Tag Archives: martyr

27 January: The murder that shook the Middle Ages.

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This link is to the British Museum blog  post about ‘the murder that shook the Middle Ages: that of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his own Cathedral.  In this period of Brexit and withdrawal from Europe, it is as well for us all to realise that:

In death Becket remained a figure of opposition to unbridled power and became seen as the quintessential defender of the rights of the Church. To this end you can find images of his murder in churches across Latin Christendom, from Germany and Spain, to Italy and Norway. Becket was, and remains, a truly European saint.

By no means was Thomas simply an anti-establishment English hero. Let us pray for the grace to discern when to support and when to oppose or challenge authority.

The British Museum will be holding a major exhibition about Becket and his world in the Autumn of 2020.

 

From 1170 to 1220, Saint Thomas’s remains lay in the Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral.

 

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29 December: Saint Thomas of Canterbury

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The New Year waits, breathes, waits, whispers in darkness.
While the labourer kicks off a muddy boot and stretches his hand to the fire,

The New Year waits, destiny waits for the coming.
Who has stretched out his hand to the fire and remembered the Saints at All Hallows,
Remembered the martyrs and saints who wait? and who shall
Stretch out his hand to the fire, and deny his master:
who shall be warm

By the fire, and deny his master?

fire.Moses

This is from the opening of T S Eliot’s ‘Murder in the Cathedral’,* written for the Canterbury Festival, 1935. A chorus of Canterbury women are setting the scene for the events that followed Saint Thomas’s return from exile in 1170. We will celebrate his 850th anniversary next year. 

Will we be ready to leave our comfort zone this coming year?

*See Universal Library for full text.

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26 December: Sober this Christmas?

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I was looking for inspiration for Saint Stephen’s day, a martyrdom straight after the birth of baby Jesus. I also had an eye open for frankincense, because Abel is to play Caspar the Wise Man or King in the school Nativity play. Siesta is the obvious shop for such things in Canterbury and they did not disappoint: half a dozen sticks of frankincense, or so they claim were soon found and in my bag.

It was on my way out that I saw the card, the bright red was hard to ignore. The message on the front read, ‘What’s sobriety got to do with Christmas’, which reminded me of the ancient card or cracker joke: ‘be like the early Christians this Christmas, get stoned.’ Which brings us back to Saint Stephen, shown here with a pile of the stones people used to kill him. The statue is above the main door of his Church in Canterbury.

Already on Pentecost Day the Apostles had been accused of drunkenness because of their proclamation of the Good News (Acts 2:15). A few weeks later Stephen was arrested, and his words sound like a drunken illusion (Acts 7:56-60).

Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, [who was] calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Even when stone-cold sober, people can act irrationally and sinfully; a sobering message indeed.

Let us pray for all our Christian sisters and brothers who are trying to live out their vocation as members of a minority, sometimes suspected of treason, open to accusations of blasphemy, and liable to suffer violence and murder.

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27 October, Month of Mission: Prayer of Blessing.

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My catechism told me that: ‘prayer is the raising of the heart and mind to God.’ Short and sweet, but insufficient. This prayer from USPG, the Anglican missionary society, shows that we should raise all our being and the whole of creation to God – and let our prayer work within us to discern and carry out our mission of forgiveness and healing to all people, all creation. And as Saint Paul tells us, it is the Spirit that prays in us.

Blessed be God in the joy of creation.
Blessed be God in the sending of Jesus.
Blessed be God in the work of the Spirit.
Blessed be God in martyr and saint.
Blessed be God in the spread of the gospel
to every race
and every land.
Blessed be God in the church of our day
in its preaching and witness
and its treasures of grace.
Blessed be God who has called us to mission
who forgives and who heals
and is strength in our weakness.
USPG

Carving from Saint David’s Cathedral, Pembroke.

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10 October, Month of Mission, humbly at their service.

door st Maurice

The Month of Mission gives us another chance to reflect on the Martyrs of Algeria, beatified on December 8 last year. The Martyrs’ Door at the Abbey of Saint Maurice, Switzerland, unites the names of Bishop Pierre Claverie and Mohamed Bouchikhi, his driver and friend, who died with him in a bomb attack. We should remember that many Muslims, including imams, were also killed by the fundamentalist rebels.

