Tag Archives: Mary

March 15, Feast of Saint Longinus. Before the Cross II: The Centurion, 1.

 

Christ Crucified between the Two Thieves: The Three Crosses

Rembrandt  1653 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

Orthodox and Roman Catholic tradition names the centurion Longinus, supposing that it was he who drove the lance into Jesus’s side. A number of traditions grew up around him in the early church, among them that he was martyred. As a saint, he is now remembered by Roman Catholics on the 16th. October, though his original feast day was the 15th. March (still kept in the Extraordinary form). He appears in Luke and Mark’s gospels confessing by himself, and in Matthew, confessing together with the other guards. The spearman in John’s gospel is only identified as “one of the soldiers”; we cannot know if this was the centurion himself or one of the soldiers under his command. Nevertheless, responsibility for ensuring that all three crucifixion victims had died would have rested with him.

In this print, Rembrandt depicts the moment of Jesus’s death, after three hours of unnatural darkness. The eye is drawn towards Christ on the cross, but the crowded scene is one of contrasting human responses to revelation. Some run away, others stand in awe. Mary has fainted, overwhelmed by grief. Mounted Roman soldiers continue, unmoved, in their menace, but the centurion kneels at the foot of the cross to declare “Surely this was a righteous man”.

Though Luke doesn’t record that the centurion heard the exchange between Jesus and the two thieves, it seems likely that he would have made it his business to listen. We cannot know at what point during that day he recognised the uniqueness of Jesus among all the men he had executed, from the trial where Pilate declares him to be innocent, up to the time of his death. But I imagine that Jesus’s extraordinary compassion towards an anguished soul (while in the midst of his own suffering) compounds with all the other questions that Jesus had raised in the centurion’s mind that morning – and with this strange darkness – to persuade him, not only of the injustice in which he has played such an active role, but also of its massive cosmic significance.

The penitent thief (a Jew) and the confessing centurion (a gentile) both recognised the truth, and indeed the understatement, of the words on Pilate’s sign intended to mock Jesus: “King of the Jews”. The true King welcomed them, one at the point of physical death, and the other in a radically restored life, purpose and hope. The one, cursed and shamed by the world for crimes he acknowledged, yet received by Jesus; the other, an enforcer of Roman law and follower of the imperial cult, moved and shaken by his involvement in an act of barbaric injustice, now knowing that he was in the presence of the true “Son of God”. And so he also welcomes us, whatever our past, and whatever our blindness has been towards him. He welcomes us to participate in a kingdom on earth that has not grown out of human competition or military might. He welcomes us to the very presence of the living God.

Rupert Greville.

Rupert Greville is a member of the L’Arche Kent Community.

 

 

 

 

 

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11 February: Of such is the kingdom of God

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I thought I’d put these two passages together for the Sunday when we read the extract from Luke – only to find that these verses are not used. So here we are today instead, it’s Mary’s feast day and she features in this post.

And they brought unto him also infants, that he might touch them. Which when the disciples saw, they rebuked them. But Jesus, calling them together, said: Suffer the children to come to me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Amen, I say to you: Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a child, shall not enter into it.

Luke 18:15-17.

I am used to rather sentimental pictures of this story, a stained glass Jesus who looks like a film star, perfectly trimmed beard, freshly shampooed blond hair …

But I cast my mind back and thought of the children making the Way of the Cross with me in St Thomas’ church, Canterbury. Spontaneously a group of them gathered around the life size Mary and Jesus in the Pieta. wanting to stroke, console and condole with the Sorrowful Mother.

There was no disrespect in this, and mercifully, no-one present took offence. Yet I could imagine the tut-tuts that might have been uttered another time. No doubt the little ones who met Jesus in the flesh wanted to touch him and climb all over him, and it’s not difficult to envisage the disciples trying to pull them away. But ‘of such is the kingdom of God.’ I think it is fair to let this phrase suggest that Jesus felt himself within the kingdom when the children were swarming over him.

