OLD AND NEW YEAR DITTIES
New Year met me somewhat sad:
Old Year leaves me tired,
Stripped of favourite things I had
Baulked of much desired:
Yet farther on my road to-day
God willing, farther on my way.
New Year coming on apace
What have you to give me?
Bring you scathe, or bring you grace,
Face me with an honest face;
You shall not deceive me:
Be it good or ill, be it what you will,
It needs shall help me on my road,
My rugged way to heaven, please God.
From Goblin Market, The Prince’s Progress, and Other Poems by Christina Rossetti)
Let’s end the old year and start the new with poetry. This is the first of three Old and New Year Ditties from Christina Rossetti, These last few Old Years have left many of us tired, frustrated, baulked from achieving our wishes, however legitimate or worthy they might have seemed.
‘Somewhat sad’ Rossetti may have been, wondering what the New Year will bring. She knew ill-health herself well before modern medicine and surgery which could have helped and healed her. She shared and tried to alleviate the sufferings of sex workers, very badly off in Victorian times, as well as other poor women. Here it almost sounds as though she is armouring herself for the challenges she will face on the rugged road through the coming year.
If we face ourselves with an honest face we’ll acknowledge our mixed feelings. No more covid, please God, for a start! No more war, starvation or suffering; but please God, may the family wedding be the start of a long and happy marriage …
Let us be hopeful rather than optimistic. We can expect the road to be rugged, but we may hit the potholes when we least expect to.
Here is one of Sheila Billingsley’s last poems, written for the birth of her latest great-grand-child. It is appropriate for Advent Light, babies remind us that our faith is in a world dwelt in by its creator, renewed day by day for our joy.
Tomorrow would have been Sheila’s 93rd birthday.
So beautiful he is,
Of course he will grow
And wear muddy boots
And wet his nappies
And spoil your sleep
And creep up close
To feel your love
And feel your heartbeat
Feel your breath
And bring you joy
As no-one else can do.
Tiny as he is,
Today we remember the Exaltation, or lifting up, of the Holy Cross. Our reflection is from Canon Anthony Charlton of Canterbury, England.
After the fiery serpents, sent by God, whose bite killed many in Israel, (Numbers 21: 4-9) Moses pleaded with God and he commanded Moses “Make a fiery serpent and put it on a standard. If anyone is bitten and looks at it he shall live.” Anyone bitten who gazed on the bronze serpent, lived.
In the gospel Jesus says that “when you have lifted up the Son of Man then you shall know I am he.” (John 8:28) Just as the bronze serpent gives life so the cross, an instrument of torture and death gives life. In John 12:32 we read “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself.”
May we grow in wonder at the cross that shows us the extent of Jesus love for us. On the cross he endured every kind of suffering to show his solidarity with us.
May all who are suffering in anyway recognise that Jesus is a companion who has shared their journey. May the cross that was once a cursed thing and transformed by Jesus into a tree of blessing, be a source of comfort and peace to all.
Canon Father Anthony, Parish Priest, St Thomas’, Canterbury.
We have not all sailed through the pandemic without hurt, illness and loss. These words from Fr Brian D’Arcy offer a chance to reflect on our recent experience and on what comes next in our lives, the decisions we are making day by day.
Time is a non-renewable resource; so, we should spend it wisely by keeping life in a proper perspective. It means making choices about what is essential and what is not.
Covid gave many of us a renewed sense of our own mortality. It made the possibility of death undeniable. It is one of the contradictions of our culture that we do everything in our power to deny our own mortality; yet by denying death we actually give it increased power over us.
As we continue to integrate the lessons Covid taught us, we’ll acknowledge our mortality in wise and healthy ways. We need to give death its rightful place – and there’s nothing morbid about that. It helps us to be aware of how fleeting life is. It makes us more grateful every day for the precious time we have and it makes me humbler about the things I might have achieved. Since I now know my life is brief I ought to reflect long and hard on what I do with it. How I spend my hours determines how I spend my days and how I spend my days is how I spend my life.
So let us reflect together in prayer:
Lord, help me to use the gift of time wisely. “What is life?” St James asks, “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (James 4:15). Guide me to spend less time on social media and more time seeking your truth; less time chasing success and more time seeking your peace.
