Tag Archives: Lent

28 March, Desert XXIX: Proverbs 21.3, More acceptable to the LORD.

poperinge.2

To do righteousness is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

PROVERBS 21:34

This postcard was sent during the Great War from Poperinge, a village in the small enclave of Belgium that was not overrun by the Kaiser’s armies. You may be able to see where the censor obliterated the town’s name for security reasons.

‘Pop’ was a place of rest for allied troops, and an Anglican Chaplain had an open house there. His name was Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, alias Woodbine Willie, from the pungent cigarettes he distributed far and wide.

He had the reputation of a poet, often writing in dialect, as he does here. This is from a longer poem, ‘Well?’, describing a soldier’s dream of the Last Things. We include it here since it challenges any smugness that we might have accumulated during our ‘Lenten Observance’ – the man is in the ultimate desert place – or so he feels.

How would you answer that ‘Well?’

For more about Woodbine Willy, see Remembrance Sunday 2015: Woodbine Willie

And day by day, and year by year,
My life came back to me.
I see’d just what I were, and what
I’d ‘ad the charnce to be.
And all the good I might ‘a’ done,
An’ ‘adn’t stopped to do.
I see’d I’d made an ‘ash of it,
And Gawd! but it were true.

A throng ‘o faces came and went,
Afore me on that shore,
My wife, and Mother, kiddies, pals,
And the face of a London whore.
And some was sweet, and some was sad,
And some put me to shame,
For the dirty things I’d done to ’em,
When I ‘adn’t played the game.
Then in the silence someone stirred,
Like when a sick man groans,
And a kind o’ shivering chill ran through
The marrer ov my bones.
And there before me someone stood,
Just lookin’ dahn at me,
And still be’ind ‘Im moaned and moaned
That everlasting sea.
I couldn’t speak, I felt as though
‘E ‘ad me by the throat,
‘Twere like a drownin’ fellah feels,
Last moment ‘e’s afloat.
And ‘E said nowt, ‘E just stood still,
For I dunno ‘ow long.
It seemed to me like years and years,
But time out there’s all wrong.

What was ‘E like? You’re askin’ now.
Can’t word it anyway.
‘E just were ‘Im, that’s all I knows.
There’s things as words can’t say.
It seemed to me as though ‘Is face,
Were millions rolled in one.
It never changed yet always changed,
Like the sea beneath the sun.
‘Twere all men’s face yet no man’s face,
And a face no man can see,
And it seemed to say in silent speech,
‘Ye did ’em all to me.
‘The dirty things ye did to them,
‘The filth ye thought was fine,
‘Ye did ’em all to me,’ it said,
‘For all their souls were mine.’
All eyes was in ‘Is eyes, – all eyes,
My wife’s and a million more.
And once I thought as those two eyes
Were the eyes of the London whore.
And they was sad, – My Gawd ‘ow sad,
With tears that seemed to shine,
And quivering bright wi’ the speech o’ light,
They said, ”Er soul was mine.’
And then at last ‘E said one word,
‘E just said one word ‘Well?’
And I said in a funny voice,
‘Please can I go to ‘Ell?’
And ‘E stood there and looked at me,
And ‘E kind o’ seemed to grow,
Till ‘E shone like the sun above my ead,
And then ‘E answered ‘No
‘You can’t, that ‘Ell is for the blind,
‘And not for those that see.
‘You know that you ‘ave earned it, lad,
‘So you must follow me.
‘Follow me on by the paths o’ pain,
‘Seeking what you ‘ave seen,
‘Until at last you can build the “Is,”
‘Wi’ the bricks o’ the “Might ‘ave been.”‘
That’s what ‘E said, as I’m alive,
And that there dream were true.
But what ‘E meant, – I don’t quite know,
Though I knows what I ‘as to do.
I’s got to follow what I’s seen,
Till this old carcase dies.
For I daren’t face the land o’ grace,
The sorrow ov those eyes.
There ain’t no throne, and there ain’t no books,
It’s ‘Im you’ve got to see,
It’s ‘Im, just ‘Im, that is the Judge
Of blokes like you and me.
And boys I’d sooner frizzle up,
I’ the flames of a burning ‘Ell,
Than stand and look into ‘Is face,
And ‘ear ‘Is voice say – ‘Well?

