Tag Archives: loneliness

28 April: In sure and certain hope.

Our constitutional today led us to Harbledown, once home to Canterbury’s lepers, but we took an old sunken road that led us to the parish church, not the lepers’ one – which is now an almshouse. We spent a few minutes checking the gravestones for passion flowers. I would have said no joy, but these modern carvings were little joys, and each of them an Easter image.

The daffodils are often part of an Easter garden, and then the salmon: didn’t the risen Jesus accept a piece of grilled fish, since he was no ghost, but still human, still able to fancy food. And didn’t he barbecue fish for the disciples up North in Galilee? I don’t suppose they have salmon in the Jordan, cut off as it is from the ocean but surely he’d have caught the best in the lake? That would be salmon in England.

As for the boat (a Mirror dinghy if Agnellus is not mistaken) let it remind us of that lakeside morning, the shared meal, the reconciliation, the commission: feed my lambs, feed my sheep, feed my ewes. Let us share our Easter joy in this lockdown time!

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11 April, Holy Saturday: The Passion of Mary

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On this Saturday as children we were invited to think of Mary. I for one could not get beyond an air of dull pain engendered by the stripped, silent church – an opportunity to get some deep cleaning and polishing done, it’s true, but all in a punishing silence. Francis Thompson knew pain more intimately than most people. We sang these verses during Lent.

VERSES IN PASSION-TIDE

O LADY Mary, thy bright crown
Is no mere crown of majesty;
For with the reflex of His own
Resplendent thorns Christ circled thee.

The red rose of this Passion-tide
Doth take a deeper hue from thee,
In the five wounds of Jesus dyed,
And in thy bleeding thoughts, Mary!

The soldier struck a triple stroke,
That smote thy Jesus on the tree:
He broke the Heart of Hearts, and broke
The Saint’s and Mother’s hearts in thee.

Thy Son went up the angels’ ways,
His passion ended; but, ah me!
Thou found’st the road of further days
A longer way of Calvary:

On the hard cross of hope deferred
Thou hung’st in loving agony,
Until the mortal-dreaded word
Which chills our mirth, spake mirth to thee.

The angel Death from this cold tomb
Of life did roll the stone away;
And He thou barest in thy womb
Caught thee at last into the day,
Before the living throne of Whom
The Lights of Heaven burning pray.

L’ENVOY

O thou who dwellest in the day!
Behold, I pace amidst the gloom:
Darkness is ever round my way
With little space for sunbeam-room.

Yet Christian sadness is divine
Even as thy patient sadness was:
The salt tears in our life’s dark wine
Fell in it from the saving cross.

Bitter the bread of our repast;
Yet doth a sweet the bitter leaven:
Our sorrow is the shadow cast
Around it by the light of Heaven.

O light in Light, shine down from Heaven!

Francis Thompson knew the bitterness of life; it was difficult, at times, for his friends to help him out of the shadows into the light in which he believed. Hoping against hope. he paced amid the gloom of 19th Century London streets, yet looking for mirth beyond death.

If you can ask a friend to pray for you, then in the communion of saints and life everlasting, you can ask Mary to pray for you too. If you are a poet, you can address her in poetry.

Much of the imagery of Thomson’s poem can be seen in the Rood from Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge; but this is a Risen Jesus, wearing a truly royal crown, not the resplendent thorns. Let us pray that Francis Thompson may be forever surrounded by the light of Heaven, and that we too may join him.

 

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Going Viral VIII: local angels.

This story appeared in the Independent Catholic News. For the full text see the link.

https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/39178

A flyer popped through our door offering help if we were isolated, elderly or lonely. We are not, but I was incredibly touched by the kindness of the two strangers who gave their phone numbers to contact should we need them. I texted to thank them for their care and concern.

In the face of disaster, uncertainty and, for some despair, there is charity, unconditional love and hope. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this initiative carried on once life gets back to normality – communities pulling together and looking out for the most vulnerable in their midst. Scrolling through the link my ‘angels’ sent me, the local help group had offers of shopping, gardening, dog walking and students whose courses were now cancelled who wanted to help with children off school – so many different people volunteering for one or two streets’ worth of help.

Yesterday I discovered a host of angels in my community and now I know their names.

Anne O’Connor

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2 March, Desert V: So near, and yet …

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This is not about Margate, as pictured, but a sandy-beached resort in the North of England. And it is not a neat, uplifting story, like yesterday’s blessed solitude. No, it’s one that should shake our complacency, and it happened last summer.

My niece Jo was there for a sand-painting event: we saw the project she was part of in Folkestone on Remembrance Sunday 2018.

As the team were finishing their work in August. there were two minibuses full of school children from districts of the town just a couple of miles away. Their leaders told the artists that some of these children had never been to the beach. Jo heard one of the boys say, ‘This has been the best day of my life.’

Gratifying for the leaders, perhaps, but, as Abel’s mother said, ‘You’d put them in the buggy and walk that distance.’ Why are their parents unable to do so? No-one is charged to play on the beaches in England.

