Tag Archives: martyr

13 September. Before the Cross XXIV: The Image Of Death

 

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Reading this poem by Saint Robert Southwell, I at once remembered my father’s rosary, with the skull below Christ’s feet. So although Southwell does not directly refer to the crucifixion, this is the image that comes to my mind. How Dad’s fingers have eroded the figure of Christ and the skull! May he pray for us still, as he prayed for his children every day. Reginald Billingsley would have been 100 years old last New Year’s Eve. A ‘hearse’ at Southwell’s time was a frame that held candles over a coffin. Robert Southwell was a Jesuit  missionary to his native England, and a martyr at Tyburn, London in 1595.

Upon The Image Of Death

Before my face the picture hangs
That daily should put me in mind
Of those cold names and bitter pangs
That shortly I am like to find;
But yet, alas, full little I
Do think hereon that I must die.

I often look upon a face
Most ugly, grisly, bare, and thin;
I often view the hollow place
Where eyes and nose had sometimes been;
I see the bones across that lie,
Yet little think that I must die.

I read the label underneath,
That telleth me whereto I must;
I see the sentence eke that saith
Remember, man, that thou art dust!
But yet, alas, but seldom I
Do think indeed that I must die.

Continually at my bed’s head
A hearse doth hang, which doth me tell
That I ere morning may be dead,
Though now I feel myself full well ;
But yet, alas, for all this, I
Have little mind that I must die.

The gown which I do use to wear,
The knife wherewith I cut my meat,
And eke that old and ancient chair
Which is my only usual seat,-
All these do tell me I must die,
And yet my life amend not I.

My ancestors are turned to clay,
And many of my mates are gone;
My youngers daily drop away,
And can I think to ‘scape alone?
No, no, I know that I must die,
And yet my life amend not I.

Not Solomon for all his wit,
Nor Samson, though he were so strong,
No king nor person ever yet
Could ‘scape but death laid him along;
Wherefore I know that I must die,
And yet my life amend not I.

Though all the East did quake to hear
Of Alexander’s dreadful name,
And all the West did likewise fear
To hear of Julius Caesar’s fame,
Yet both by death in dust now lie;
Who then can ‘scape but he must die?

If none can ‘scape death’s dreadful dart,
If rich and poor his beck obey,
If strong, if wise, if all do smart,
Then I to ‘scape shall have no way.
Oh, grant me grace, O God, that I
My life may mend, sith I must die.

Saint Robert Southwell

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14 August: Saint Maximilian Kolbe

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One of the residential houses at the lamented  Franciscan International Study Centre in Canterbury was called, quite simply, Kolbe. It remembered a Polish Franciscan Saint, whose feast falls today, the day of his death and the eve of the Assumption of Mary.

Brother Maximilian had a lifelong devotion to Mary and encouraged others to follow this way to her son. He set up an organisation the ‘Militia of the Immaculate’

To pursue the conversion to God of all people, be they sinners, or non-Catholics, or unbelievers, in particular the freemasons; and that all become saints, under the patronage and through the mediation of the Immaculate Virgin.

That all become saints! He founded a publishing house and radio station, using technology to preach the Word and ‘pursue the conversion of all people’. Not surprisingly, much of his output was disliked by the Nazis after they invaded Poland. At the same time he was helping refugees, including Jewish people to hide from the Nazis.

His arrest was inevitable, as was his removal to Auschwitz. There he stepped forward to replace a married man with a family who had been picked out to die of starvation. When Brother Maximilian was too long in dying he was given a lethal injection of carbolic acid.

His remains were cremated the following day.

Following his canonisation he has been recognised as a patron saint of drug addicts; I am sure most of us have known, or known of, someone to recommend to his prayers.

 

 

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13 August, V is for Verulam: hospitality and its unlikely consequences

Verulam is the other, old name for Saint Alban’s, a city about 30 km to the north of London. Its Cathedral was founded as an abbey in Norman times, and owes its survival to eventually become a cathedral to the people of the town who bought the building in 1553, following the dissolution of the monasteries.

Verulam, or Verulamium had been a Roman city, with baths, theatres, a market and barracks. Alban lived there in the time of Emperor Diocletian, the great persecutor of Christians. He himself was not a Christian but his lodger Amphibalus was a Christian priest. Alban saw how he lived and prayed and was moving towards his own conversion when the authorities came to arrest his guest. By swapping clothes with Alban, Amphibalus escaped.