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March 23, Desert XXV: Open our hearts to hear God’s call

Mary Mother from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury

If you look at the chest of the Infant Jesus you will see a hole where a decorative heart was fixed when the Jesuits were here. A baby loves his parents and family without words. We can have an loving and sincere dialogue with God without words also – unless you become as little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)

Pope Francis ends his Lent Message 2020, by insisting again on the Easter, or Paschal reason for Lent, and by asking Mary within the Communion of Saints to pray for us to open our hearts.

I ask Mary Most Holy to pray that our Lenten celebration will open our hearts to hear God’s call to be reconciled to himself, to fix our gaze on the paschal mystery, and to be converted to an open and sincere dialogue with him. In this way, we will become what Christ asks his disciples to be: the salt of the earth and the light of the world (cf. Matthew 5:13-14).

FRANCIS

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20 March, Desert XXIII: Travelling with Pope Francis 4; let yourself be saved over and over again.

Today we read from Pope Francis’ 2020 Lenten letter; the crucifix is by Constantina.

I would like to share with every Christian what I wrote to young people in the Exhortation Christus Vivit: “Keep your eyes fixed on the outstretched arms of Christ crucified, let yourself be saved over and over again. And when you go to confess your sins, believe firmly in his mercy which frees you of your guilt. Contemplate his blood poured out with such great love, and let yourself be cleansed by it. In this way, you can be reborn ever anew” (No. 123). Jesus’ Pasch is not a past event; rather, through the power of the Holy Spirit it is ever present, enabling us to see and touch with faith the flesh of Christ in those who suffer.

The experience of mercy is only possible in a “face to face” relationship with the crucified and risen Lord “who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20), in a heartfelt dialogue between friends. That is why prayer is so important in Lent. Even more than a duty, prayer is an expression of our need to respond to God’s love which always precedes and sustains us. Christians pray in the knowledge that, although unworthy, we are still loved. Prayer can take any number of different forms, but what truly matters in God’s eyes is that it penetrates deep within us and chips away at our hardness of heart, in order to convert us ever more fully to God and to his will.

In this favourable season, then, may we allow ourselves to be led like Israel into the desert (cf. Hosea 2:14), so that we can at last hear our Spouse’s voice and allow it to resound ever more deeply within us. The more fully we are engaged with his word, the more we will experience the mercy he freely gives us. May we not let this time of grace pass in vain, in the foolish illusion that we can control the times and means of our conversion to him.

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19 March, Desert XXII: Travelling with Pope Francis 3: The healing power of repentance and forgiveness

Pope Francis, in this final extract from his 2019 Lenten message, tells us that the traditional Lenten disciplines should be teaching us to love creation, not despise it.

Creation urgently needs the revelation of the children of God, who have been made “a new creation”. For “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The path to Easter demands that we renew our faces and hearts as Christians through repentance, conversion and forgiveness, above all by fasting, prayer and almsgiving.

Fasting, that is, learning to change our attitude towards others and all of creation, turning away from the temptation to “devour” everything and being ready to suffer for love, which can fill the emptiness of our hearts. Prayer, which teaches us to abandon idolatry and the self-sufficiency of our ego, and to acknowledge our need of the Lord and his mercy. Almsgiving, whereby we escape from the insanity of hoarding everything for ourselves in the illusory belief that we can secure a future that does not belong to us. And thus to rediscover the joy of God’s plan for creation and for each of us, which is to love him, our brothers and sisters, and the entire world, and to find in this love our true happiness.

Dear brothers and sisters, the “Lenten” period of forty days spent by the Son of God in the desert of creation had the goal of making it once more that garden of communion with God that it was before original sin (Mark 1:12-13; Is 51:3). May our Lent this year be a journey along that same path, bringing the hope of Christ also to creation, so that it may be “set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).