Thank God for play leaders, but forgive us all that these deserts of deprivation exist – financial, material, psychological, spiritual – in a rich land like ours. This is one sort of desert that should not exist.

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12 November, Readings from Mary Webb XXII: The Lad out there.

 

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I had forgotten this war poem by Mary Webb. ‘So young he is, so dear to me’: this was not just written in sympathy for others, but from her own heart. Her three brothers enlisted, and one was gravely injured. Even so, if we cannot feel with those left behind, there is something wrong with us. Pray for all mothers, wives and families and friends worrying, worrying, at home, as well as the men and women on service.
Oh, Powers of Love, if still you lean
Above a world so black with hate,
Where yet–as it has ever been–
The loving heart is desolate,
Look down upon the lad I love,
(My brave lad, tramping through the mire)–
I cannot light his welcoming fire,
Light Thou the stars for him above!
Now nights are dark and mornings dim,
Let him in his long watching know
That I too count the minutes slow
And light the lamp of love for him.
The sight of death, the sleep forlorn,
The old homesickness vast and dumb–
Amid these things, so bravely borne,
Let my long thoughts about him come.
I see him in the weary file;
So young he is, so dear to me,
With ever-ready sympathy
And wistful eyes and cheerful smile.
However far he travels on,
Thought follows, like the willow-wren
That flies the stormy seas again
To lands where her delight is gone.
Whatever he may be or do
While absent far beyond my call,
Bring him, the long day’s march being through,
Safe home to me some evenfall!

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July 11, Readings from Mary Webb XIX: The Little Sorrow

 

Within my heart a little sorrow crept
And wept, and wept.
Below the lilt of happiest melodies
I heard his sighs,
And cried–‘You little alien in my heart,
Depart! Depart!’

Amid the loud, discordant sounds of fate,
I listening wait–
Not hoping that a song can reach my ear:
But just to hear
That little weeping grief I once bade cease
Would now be peace.

Mary Webb wrote bravely from the heart. Sorrow below the lilt of happiest melodies: she knows of what she writes. 

samaritans cards 2019

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July 9. Readings from Mary Webb XVII: Beyond

 

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Far beyond, far beyond,
Deeper than the glassy pond,
My shivering spirit sits and weeps
And never sleeps.

Like the autumn dove that grieves,
Darkly hid in dove-like leaves,
So I moan within a woe
None may know.

Not having children, carrying pain and disfigurement, exiled in London to further her literary career: we can begin to list the trials of Mary Webb, but like all of us, at times she bore a woe that none may know. May we trust that it will pass or that we will learn how to confine it or to tell someone about it.

And may we be ready to listen, trusting the Spirit to give us wisdom when we need it.

samaritans cards 2019

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March 24: Before the Cross XI: The Truest Love of All

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If clouds of doubt should ever fall,

A fog so thick that I should cry:

Is this the truest love of all –

Where men still suffer, bleed and die?

A quiet voice might ask of me

What other love I thought so true

What greater, deeper love I see

More heartfelt than the God I knew?

 

See there, beside the poor and weak,

Among the broken, there, he stands,

And with the voiceless, there to speak

With grieving heart and nail-pierced hands.

Abandoned once by dearest friends,

He meets the lonely, brings them near,

His mercy and gentle presence mends

Souls bound by bitterness and fear.

 

And he would show me in my prayer,

His woundedness, his cross, his shame:

The truest love of all was there –

There, even there, he knew my name.

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10 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus IV: The Call.

 

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Zacchaeus would have watched as Jesus walks on, interacting warmly with the crowd. A blessing for this one, a prayer offered gravely with that one, a beaming smile to another, a lingering look of support directed into the eyes of a disabled person and his carer, a listening ear, a wise word; he clasps the hands of the elderly as he goes along; he lays his hands on the heads of the lame and the sick; he embraces a small child who runs up to him and laughs at the trenchant observation the child makes. This was a happy day for Jesus and his followers. Nothing untoward had happened in it – no impossible confrontations with scribes or Pharisees. Everyone in the crowd felt Jesus’ peace and his power. His deep goodness was palpable. No one was unaffected by it. Everyone felt a new surge of hope and life. They felt that their lives would change now for the better. They felt that they themselves were changing. Jesus’ holiness shone out. People simply loved him.

Suddenly, Matthew taps Jesus’ shoulder and points to the sycamore tree, “There’s Zacchaeus,” he may have said. And what of Zacchaeus? He is deeply stirred, in a way that he did not expect. He recognises power when he sees it, but he has never seen this kind of power before. It has none of the usual trappings. There is no display of wealth. There is no intimidating weaponry. There is no attitude of disdain and arrogance. This power of Jesus was like an irresistible dance, drawing even the clumsy to share in its exciting rhythms. The entire scene was characterised by complete freedom and joy.