We share part of a reflection by Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, Missionary of Africa, taken from the February 2019 White Fathers magazine.

I knew them all … The four Missionaries of Africa who were martyred at the town of Tizi-Ouzou were all very different: Alain Dieulangard, involved in the charismatic movement; Charles Deckers, practical, adapting well to local conditions; Jean Chevillard, a born leader; Christian Chessel, the young intellectual.

They were nevertheless united, for they had all drunk from the same source: the instructions that Cardinal Lavigèrie had given to the Missionaries of Africa: love those to whom one has been sent, make an effort to learn their language and speak it well, get to know and appreciate their traditions and customs, show respect for their religious beliefs, put oneself humbly at their service in all sorts of ways – all of these aspects of the spirit of Lavigèrie could be found in these four men, each one in his own way. The testimonies of both Christians and Muslims confirm this.

It can be added to this that all four were deeply spiritual persons, men of prayer, who wanted to serve the Lord and not their own interests. This is why they felt very much at ease within the project of the Church of Algeria which Bishop Claverie described in the following way: “We are, and we want to be, missionaries of God’s love, that love which we have discovered in Jesus Christ. This love, infinitely respectful of human beings, does not impose itself, does not impose anything in fact, bringing no force to bear on consciences or hearts. With gentleness, and by its very presence, it frees whatever is bound in chains, it reconciles that which is torn apart, it raises up that which is crushed, brings new life where there was no hope and no strength”.

In a reflection written one month before his death Christian Chessel tried to provide a synthesis of this approach in what he called “Mission in weakness”. “To recognize, welcome, and accept one’s own weakness would seem to be a necessary, inevitable, preliminary step,” he wrote, “especially for a missionary”. This allows one to forge with those men and women to whom one has been sent relations characterized by an absence of power, or, according to another favourite expression of Christian, “by the language of discreta caritas”.

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28 September, The Franciscans come to Mount Alvernia, I: Saint Francis and Orlando.

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Among the Little Flowers of Saint Francis are Reflections on his Holy Stigmata. The first of these, which we will read in series until his feast day, tells how the Franciscan order was given Mount Alvernia as a place of penance and solitude.

Ye must needs know that Saint Francis, being forty and three years of age, in the year 1224, being inspired of God, set out from the Vale of Spoleto for to go into Romagna with Brother Leo his companion; and as they went, they passed by the foot of the Castle of Montefeltro; in the which Castle there was at that time a great company of gentlefolk, and much feasting, by reason of the knighting of one of the same Counts of Montefeltro. And Saint Francis, hearing of the festivities that were holden there and how that many gentle folk of divers countries were there gathered together, spake unto Brother Leo: “Let us go up unto this feast, for with the help of God we may win some good fruit of souls.”

Among the other gentle folk from that country, that were of that knightly company, was a great and eke a wealthy gentleman of Tuscany, by name Orlando da Chiusi, of Casentino; who by reason of the marvellous things that he had heard of the sanctity and the miracles of Saint Francis; bore him great devotion, and felt an exceeding strong desire to see him and to hear him preach.

Coming to the castle, Saint Francis entered in, and came to the courtyard where all that great company of gentle folk was gathered together, and in fervour of spirit stood up upon a parapet, and began to preach, taking as the text of his sermon these words in the vulgar tongue:

So great the joys I have in sight,

That every sorrow brings delight.


Upon this text, as the Holy Spirit gave Francis utterance, he preached so devoutly and sublimely, of the divers pains and martyrdoms of the holy Apostles and the holy Martyrs, and the hard penances of the holy Confessors, and the many tribulations and temptations of the holy Virgins and the other saints, that all the folk stood with their eyes and their minds turned towards him, and gave such heed as though it were an angel of God speaking; among the which Orlando, touched in the heart by God through the marvellous preaching of Saint Francis, set it in his heart to confer and to have speech with Saint Francis, after the sermon, touching the state of his soul, Therefore, when the preaching was done, he drew Saint Francis aside, and said unto him: “O father, I would confer with thee touching the salvation of my soul.” Replied Saint Francis: It pleaseth me right well; but go this morning and do honour to thy friends, who have called thee to the feast, and dine with them, and after thou hast dined, we will speak together as much as thou wilt.”

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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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