Tag Archives: loyalty

7 May, Little flowers of Saint Francis LXXII: no repose for Brother John.

After three years, it pleased God to take away from Brother John that ray and fire of love divine, and reave him of all spiritual consolation. Whereby Brother John remained without the light and love of God, and altogether disconsolate and afflicted and distressed. For the which cause, being in such anguish, he went through the wood running hither and thither, calling with cries and tears and sighs on the beloved spouse of his soul, who had hidden himself and gone away from him, and without whose presence his soul could find no rest and no repose: but in no place and in no manner could he find his sweet Jesu again, nor taste again those sweet spiritual draughts of the loye of Jesu Christ, as he had been wont.

This tribulation endured for many days, in which he abode continually weeping and sighing, and praying God that of His pity He would give back to him the beloved spouse of his soul. At the last, when it pleased God to have made trial enough of his patience and to have kindled his desire, on a day when Brother John was going through the wood in such affliction and distress, he sat him down for very weariness, leaning against a beech tree, and remained with his face all bathed in tears looking up to heaven, — behold! suddenly Jesu Christ appeared hard by him in the path, whereby Brother John had come, but spake naught. Brother John seeing Him and knowing full well that it was Christ, straightway threw himself at His feet, and with sore weeping besought Him very humbly, saying:

“Help me, O Lord, for without Thee, my most sweet Saviour, I am full of darkness and weeping, without Thee, most gentle lamb, I am full of anguish and pain and fear; without Thee, Son of God most high, I am full of confusion and shame, without Thee, I am bereft of all good and am blind, since Thou art Jesu Christ, the true light of souls; without Thee, I am lost and damned, for Thou art the life of souls, and the life of lives; without Thee, I am barren and dry, for Thou art the fountain of every gift and grace; without Thee, I am altogether disconsolate, for Thou art Jesu our redemption, our love, and our desire, the bread of comfort, and the wine that maketh glad the hearts of the Angels, and the hearts of all the Saints; enlighten me, most gracious Master, and most tender Shepherd, for I am Thy little sheep, unworthy though I be.”

The prayer that finishes this post was not composed by one who was mentally ill. But he was altogether disconsolate, and told Jesus so.

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Going viral XXVIII: planting in hope.

If I do not use these pictures soon, the moment will have completely passed. On one of our walks we passed these two Kentish orchards, one old, one new. How many years will the old one keep fruiting? And how long will the new one be productive? It represents a massive act of hope in the future, something we all need with the virus restricting our lives. (click on the photo to see the other orchard.)

The tombstone of Harry and Winifred Cuthbert proclaims that they were ‘dedicated’ to farming and fruit growing, witness the strawberry plant seen here. Every seed, every plant is an act of hope. So is a smile, a wave, a word of encouragement.

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23 April: Looking After Jesus

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Sister Johanna finds treasure in Luke’s Gospel when she spots her own name and investigates further.

With Jesus went Mary, surnamed the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their own resources.                                                                                                                                      Luke 8: 2-3

This short passage from the Gospel of Luke is one that I have not really thought much about, until now. Today I was taken by the reference to Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and wondered why Chuza was mentioned, and what light this might shed on the text. After a bit or research, I discovered that this is the only reference to Chuza in the New Testament, and nothing is known about him except what is said here in this passage. But, surely, at the time Luke’s gospel was written, his name must have meant something. No one, not even St. Luke, name-drops without wanting to impress. And if I think about it, I can see what is probably being implied here.

Herod was not a man to be trusted. He was no friend of Jesus, and the term, ‘that fox’, was used by Jesus of Herod (Lk 13:32) as a put-down, and a bold one, for Herod was an important man and held power over Jesus – or at least, he held a certain kind of worldly power over him. He could, and eventually did, collude with the powers that crucified Jesus.

And Chuza was ‘that fox’s’ steward. As steward, Chuza was also rather important. Scripture scholars say that the exact nature of a steward’s job is no longer known, but it is thought that Chuza was probably a kind of chief administrator of Herod’s entire establishment, and not a mere domestic manager. He was in some way the man who made all the practical decisions at the palace and was responsible for its smooth running. The fact that Chuza’s name is dropped into this text would suggest that his name was well known by Luke’s audience. Eyebrows might rise on hearing that Joanna, wife of the famous Chuza, was known to be both a disciple of Jesus and one of his benefactors.

The text also suggests that Joanna was taking a risk, both on her own behalf and that of her husband, in publicly following this upstart Jesus – ever a controversial figure to those without faith, who had not yet learned to love and revere him. Herod would not approve. But, neither Joanna nor Chuza seem to be bothered by that. Jesus is worth the risk. What eventually happened to Chuza? The text doesn’t say. But we have established that his relative fame would not have been an advantage for Joanna. She carries on anyway, despite the risk.