Let us not allow this season of grace to pass in vain! Let us ask God to help us set out on a path of true conversion. Let us leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and turn to Jesus’ Pasch. Let us stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them. In this way, by concretely welcoming Christ’s victory over sin and death into our lives, we will also radiate its transforming power to all of creation.

  Francis

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18 March, Desert XXI: travelling with Pope Francis 2: I want it all and I want it now!

Buy, buy, buy!

Continuing Pope Francis’s 2019 Lenten Message

2. The destructive power of sin

When we fail to live as children of God, we often behave in a destructive way towards our neighbours and other creatures – and ourselves as well – since we begin to think more or less consciously that we can use them as we will. Intemperance then takes the upper hand: we start to live a life that exceeds those limits imposed by our human condition and nature itself. We yield to those untrammelled desires that the Book of Wisdom sees as typical of the ungodly, those who act without thought for God or hope for the future (2:1-11).

Unless we tend constantly towards Easter, towards the horizon of the Resurrection, the mentality expressed in the slogans “I want it all and I want it now!” and “Too much is never enough”, gains the upper hand.

The root of all evil, as we know, is sin, which from its first appearance has disrupted our communion with God, with others and with creation itself, to which we are linked in a particular way by our body.

This rupture of communion with God likewise undermines our harmonious relationship with the environment in which we are called to live, so that the garden has become a wilderness (Genesis3:17-18). Sin leads man to consider himself the god of creation, to see himself as its absolute master and to use it, not for the purpose willed by the Creator but for his own interests, to the detriment of other creatures.

Once God’s law, the law of love, is forsaken, then the law of the strong over the weak takes over. It leads to the exploitation of creation, both persons and the environment, due to that insatiable covetousness which sees every desire as a right and sooner or later destroys all those in its grip.

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17 March, Desert XX: travelling with Pope Francis.

We invite you to read a few extracts from Pope Francis’s Lenten Messages for 2019 and 2020, because each year he recalls the desert. In this first extract from last year’s message, he talks about redeeming creation, since through avarice and neglect we are making deserts where there ought to be forest of farmland.

1. The Redemption of Creation

The celebration of the Paschal Triduum of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection calls us yearly to undertake a journey of preparation, in the knowledge that our being conformed to Christ (Romans 8:29) is a priceless gift of God’s mercy.

When we live as children of God, redeemed, led by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14) and capable of acknowledging and obeying God’s law, beginning with the law written on our hearts and in nature, we also benefit creation by cooperating in its redemption. That is why Saint Paul says that creation eagerly longs for the revelation of the children of God; in other words, that all those who enjoy the grace of Jesus’ paschal mystery may experience its fulfilment in the redemption of the human body itself.

When the love of Christ transfigures the lives of the saints in spirit, body and soul, they give praise to God. Through prayer, contemplation and art, they also include other creatures in that praise, as we see admirably expressed in the “Canticle of the Creatures” by Saint Francis of Assisi (Laudato Si’ 87). Yet in this world, the harmony generated by redemption is constantly threatened by the negative power of sin and death.

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11 March, Desert XIV: Unplugged Wednesdays.

judas.strasbourg

Fr James Kurzynski of the Vatican Observatory Website recently wrote about his coming sabbatical retreat. Follow the link to read his reflections before he proceeds to the desert of Arizona. Here is part of his article.

I felt a deep peace about what I would call “detachment Wednesdays.” Wednesday will be a day of silence, encouraging us to not speak verbally, unplug from anything that could distract us, and take a day of restful prayer.

Two weeks age, I gave a presentation about my sabbatical to St. Olaf’s youth in our Faith Formation Program. When I got to the part of explaining Wednesday Unplugged, I told them, “Don’t bother trying to get a hold of me on Wednesday, but do know each one of you will be prayed for that day as I prayerfully take St. Olaf Parish with me into the desert.”

Wednesdays and Fridays are traditionally the more concentrated days of the week in Lent;  ‘Spy Wednesday’ in Holy Week seen as the day when Judas went to betray his Lord; Good Friday when Jesus, his Lord and Ours, died for all our sin. All our sin, as the Sculptor of Strasbourg Cathedral makes clear.

