for the Vatican Observatory, questions the use of three verbs in this short piece: capture, take, and discover. ‘Capture’ and ‘take’ both have hints of violence and taking possession of something. ‘Discover’ – did I dis-cover something or was I made aware of it? Was it rather revealed to me? My smile was real enough.
You will smile more than once reading Fr James’s article, I promise.
Pied wagtail by Charles J Sharp, Sharp Photography
Mary, O luminous Mother, Holy healing art! Eve brought sorrow to the soul, But you by your holy Son You pour balm On death’s wounds and travail.
You have indeed conquered death!
You have established life!
Ask for us life. Ask for us radiant joy. Ask us the sweet, delicious ecstasy That is forever yours.
Hildegard of Bingen 12th Century
With thanks to Fr Anthony Charlton who shared this. Note that Mary is seen in relation to her Son, and is asked to pray for us, in the words: ‘Ask for us …’If we can pray for each other, and if we believe in eternal life, we can ask Mary to pray for us.
Behold the father is his daughter's son, The bird that built the nest is hatched therein, The old of years an hour hath not outrun, Eternal life to live doth now begin, The Word is dumb, the mirth of heaven doth weep, Might feeble is, and force doth faintly creep.
O dying souls, behold your living spring;
O dazzled eyes, behold your sun of grace;
Dull ears, attend what word this Word doth bring;
Up, heavy hearts, with joy your joy embrace.
From death, from dark, from deafness, from despairs
This life, this light, this Word, this joy repairs.
Doesn't Southwell love a paradox! Yet the greatest of the paradoxes is that Jesus did come into this world at all. Eternal life to live did then begin: in a certain place, Bethlehem, at a certain time, 'in the days of Herod the king' (Matthew 2:1). We also have been given a time for the end of his earthly life 'under Pontius Pilate'. But that was not the end ...
Robert Southwell had cause to know darkness and despair as a Jesuit Missionary to England; he was captured and martyred under Elizabeth Tudor in 1595, aged about 34. Eternal life for him did then begin.
Let us pray for all persecuted or neglected this Christmas, that they may be embraced by joy.
Illustration from a mid-19th Century Methodist Sunday School book.