May I see each day as a special gift from you. I do not know what tomorrow will bring but with your help and guidance, I will become humbler, gentler and more compassionate. Hear and answer this prayer Lord, in your own time. AMEN
We’re in the midst of a reflection on the rich young man (see Mark 10:17-22) and I invite you to scroll back to our previous posts in order to catch up.
I’d like to dive straight in today and say that when the rich young man makes his rather preposterous claim to have kept all the Commandments from his earliest days, ‘Jesus looked steadily at him and was filled with love for him’ (Mark 10:21). As I ponder this, I see once again that Jesus responds to people in a manner that is very different from what I’d have done. At this point in the story, my annoyance at the rich young man returns. After all, he’s just more or less admitted that he’s perfect–and no one’s perfect. Why doesn’t Jesus take him down a peg or two? Instead, Jesus is filled with love for him. So, I try to understand Jesus. He is always right, always a superb psychologist. No one pulls anything over on Jesus. Why has the rich young man just stolen his heart? It’s possible that the rich young man’s claim is not preposterous after all.
I wait quietly in prayer, asking for understanding of Jesus’ love for the rich young man. A few ideas begin to occur to me.
There is a certain unabashed innocence in the rich young man. He’s oblivious to the fact–or doesn’t care–that some people would find his claim to have kept all the Commandments preposterous. This is simply how he sees himself, and false modesty is not part of his character. Jesus loves this sort of forthright person.
In the rich young man, Jesus finds a character who is not plagued by any neurotic self-doubt. He has a ‘can do’ attitude, and a ‘can do’ view of himself. “I’ve kept all the Commandments. I can do that!” How refreshing, Jesus must have thought. And I become aware of how delightful the young man’s personality might have been–cheerful and full of hope.
Although Jesus challenges the rich young man when he calls Jesus ‘good,’ the fact is, the young man seems to recognise in Jesus’ goodness the specifically divine attribute of goodness. We touched on this in yesterday’s post and I promised we’d look at it today. I think Jesus asks him to explain his reason for calling him ‘good’ because he wanted the rich young man to say that he saw Almighty God’s own goodness in Jesus. The young man doesn’t actually come right out and say this, however–perhaps he is not fully conscious of what he sees in Jesus, or is not yet able to articulate it beyond calling him ‘good.’ But whether the young man can articulate all that he sees in Jesus or not, Jesus himself, with his penetrating human insight, would know that there is only a short step from what the young man sees in Jesus to identifying Jesus with God. Jesus sees this and loves him for it.
The rich young man has courage. He does not back down from his assertion that Jesus is ‘good’ and he does not withdraw his question about inheriting eternal life. He has strength and determination. He wants to hear Jesus’ answer. He’s waiting for it. Jesus would smile at this, I believe.
If, as he says, he has kept all the Commandments from his youth, the rich young man can be relied upon to be truthful, peace-loving, chaste, modest, respectful of others’ possessions, and a loving son to his parents, among other things. This is a thoroughly decent human being, practised in virtue–a very loveable person.
As already indicated, the rich young man has approached Jesus with a combination of determination and humility. This is an unusual mix. In general, people tend to have one or the other, but not both. If the young man were to become a follower of Jesus, he’d have a wonderful ability to relate to people and to preach the kingdom. Jesus likes this very much.
At this point, I begin to like the young man, too. A lot. Based on Jesus’ next remark, it’s clear that he thinks the young man would be an asset to the Twelve. According to the text, Jesus is filled with love for him and then actually invites him to become one of his close followers. But not before he challenges him in an even deeper way.