Alban, though, was arrested and brought before the magistrate who urged him to sacrifice to the Roman gods by burning a few grains of incense, but he refused and declared to the magistrate that he was a Christian, even though he had not been baptised. He was executed in Amphibalus’ place, the first known martyr of England.

Not so long ago I was talking to a parish priest who said that he had been in his parish for years and not been invited to a meal with a family – then two came for the same evening! We don’t need to fear the treatment Saint Alban received if we invite a priest to our homes, so go ahead and ask them round. Just don’t serve them meat on a Friday!

Przemyslaw Sakrajda—Martyrdom of St Alban, window in St Alban’s Cathedral.

 

 

 

 

 

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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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18 April. Stations of the Cross for Peter: XII, Jesus dies.

winchester crucifix

Winchester Cathedral, MMB

James, Stephen – and eventually Peter himself – were to die for Jesus. But this was a moment of desolation for his friend, the rock.

Scripture References: Jesus the Carpenter: Luke 2:51-52; Mattheew 13: 53-58; Call of the Fishermen: Mark 1: 16-20; Call of the rich young man: Luke 18: 18-25; Stephen: Acts Ch 6-7; James: Acts 12:1-3.

this looks like the end of a wasted life. He could have carried on as a carpenter, and we could have stayed by the lake, catching fish all our days. Good, honest, useful work: absolutely nothing wrong with that.

But Jesus said there was more to life than earning a good living. Sell everything, he told that rich lad, then come and follow me.

We followed him, at times a long way behind and not knowing where we were going. Look what happened to Stephen and James! Stones and the sword, more blood on the cobbles.

cobblestones

And yet Stephen saw Heaven opened, and Jesus there, with open arms, waiting. He is waiting for me, now.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom!

Let us pray for all who are facing a crisis in their faith or a relationship at this time, that they may be granted courage for the next step.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom!

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18 April, Maundy Thursday: Putting on an apron.

footwash

Putting on an apron, as Jesus did: that can be as serious and solemn as giving one’s life … and vice-versa, giving one’s life can be as simple as putting on an apron.

Blessed Christian de Chergé, Martyr of Algeria.

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14 March. Before the Cross I: ‘Living and Dying’ by Blessed Pierre Claverie.

beatification

This Lent we invite you to stand at the foot of the Cross of Jesus. During the last fortnight we will follow the Way of the Cross with Saint Peter, one station per day, ending on Easter Sunday. But before that we have pieces from regular and guest writers in a series called ‘Before the Cross’. Our contributors will put before us images that tell of the death of Jesus and their reflections on their chosen image, and how it helps explain what Cross of Christ means. Not that we can ever explain it.

We begin in Africa. This picture came from the Church in Algeria and shows one of the bishops and a priest present at the beatification of the 19 recent Martyrs of Algeria, with a banner showing the Martyrs’ faces. To the left, a processional cross which the clergy followed on the way to the ceremony. The figure of Christ is almost invisible at this magnitude, as the Church is almost invisible in Algerian society much of the time, but  its members are still bearing witness.

We should remember that many Imams who opposed the Islamist terrorists, as well as  thousands of ordinary Muslims, were killed in those years, including Bishop Claverie’s chauffeur and friend Mohamed. Their names are recorded together on the great doors of the Abbey of Saint Maurice in Switzerland.

The text below comes from the Missionaries of Africa’s Voix d’Afrique N°102.

door st Maurice

At the beginning of Lent in 1996, Bishop Pierre Claverie wrote an editorial for his diocesan newsletter entitled ‘Living and Dying.’

Along with tens of thousands of Algerians, we are facing a menace which sometimes, despite all our precautions, becomes very real. Many people ask themselves – and ask us too – why we insist on remaining so exposed. This is the radical question of our death and of the meaning of our life. God gave us life and we have no right to play Russian roulette with it, risking it for no purpose. Rather we have a duty to preserve it and to foster the conditions needed for it to be balanced, and healthy and fruitful.

We are preparing ourselves to join Christ on the way to his Passion and Cross. Could we not reproach Jesus for having deliberately challenged those who had the power to condemn him? Why did he not flee as he had done before when they wanted to kill him?