What else do we know about Joanna? Joanna had been healed by Jesus. She is now dedicated to caring for Jesus and is one of those who provide for him and his companions. She gladly associates with Mary Magdalene, who had been freed from seven devils. Reputations linger, and surely Mary Magdalene was still regarded by many as a highly dubious character. Joanna doesn’t care about that either. Mary Magdalene had been healed, and so had Joanna. They were companions. Joanna was for Jesus and no one would stop her. Caring for Jesus was much more important than playing it safe. Caring for Jesus more important than caring for herself. She and the other women are loyal to Jesus and courageous.

What does Jesus think of their dedication? Does he thank them? Oh, yes. St. Luke’s gospel tells us later that Joanna and the other women received a reward from Jesus. In fact, we see that Jesus expresses his gratitude in the most profound way possible. After Jesus’ crucifixion, Joanna appears again; with her are Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James. They are the first visitors to the tomb of Jesus. They go there intending to carry out the ritual anointing the body. What actually happens to them there is that they become the privileged three who converse with angels. They – these women who took risks for Jesus, who were loyal to him, who provided for his material needs – they are the first recipients of the astounding news that Jesus was alive, risen from the dead. They are the first to know, the first ones to experience the joy of knowing. And not only that, St Luke tells us that they are the first ones who actually remembered Jesus’ own words about his resurrection which he spoke when he was alive. They are the first to understand those words.

And this tells us something else about Joanna and the other women: they were attuned to Jesus’ teaching all along. This understanding they have after his death will be the carry-over from their profound grasp of his teaching before his death. They are, therefore, well chosen to be the first messengers of the Good News to the Eleven. This is Jesus’ way of thanking them, honouring them, showing his love for them and healing them of the deep sorrow his death would have caused. He reaches the most profound places in their hearts with the reality of his resurrection. This is indeed a gift.

This short text, one that I had not really pondered before, has messages of joy. It tells us that Jesus sees everything we do for him, sees our loyalty, sees the risks we take for him, sees the understanding we have of his teaching, sees the way we remember his words. He is grateful every time we embrace his word, every time we give generously to him and his followers. He will repay in ways we cannot imagine now, any more than the women imagined that they would see angels when they went to the tomb. Jesus will repay with currency from his risen life and reach us, raise us up on the deepest possible level of our being.

SJC

Image: Missionaries of Africa.

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1 March: Violets from Saint David’s.

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These last few days I have been enjoying the gradual appearance of the violets along the path beside our house, but instead of getting down on my hands and knees to take a picture of them let me share these from the little Welsh city of Saint David’s. We were there in Spring a few years ago and these were by a path leading to the saint’s birthplace. ‘Be faithful in the little things’, he told his followers as he lay dying, back in the late 6th Century.

Let’s be faithful to the little things of this earth and always to have room for a few violets, or even daisies, beside our paths.

And Laudato Si!

A version of this post appeared last year on Will Turnstone’s own blog.

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25 August: Letters of Saint Jane Frances III, Fidelity is catching.

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To Mother Marie Jacqueline Favre, Superior at Lyons.

Vive ✠ Jésus!

Annecy, 1615.

They have taken me by surprise. Here is M. de Boisy, who tells me that if I wish to write to you, my daughter, now is the opportunity. He starts at dawn, and so at dawn I write this letter in all haste.

Well, as to your letters, they always give me pleasure and console me exceedingly. All praise to the good God who I see leads you and holds you by His paternal Hand, so that you have nothing to do but to cling close to it, and leave yourself to Him, walking with all possible humility, and simplicity, under His holy protection, while you train your little flock to advance faithfully, for it is in this way that He wishes you to show your fidelity, and it is for this end that I always tell you, my dearest, that you should keep yourself, as much as the performance of necessary duties allow, free and disengaged from occupations, so that you may be continually in the midst of your Sisters at the times that they are assembled together, thus will you enlighten and animate them in their duty by example as well as by precept. I quite agree with our worthy and excellent Archbishop. He is right, my daughter, believe me, you must be Mother and Mistress.

This was still early days for the congregation of the Sisters of the Visitation, founded by Saints Jane Frances and Francis de Sales. The opening of this passage shows the gulf between their world and ours: writing in haste to take advantage of a friend’s travels to send a letter! Note, too, her motto: I guess I’d translate it as ‘Jesus Lives’, but maybe ‘long live Jesus’ would be closer. Mother Marie Jacqueline found the double role of mother and mistress (superior, authority figure) a trial, even if Mother Jane Frances had every confidence in her. The excellent Archbishop is St Francis de Sales.

The church at TignesThe church at Tignes is not far from Annecy: Rupert Greville reflected on it during our Lent programme.

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L’Arche mini pilgrimage around Canterbury, I.

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June 15: A faithful Biblical dog.

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When we were on pilgrimage we always had at least one dog with us, so we adapted parts of the book of Tobit for our midday prayers. Dogs don’t always get a good press in the Bible, but in this book the dog is a faithful companion, as was Sam, seen here. 

Old Tobit was blind and worn out. One day he remembered that his cousin Raguel was looking after some money for him in a town far away. He sent his son Tobias to collect the money. Before he left home, Tobias met the Angel Raphael, who was in disguise.

Raphael says he knows the way across the river, through the desert and over the mountain and agrees to go with Tobias. They say goodbye to Tobit and Anna his wife, and the dog follows behind them.