We cannot all dedicate our Wednesdays to restful prayer, any more than Fr James can do during most of his working life, but let us try to find a desert moment to be restful and open to prayer, even if it’s sitting on the bus home, or a quiet cup of tea before going to get the children from school.

Happy Lent!

tea42

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10 March. Desert XIII: Wilderness.

City dweller Robert MacFarlane wondered if there were any wild places left in the British Isles, and he set out to find them. Often enough early Christian monks and hermits had been there before him; to islands and other inaccessible spots.

But what did he mean by wildness? Early in the book he discusses the idea:

Wildness … is an expression of independence from human direction, and wild land can be said to be self-willed land.  Land that proceeds according to its own laws and principles, land whose habits — the growth of its trees, the free descent of its streams through its rocks — are of its own devising and own execution. Land that … acts or moves freely without restraint; is unconfined, unrestricted.’*

Town and city dwellers live in human directed lands, concrete, brick and glass, but also most of the British countryside is farmed, drained, controlled. Can we find wilderness, to use the old Biblical world, without travelling to distant places?

We have to look for it nearer to home, in pockets and cracks. There are the weeds that devise and execute their own growth and spread, like traveller’s joy rooted on railway land. Or there are remnants of countryside, like the plum tree that Abel likes to hide behind; it is surely a sucker from a rootstock left behind when the orchard was grubbed up for housing in the 1960s, since its fruit is insignificant and unpalatable. There are overgrown cemeteries, like that in Mile End, full of life that is quite unexpected in London’s East End.

The wild tries to return, perhaps we should salute it and follow its example to revisit the corner of our heart that moves freely, without restraint: that is open to love, growth and renewal.

*Robert MacFarlane, The Wild Places, London, Granta, 2007, p30.

 

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27 February. Desert II: What was it you went out to see?

ayleshamsunset6.1.15 (800x449)

I am writing this post in July, not a Lenten month at all. People in England are looking forward to the summer holidays, to relaxation rather than to rigorous fasting and spiritual exercise. But there is also a market – I use the word deliberately – for spiritual activities. Here are a few random web ads for yoga experiences; we could look at other sorts of spiritual experience, but yoga seems popular among those who can afford it.

What about a yoga immersion course – is the hint of baptismal initiation deliberate, I wonder?

Or a restful and rejuvenating yoga retreat, with mindfulness vegetarian food? The Cistercians are vegetarian and eat in silence, but is it the food or the shared nature of meal that contributes to ‘mindfulness’?

What about a Japanese yoga retreat mixing body-transforming jivamukti yoga  with  hikes through forests peppered with ancient temples. Could you not get the transformed body from the gym and hikes through the local countryside?

What are the purchasers of the top 30 yoga retreats going into the luxury desert to seek? Classical yoga and ‘divine’ spa treatments? Notice the Christian religious language that creeps into these ads, even the ‘transformed body’ has resonances, especially at the time you are reading, the season of preparation for Easter, when life is changed, not taken away.

Our desert this Lent makes no claim to be luxurious, nor will a few minutes of reading with us transform your earthly bodies, but we do hope the Spirit is leading us into the desert where we can receive a renewal of our baptism, the original and best divine spa treatment. And as for mindfulness food: must I spell it out?

Here is a hymn by Lucien Deiss that draws on 2Timothy2 and other texts: Keep in mind.

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26 February, Ash Wednesday. The Desert, I: This Space

cold-grey-sea

This Lent we will offer daily reflection on the Desert. We begin with a few lines from the Canadian poet, Kate Braid, which set the scene admirably.

This space is not emptiness,

This space is not, as you would say, Nothing there.

It is a space of fullness, open

to possibility. You would say, A foolish space.

Perhaps.

This is not denial. This is joy,

an empty palette waiting, bone

against the sky.

We are so afraid of the larger space.

Kate Braid, Inward to the Bones, Victoria BC, Polestar Book Publishers, 1998. The book explores the life and work of the artist and desert dweller, Georgia O’keeffe.

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