Yesterday we looked at the beginning of the sketch of the rich young man drawn by Mark (10:17-22). We noted that, even before the young man says a word, his behaviour shows him to be a person of courage, humility and independence. We saw that there is much to learn from him, much to admire and love already. Today, we will listen to him speak. His first words are: Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life? (Mark 10:18)
I stop reading and let that question stand in my mind. Slowly I am filled with awe. He has asked the most important question he could have asked. It is more important than almost any other question imaginable, because almost any other question is a question about this world, and therefore is a question about what we must one day give up when we die. The young man, on the other hand, has the maturity to ask the famous double-barrelled question: given that I am alive, how do I live in this world in such a way as to attain eternal life in the next? The young man has already seen that our stay in this world is short and goals pertaining only to this short life are shallow. Death is the one certainty–he has acknowledged this, even though youth does not usually grasp this nettle with its soft hands. He knows he cannot do as most people do–deny that he is going to die. Jesus hears all these shades of meaning in the young man’s question and must have rejoiced. The very question, in fact, is the question that Jesus is about. Its answer is to found in the Incarnation itself. It becomes clear to me now as I turn these thoughts over and over in my mind that the young man’s question is not an idle one but is coming from a deep place. What an exceptional human being, I think to myself.
But what does Jesus do? For the first time in the story, Jesus speaks. And he is surprisingly challenging. As often happens, his actions are directly opposite to what I think I’d have done. I would have perhaps fallen all over myself to affirm the young man. “What a great question!” I’d probably have enthused with a big smile. But Jesus doesn’t seem to be smiling here. Something seems to be eating him. Rather than affirm the young man, Jesus seems testy. He asks the young man why he calls him good, when goodness is the attribute of God alone (Mk.10:19).
This has always been a difficult remark for me to understand. It sounds as though Jesus doesn’t want to be called ‘good,’ which would be sort of crazy. But suddenly I think that maybe this is not so at all, maybe Jesus has no objection to being called ‘good.’ Maybe what he means is that he wants the young man to explain why he is attributing to Jesus a goodness that is usually attributed to God alone. He wants to know what the young man means by it. We will say more about this in tomorrow’s post.
In fact, the rich young man does not rise to Jesus’ challenge and explain why he used the word ‘good’ in his address of Jesus. And Jesus has other things on his mind, more important to him, and doesn’t linger over the issue. Instead, he seems to see that that question is too much for the young man and so he quickly moves on to his main point. He is still challenging. He remarks that in giving the Ten Commandments to humanity, God has already given us everything needed to inherit eternal life. The question “what should I do to inherit eternal life” doesn’t really need to be asked, Jesus implies; the answer is obvious. Keep the Commandments. You know them.
Then the young man says something very unusual. He claims that he has kept the Commandments from his earliest days (Mark 10:24). I am astonished: the young man is not conscious of any wrong-doing in relation to the Commandments.
As I mull this, I recall that others whom Jesus met and healed during his public ministry are conscious of personal, moral weakness and sinfulness, conscious of wrongdoing, and some have even experienced demonic possession. These intensely painful wounds of body, soul or character, however, actually function in a positive way in relation to those who suffer them; they draw Jesus’ mercy and compassion, they enable the suffering individual to encounter Jesus on the deepest possible level. Our young man in Mark, on the other hand, confidently declares “I have kept all the commandments from my youth.” He is, seemingly, perfect.
How does this strike you? And what does it make you think when you reflect on your own experience of woundedness and moral weakness? Let’s give this some time and return tomorrow for more.
Yesterday we advocated butterfly’s days: no set agenda, no targets, no business, no busy-ness. Today we open the Book of Common Prayer to read a collect that is complementary to Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘The Butterfly’s Day’. It makes explicit that we are passing through this life, and need God’s guidance and rule to survive passing through things temporal, but we can keep a hold on things eternal with Our Father’s mercy.
Our picture from Saint David’s Cathedral invites us to be still – Emily might say ‘idle’. And knowing that Our Father is God will follow; we will be given a hold on things eternal
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that with you as our ruler and guide we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not our hold on things eternal; grant this, heavenly Father, for our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Here is E.V. Lucas in the Sussex woodlands more than a century ago. The iron trade moved North as iron and coal mining techniques evolved during the Industrial Revolution. But he cites Thomas Fuller’s question as to which use of iron was the more harmful – guns or the printing press? Fuller lived in the XVII Century and witnessed the Civil War. I doubt he would maintain today that fewer lives were lost to guns than the sword. Let us pray for the beating of all weapons into instruments of peace, and for a continuing change of heart towards our sisters and brothers and our earthly home. Archbishop Dunstan of Canterbury was a part-time iron worker.