The first evening they camped beside the River Tigris. Tobias was washing his feet in the river when a monstrous fish leapt out and tried to swallow his foot. He gave a yell and the angel said, ‘Catch the fish; don’t let it get away.’ The boy caught the fish and pulled it onto the bank. Raphael said, ‘Cut it open; take out the gall, heart and liver and throw the rest of the guts away, but the gall and heart and liver make good medicine.’ The rest of the fish they cooked and pickled to eat on the way.

Reflection

Look how the dog is faithful to Tobias! ‘Wherever you are going, I will go.’ he does not know that they are going across the river,  through the desert and over the mountains, for days and days. He just knows Tobias needs him.

And God gives Tobias another companion, a real angel in disguise called Raphael. All Tobias knows about him is that Raphael knows the way across the river, through the desert and over the mountains.

But he knows more than that! He knows how to use part of the fish for medicine, so they save that and eat the rest. Fish and chips tomorrow for us and nobody nibbling out toes.

Let’s thank God for our companions on the journey, for our guardian angels, and our friends and family. May we be as faithful as Tobias and the dog.

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May 15: What is Theology Saying? LII: Salvation outside the Church I.

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austinThe Christian has to ask how to evaluate other religions. We are all engaged in the work of transforming the world alongside people who are striving for the same goal and contributing equally as much for its realisation. Yet many belong to another religion or faith community.

The question: do these people participate in the work and fruits of salvation in spite of their own religious commitment or because of it? Christianity has answered this variously through the ages, but with answers heavily influenced by cultural experiences and national belongings. It is not easy to disentangle Christian tradition from social and cultural theories.

Before reflecting on these, it must be remembered that the Christian understanding of Judaism must be discussed separately; the relationship between Judaism and Christianity is unique, and in fairly recent times the French Biblical scholar Paul Démann has undertaken this in various articles to do with the relationship between Judaism in Christianity. He makes many suggestions, but many questions remain unsolved and a full theology of Christian understanding of Judaism has yet to appear.

It is abundantly clear that there is salvation in Judaism and the coming of Jesus in history did not take this salvation away. Scripture asserts that God made an everlasting covenant with Israel – you shall be my people and I will be your God; and through them all nations on the earth will be blessed. God kept promising a new covenant – not that the old one would pass away to be replaced by another, rather would the old one become new again as each generation made it its own; and written, not on stone, but on hearts of flesh.

All these promises were verified again and again in Judaism. Although Christians have not always been aware of it, Jews have continued to live passionately in fidelity to the covenant. Under tough conditions – exile, dispersion, persecution and holocaust – they continued to make the covenant ever fresh and new in succeeding generations.

AMcC

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23 April: Not a mere generous impulse; Brownings X.

Here is Elizabeth Barrett, writing to Robert Browning a few months before the extract in our last post.
I thought too, at first, that the feeling on your part was a mere generous impulse, likely to expend itself in a week perhaps.
It affects me and has affected me, very deeply, more than I dare attempt to say, that you should persist so—and if sometimes I have felt, by a sort of instinct, that after all you would not go on to persist, and that (being a man, you know) you might mistake, a little unconsciously, the strength of your own feeling; you ought not to be surprised; when I felt it was more advantageous and happier for you that it should be so. In any case, I shall never regret my own share in the events of this summer, and your friendship will be dear to me to the last. You know I told you so—not long since.
from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846″ by Robert Browning, available on Kindle and online. 

It can be hard to accept that we are loved, whether by God or another human being. Surely we have experienced those ‘mere generous impulses’ which come to nothing but scratch a few scars on the heart in the process.

Jesus – in this world, in his time – stayed long enough to reassure his disciples that their friendship was dear to him to the last. And while Peter (the past master of generous impulses) may always have regretted his share in the events of that spring, he received the grace to feed the Lord’s sheep and be faithful to the last.

The clasped hands of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, cast by Harriet Hosmer, Metropolitan Museum of Art. This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

 

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28 September, Traherne IX: Be faithful in a little.

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By the very right of your senses you enjoy the World. Is not the beauty of the Hemisphere
present to your eye? Doth not the glory of the Sun pay tribute to your sight? Is not the vision of the World an amiable thing? Do not the stars shed influences to perfect the Air? Is not that a marvellous body to breathe in? To visit the lungs: repair the spirits, revive the senses, cool the blood, fill the empty spaces between the Earth and Heavens; and yet give liberty to all objects?

Prize these first: and you shall enjoy the residue: Glory, Dominion, Power, Wisdom; Honour, Angels, Souls, Kingdoms, Ages. Be faithful in a little, and you shall be master over much. If you be not faithful in esteeming these; who shall put into your hands the true Treasures? If you be negligent in prizing these, you will be negligent in prizing all. For there is a disease in him who despiseth present mercies, which till it be cured, he can never be happy. He esteemeth nothing that he hath, but is ever gaping after more: which when he hath he despiseth in like manner.

Insatiableness is good, but not ingratitude.

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