Zacchaeus recognised some of the people in Jesus’ group. Matthew was there! As one of them. He seemed to belong! That blind beggar was there, his sight restored, telling everyone about what Jesus had done, as if they couldn’t see well enough for themselves. A few of the loose women of the town were right there among Jesus’ group, and some obviously respectable matrons were walking with them, smiling and talking easily to them! Some of the men Zacchaeus had all but ruined were there, looking more hopeful than they had in years. What was going on here? Zacchaeus was mesmerised, stunned. He stood on his thick tree branch, supporting himself with other branches. Friendless Zacchaeus. He was smiling as he watched, but he also felt a peculiar sensation he had not known is years: he has a lump in his throat. Usually he kept such feelings far away from his awareness. But today, longing surfaced with an intensity he had not experienced since he was a small boy. He watches Jesus and his group coming slowly down the street, sees the flow of good feeling and happiness. He thinks momentarily of his large home, filled with servants, and decorated with expensive objects, but hollow, too quiet, lonely. Suddenly, he wants desperately to be part of Jesus’ group.

Much to Zacchaeus’s surprise, he sees Jesus look around, then up to the tree; he makes eye-contact with Zacchaeus, and then, smiling, Jesus makes his way through the crowd – which, incidentally, parts to allow him through – and he stands at the bottom of Zacchaeus’s tree. I love to imagine this scene: can Jesus possibly have been in solemn mode here? This is not the Sermon on the Mount, nor is it an occasion when he must undertake a battle of wits with Pharisees who are trying to catch him out. This is Jesus the Friend and Brother, joyfully, even laughingly, calling up to Zacchaeus – who, in fact, looks a bit silly where he is. Jesus is enjoying this moment. He is giving himself fully. His strong voice rings out, “Zacchaeus!”

Let’s stop here, with the sound of Jesus’ voice, perhaps calling not Zacchaeus’s name, but our own.

SJC

Helping him down. MMB

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9 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus III: Personal History

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We all have a history, including Zacchaeus. We do not know what his history was, but it is probable that this friendless man had an unhappy one. Why choose a profession that guarantees the hatred of one’s fellow-man otherwise? Perhaps he was tossed out of the home at a young age by an abusive parent, or perhaps he ran away from a situation of poverty and violence, had to fend for himself, become street-wise, learn to manipulate situations to his advantage. Whatever happened, he became, for reasons we will never know, a rich man, but also a dishonest man in a despised profession. No doubt he was intelligent and competent – too competent, maybe, at getting money – but wealth and the power to ruin people does not attract friends. Sycophants, maybe, but not friends. And not even these were with him that day. He was alone, unsupported. No wife, no servant. No colleague. No one.

Let’s fill in some other details about this man. Working backwards from what the text tells us, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine Zacchaeus as a wiry little boy, able to run fast and scale obstacles easily as he escaped from the angry adults who wanted to thrash him for some misdemeanour – or none. I think he knew what hunger meant as a child, and although he survived by his wits, perhaps his nutrition was dubious, and bodily growth was affected. Now he is a well-to-do adult, but Zacchaeus is a small man. He is abundantly energetic, though, and is both crafty and agile enough to solve his current difficulty without reference to anyone else (it is the story of his life): he cannot see Jesus because he is too short and the crowd is too big and unyielding. Fine. He dashes ahead and swings easily into a sycamore tree, as the text tells us – a tree well furnished with thick branches radiating from a central crown. Here is a resourceful person with few inhibitions. Here is someone determined never to allow his desires to be thwarted. Here is a man who has never cared what people thought of him as he ruthlessly made his fortune – why start now? He climbs higher on the sturdy branches. Yes, excellent view, he thinks smugly. He can see Jesus perfectly now.

And what is happening with Jesus? What is Zacchaeus apt to be seeing? St Luke tells us in the immediately preceding passage that Jesus, on entering Jericho, had healed a blind man, and that ‘all who saw it gave praise to God.’ The formerly blind man then followed Jesus, we are told. He was probably now part of Jesus’ joyful entourage walking down the main road of Jericho. I expect this group might have included many of the people who had known the blind man all his life and had now witnessed his healing. They would have joined Jesus’ group, already consisting of the Twelve, without whom he rarely went anywhere. The gospels also report that there were women among Jesus’ constant supporters and followers, and I image that some of them would have been there now, too. Chances are, the collection of people coming down the road with Jesus was a large one.

As we have seen in our gospel passage, Jesus already seems to know Zacchaeus’ name when he starts the conversation with him. No one introduces them. We do not need to assume that this is a demonstration of Jesus’ divine omniscience. Zacchaeus was infamous. The apostle Matthew, reformed tax collector himself, probably knew him, even if Jesus didn’t. He would probably have warned Jesus about Zacchaeus as he approached the town: “Rich man, but the very devil for getting tax money from people – and then some. Ruthless,” Jesus might have been told. He was probably also told that Zacchaeus lived a big house. I can see Jesus listening quietly to such information, and forming his own plans. Jesus had nothing to fear from notorious individuals.

SJC

Favella image from CD.

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