The Paschal Mystery obliges us to face the reality of Christ’s death and of our own, and to take stock of why we face it. Jesus did not seek out his death. But neither did he want to run away from it, since he judged that fidelity to his Father’s commands and to the coming of his Kingdom was more important than his fear of death. He chose to follow the logic of his life and mission to the end rather than betray what he was, what he had said, and what he had done, by denying or abandoning them in order to escape the final confrontation.

In every life there come moments when our choices reveal what is in us and what we are made of. There are usually the dark times. It is possible to live for a long time while avoiding this unveiling of the truth. However far we run, or how long we hide, we will have to face this moment of truth. Jesus teaches us to look this moment in the eye and not evade it. Whether it be gentle or violent, we must learn to live our death as the weight we carry through life.

+ Pierre Claverie

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3 January: What’s in a name?

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‘My baby’s called Aubergine’, the little girl told me. I can’t help feeling that Aubergine will stick, even though it is not the one her parents will propose at her Baptism.

Some people are insistent on getting their names spelt and pronounced correctly. I taught one boy who had a soft spot for me because I always spelt his name with a K instead of the C it has in English. I must say I hate it when my name is spelt wrong, especially when people do it in front of me, without asking.

Others just do not feel comfortable with their names.  I was reading of a Spiritan Missionary who prefered to be called Shorty rather than Colman Watkins. He worked in Kenya and helped in Ethiopia when the Catholic Church there was in crisis. Peter was a nickname given to Simon by Jesus.

Another missionary who changed his name was Saint Edmund Campion. He travelled through England incognito during the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth, celebrating Mass for faithful Catholics when to do so was counted treason and liable to the death penalty.

We see him with his martyr’s palm and the rope he was hanged with, and his name in blood red mosaic tiles. Another name appears to the left: IHS – the first three letters of the Holy Name of Jesus in Greek. Biblical shorthand has a long tradition, going back to when parchment or papyrus was not cheap, and it has stayed with us.

Appropriately enough this image is in the Holy Name church in Manchester, run by the Jesuit order to which Edmund Campion belonged. Happy Feast to them!

Not Morris but Maurice!

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29 December: The Suffering of the Innocents

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Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury

There is nothing so devastating to bear as the suffering of children or animals, but it is no good letting oneself be made hopeless and helpless with sorrow. I often wonder how Our Lord’s Mother got through the time of the massacre of the Holy Innocents, which all came about really because of Him! What could she do? All she could do was what she did with regard to the doubt of S. Joseph and all else, just be silent and trust.

pieta.wfThat is all you or I can do. We know that the idea of making a little child stumble drew from Our Lord the most burning words of condemnation he ever spoke, and that, somehow or other, the little one’s suffering is also the suffering of the Babe of Bethlehem, and the Divine Life is inextricably bound up with our human life and our sufferings are really also His. It is a mystery which we cannot explain, and the best i can do is to help you or me or any other perplexed person to go without an explanation, to trust God’s love where we cannot trace his purpose.

Father Andrew SDC.

The life and Letters of Father Andrew, London, Mowbray, 1948, pp 245-246.

Pieta from Missionaries of Africa

 

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28 December: Children in Need

Here’s another seasonal poem from Sheila Billingsley. Challenging feasts like St Stephen and the Innocents jerk us out of any complacent sentimentality about the Babe in the manger. 

Children in Need

‘Suffer,’ you said,

Rebuking misplaced care.

‘Suffer the children to come to me.

Men reject me,

Reject my Father’s love.

The children embrace me,

Gaze ….. those eyes!

Touch me,

Hold me,

My hand ….. arm,

Climb my knee,

Tread on my toe!

The dominant one, his arm around my neck,

Triumphant.
They cannot tire me.
Remember the children of my childhood,

Little boys,

And I a babe from among them,

Slaughtered like beasts in my stead.
Suffer the children

Down through the ages,

Suffer the new-born,

Fragile, hand held.

Suffer, for they suffered.
Who will pray for them

And for the children to come?
Those eyes …..
‘Who will pray for me?’
Days for this

And days for that,

Days for aged,

Days for youth,

Dogs and donkeys,

Cancer, cats.
For children

In need, in danger?

Infants exposed to evil

Unacknowledged?
TV, phone,

School and street,

Chain link fence enclosing terror,

Violence watched calmly over breakfast.
Feed your great, sad eyes, my children

For this is your life.
I too suffered

That you should come to me.

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