Pope Francis gave his customary press conference on the plane returning from World Youth Days in Panama

At the end of the conference the Pope thanked reporters for their work, and left them with a final thought about Panama: “I would like to say one thing about Panama: I felt a new sentiment, this word came to me: Panama is a noble nation. I found nobility.

“And then”, he concluded, “I would like to mention something else, which we in Europe do not see and which I saw here in Panama. I saw the parents raising their children and saying: this is my victory, this is my pride, this is my future. In the demographic winter that we are living in Europe – and in Italy it is below zero – it must make us think. What is my pride? Tourism, holidays, the villa, the dog? Or the child?”

I am proud of my children, though (or even because) they are all very different. But it would not be a healthy pride if they needed to win my approval rather than doing right, and following their own vocation rather than one laid down by their parents. I can say of my family – with those Panamanian parents – this is my victory, this is my pride, this is my future. Though I trust I will not be too much of a burden to any of them when I’m definitely doddering!

Brocagh School in Ireland, 50 years ago.

 

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2 February: The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple

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The Nunc Dimittis Canticle is recited every night in the Catholic Church; in Anglican churches, such as Canterbury Cathedral, it is sung during Vespers. It is originally the Song of Simeon; the old man was overcome with joy and peace when he met the little scrap of humanity that was ‘the Salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples.’

That was the easy bit when I was asked to play Simeon in a mystery play at Canterbury Cathedral three years ago. My grandson was already too big for the part but the doll we borrowed did not steal the scene. I could concentrate on the Baby, the Father -and then Mary.

It is a massive shift of key as the prophetic revelation finds utterance, and yet we know it is true: a sword will pierce her heart – indeed there is a tradition of the seven sorrows of Mary. I had to come down from my great joy in an instant and look into Mary’s eyes with an overwhelming compassion that was neither mine, nor yet Simeon’s, but the Father’s.

Thirty years after the Presentation that compassion would be brought to practical life by John.

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This window from Saint Mary’s in Rye, Sussex shows Mary, almost blind with grief, following her adoptive son by the hand. She turns her back on the apple tree of temptation and stumbles trustingly towards the Vine.

The empty Cross is a point of light against the night sky: sorrow will be replaced by joy, overturning the order of Simeon’s vision. This is a John’s Gospel window. We also see the Great Bear in the stars. If a star told of his coming, this constellation points to the North Star by which we can find our way to him.

I am the way.

Anyone who wants to follow me must take up their cross daily and follow me.

 

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December 31: A hero all the world wants.

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Mary Mother from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury

We have been listening to the poets over Christmas; now here is another of them, Gerard Manly Hopkins, this time a paragraph or two from his sermon for Sunday evening, November 23 1879. It is a poet’s sermon! The full text is on pp136ff of the Penguin edition of his poems and prose, edited by W.H. Gardner; worth seeking out.

 

St Joseph though he often carried our Lord Jesus Christ in his arms and the Blessed Virgin though she gave him birth and suckled him at her breast, though they seldom either of them had the holy child out of their sight and knew more of him far than all others, yet when they heard what holy Simeon a stranger had to say of him, the Scripture says they wondered.

Not indeed that they were surprised and had thought to hear something different but that they gave their minds up to admiration and dwelt with reverent wonder on all God’s doings about the child their sacred charge. Brethren, see what a thing it is to hear about our Lord Jesus Christ, to think of him and dwell upon him; it did good to these two holiest people, the Blessed Virgin and Saint Joseph, even with him in the house God thought good to give them lights by the mouth of strangers. It cannot but do good to us, who have more need of holiness, who easily forget Christ, who have not got him before our eyes to look at . . .

Our Lord Jesus Christ, my brethren, is our hero, a hero all the world wants.