St. Leonard’s Forest, and all the forests on this the forest ridge of Sussex, were of course maintained to supply wood with which to feed the furnaces of the iron masters—just as the overflow of these ponds was trained to move the machinery of the hammers for the breaking of the iron stone. The enormous consumption of wood in the iron foundries was a calamity seriously viewed by many observers, among them Michael Drayton who was, however, distressed less as a political economist than as the friend of the wood nymphs driven by the encroaching and devastating foundrymen from their native sanctuaries to the inhospitable Downs.
Jove's oak, the warlike ash, veined elm, the softer beech,
Short hazel, maple plain, light asp, the bending wych,
Tough holly, and smooth birch, must altogether burn;
What should the builder serve, supplies the forger's turn,
When under public good, base private gain takes hold,
And we, poor woful woods, to ruin lastly sold.
Under the heading of Sussex manufactures, Thomas Fuller writes, in the Worthies, of great guns:— “It is almost incredible how many are made of the Iron in this County.
A Monke of Mentz (some three hundred years since) is generally reputed the first Founder of them. Surely ingenuity may seem transpos’d, and to have cross’d her hands, when about the same time a Souldier found out Printing; and it is questionable which of the two Inventions hath done more good, or more harm. As for Guns, it cannot be denied, that though most behold them as Instruments of cruelty; partly, because subjecting valour to chance; partly, because Guns give no quarter (which the Sword sometimes doth); yet it will appear that, since their invention, Victory hath not stood so long a Neuter, and hath been determined with the loss of fewer lives.
There has been many a battle within the Church, as well as in wider society, to persuade people to accept and treat those with learning difficulties as full and equal members. In the 1980’s and later we were still facing priests who refused to admit children to the sacraments ‘because, bless him, he doesn’t need it, he’s not reached the age of reason. He’ll never understand.’ (As if anyone fully understands the Eucharist at a rational level.)
A sister I once knew was catechist to a boy who had little spoken language; she prepared him for First Communion until the day before, when she brought along an unconsecrated wafer to enact the moment of receiving the Host. He held out his hands with such reverence; he made his First Communion there and then, she said.
That story came to mind when I read this passage from Archbishop Williams’s latest book. Regular readers will know that Agnellus’ Mirror is very fond of L’Arche. It’s good to find insights from someone else. I pray that we in L’Arche may always be consistent and life-sustaining.
It is essential for us to think about the ‘rationality’ of those we stigmatise, patronise, ignore and exclude whose mental capacity is not what we define as ‘normal’. The response of gratitude, affection, human sensitivity, ability to relate and cooperate that is visible, for example, in members of the L’Arche communities, where people with significant learning challenges live alongside those who do not have such challenges, should make us hesitate about defining the limits of ‘rationality’ without reference to such relational qualities. We may begin to see ‘reasoning’ as a richly analogical term, with an application to any form of consistent and life-sustaining adjustment to the environment, human and non-human.
From ‘Looking east in winter, contemporary thought and the Eastern Christian tradition’, Rowan WIlliams, London, Bloomsbury Continuum, 2021.
Our third article celebrating Saints Peter and Paul is part of a reflection on his own lived-out vocation from Bishop Edward K Braxton, bishop emeritus of Belleville, Illinois. The whole reflection can be found here, on the National Catholic Reporter website. His book is available from on-line booksellers.
Bear in mind that Peter and Paul were leaders of the early church who took the Good News to all peoples, and who called people of every race to serve the church according to their gifts. See 1 Corinthians 12.
My primary goal was to serve the people of God as a good and faithful priest, and bishop, and to build up the church by helping people to grow in their Catholic identity and education. A phrase I use almost every time I visited a parish was the phrase: “Learn your faith, love your faith, live your faith.” And within that context, part of learning your faith is learning about the dignity and value of every human person, which within that addresses racial prejudice, racism, the dignity, the value of unborn life, the value of the life of a person on death row. If you are doing that, you will see that your faith impels you not to support bias and prejudice or racism.
If you want to invite people of colour into the world of the church, couldn’t some part of it look like them? Yet I am not advocating that you go into churches built by German immigrants and take black paint and spray it all over the saints and angels. I am not proposing anything as simple as that. But there is a reason I chose the cover of my book myself. I wanted to show an Afrocentric Jesus washing the feet of an Afrocentric Peter.