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30 December: The Holy Family

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Before Amsterdam had numbers for houses, people used plaques on their walls to identify their home or business premises. Perhaps this one belonged to one of the many exiles living in what was then a small city on a marshy riverside. Here is Joseph taking a watchful Mary and Baby away to Egypt; He has his tools with him, including one very long saw. Perhaps he cut his own planks from the tree, or maybe it pleased the artist’s eye to show it at the pinnacle of the picture. Joseph may have given up his business but he was not giving up work.

Exile was a serious business, true enough, but Joseph was able to start work in Cairo and support his family. (The Franciscan church there that bears his name is said to be near the Holy Family’s home.)

Here is a prayer from USPG.

O God, who made your home among us in Jesus of Nazareth, we pray for those who have been forced from their homes and now live as migrants and refugees. Bless them and all who work to bring them relief, comfort and a new home.

Amen.

We could pray, too, that refugees may be allowed to find work and education in their exile, that they may be better equipped to help restore their homeland when they are able to return.

 

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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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December 25: Psalm 94 (95) At 3.00 a.m.

Reciting the Invitatory Psalm at 3.00 a.m.

While walking downstairs,

One step at a time,

Slowly …

Oh. so slowly,

. . at three o’clock in the morning,

Come lift up your voice to the Lord!’

Mine in a whisper!

My mind saw the Baby,

Tiny,

Fragile,

Hail the God who made us,

Come before him giving thanks … . ‘

This newborn scrap of weak humanity,

. ‘A mighty God is the Lord,’

So Small!

A great King above all gods,’

So helpless!

In his hands’, …. so small!

Are the depth of the earth,

The heights of the mountains are his,

To him belongs the sea …..’

Come in!’

An invitation.

Let us bow and bend low,’

See, he stirs,

He sucks, He sleeps.

Let us kneel before the God who made us.

He is our God.’

.. how wondrous is the newborn,

Almost transparent in his fragility ….

And we the people that belong to him.’

Oh that we would listen to his voice,

His infant cry ….

Nearly down now,

One more step ….

SPB

Written when recovering from an accident.

Welcome back to Sheila Billingsley! Two more of her poems follow on 27 and 28 of this month, remembering the feasts. But ‘Oh that we would listen to his voice!’ A peaceful Christmas to you all!

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17 December: O Sapientia, O Wisdom, come!

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Oh Wisdom come and lead us.

Here is the link to Sister Johanna’s post about Jesus, God’s Wisdom. Dec 17 – O Sapientia

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December 17: The Great O Antiphons: Introduction to Sister Johanna’s poems.

 

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In the evenings leading up to Christmas Eve, the Roman Catholic Church sings seven special antiphons before and after the Magnificat at Vespers. English speaking Christians know these in the metrical version that starts, ‘O come, O come, Emmanuel.’

Sister Johanna at Minster Abbey has written a poem for each of the antiphons and we are privileged to publish them here. She writes:

 They are shortish poems that meditate on each O Antiphon.  Each  poem is in a different style, sometimes different voice, from the others.  They begin with a heading consisting of the O Antiphon in its original Latin (surely one or two of your readers must be able to de-code the Latin, don’t you think?); then I translate the Antiphon into English.  The poem then follows.  You will see that the poem picks up on one or two aspects of the antiphon that seem to contain the most ‘punch’ but do not attempt to reflect on every aspect of the antiphon.

To preserve the format of each post as Sister intended, I have presented them as pdf files. Just click on the link each day to view the post.

WT

 

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December 8: A poet’s reflection on Mary.

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Mary Mother from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury

We mark the Feast of Our Lady with this extract from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ. Read it slowly, then find the rest of the poem on line. 

The Blessed Virgin Compared To The Air We Breathe

Wild air, world-mothering air,
Nestling me everywhere,
That each eyelash or hair
Girdles; goes home betwixt
The fleeciest, frailest-flixed
Snowflake; that ’s fairly mixed
With, riddles, and is rife
In every least thing’s life;
This needful, never spent,
And nursing element;
My more than meat and drink,
My meal at every wink;
This air, which, by life’s law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race—
Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

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