Tag Archives: Mary

14 July: The Shepherd girl and the goldfish.

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Here’s a Story from France for July 14. A small town girl, delighted by the sights of the big city: here is a letter from St Bernadette of Lourdes to her sisters back home. She is describing her journey to Nevers where she was to enter the noviciate of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, the sisters who had educated her. On the way they stopped at Bordeaux.

Let me tell you how we made our journey. On Wednesday at six o’clock in the evening we arrived at Bordeaux, and there we stayed till Friday at one o’clock. I beg you to believe that we made good use  of our time there to get around – and in a carriage, if you please.

We were taken to visit all the houses (presumably of her order). I have the honour of telling you that they are not like the house in Lourdes, especially the Imperial Institute for Deaf Girls; you’d think it was more like a palace than a religious house.

We went to see the Carmelite church, and from there made our way to the Garonne to see the ships. Next we went to the Jardin des Plantes: I tell you we saw something quite new: can you guess what? It was fish: golden, black, white and grey. The loveliest thing for me was seeing this little creatures swimming around in front of a crowd of little urchins who were watching them.

Although as a child I liked to see the fish in our local park pool, I perhaps wouldn’t have appreciated that last paragraph as I do now, seeing Bernadette as an excitable young woman. It is always good to see the humanity of the saints.

I wanted to share this with you because Bernadette is revealed as a flesh-and-blood young woman, rather than the unattainably super-holy, superwoman put before us in primary school, at least as I recall. Saints are truly human and enjoy the blessings of this life as well as anyone else. Another Laudato Si! moment.

MMB.

Photo by Stan Shebs.

 

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28 June: Bernadette and the Sacraments.

Bernadette Soubirous.jpg

Let’s continue talking about the Eucharist. I was reading about Saint Bernadette, the young girl who saw ‘la bonne Mère’ – the good mother – in the little grotto by the river in Lourdes, France, in 1858. This reflection  is not about those apparitions, nor the shrine that has grown up there, but about something we can take for granted: the opportunity to take a full part in the Eucharist, not just by being present at Mass but by receiving the Sacrament that unites us in Christ’s body and blood.

Bernadette grew up speaking the local dialect and playing a full part in the family’s economy, working as a shepherd, running errands for neighbours, to earn money to put bread on the table. She left school early to do so, and never learnt French which was the language of the catechism she had to absorb to be allowed to receive Communion. Yet in her heart she understood as well as anyone what the Eucharist meant. Eventually she was taken into a boarding school as a poor scholar, mastered French and received the Sacrament with joy.

Image result for streicher ugandaThis is Henri Streicher, a Missionary of Africa who became Bishop of Uganda from 1897 to 1933. He and his Anglican counterpart, Bishop Tucker – acting more as rivals than fellow workers, it has to be said – made it a priority to translate the Bible and catechisms into the local languages and to print these texts so that all could read them. They also made sure that there were basic schools in the villages where young and old could learn to read and write, which they were very keen to do.

During the 1980s, helped by an impetus from the UN Year of Disabled People in 1981, a great effort was made to make all aspects of Church life, including the Sacraments, available to disabled people. Away with ‘he cannot understand’, or ‘she’s innocent, she doesn’t need the Sacraments’. The Sacraments are for all.

New ways of presenting the Faith came into being. We looked more at the fellowship of believers, not just individual sin and salvation. L’Arche communities are one expression of this inclusive attitude.

The UN’s reflection on the year states:

A major lesson of the Year was that the image of persons with disabilities depends to an important extent on social attitudes; these were a major barrier to the realization of the goal of full participation and equality in society by persons with disabilities.

This was true in the Church as well. I know that more can and should be done, but let us rejoice that few people now will be refused the Sacraments on grounds of disability. We should make sure to welcome all, as Jesus did.

Saint Bernadette as a child, public domain, via Wikipedia

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19 June: real Presence.

 

 

We visited a few churches on the L’Arche pilgrimage: here is Saint Pancras, Coldred, possibly 950 years old, a simple two-room stone-built structure, almost hidden away behind its high hedge. Christians have worshipped here since Saxon times at least; the church is set within an ancient earthen rampart which may mark the boundary of a  much earlier settlement.

God is present here in the worshipping community whose representative made us feel at home; he stood for thirty or more generations of people, gathered about the altar in the church; God is also present on the altar when the Eucharist is celebrated, and in many Anglican as well as Catholic churches, in the sacrament reserved for the sick and for visitors to focus their prayer as they kneel or sit and pray.

The icon was sent by one of our contributors – Brother Chris I think, and represents another real presence of the Lord: as a baby in the womb of Mary, but also in this world with us who witness this icon. It invites us to carry Jesus in our hearts and reveal him to the world: we are to be the image and real presence of Christ.

Tomorrow is the feast of Corpus Christi.

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31 May, Pilgrimage to Canterbury, XI: Verses for Pilgrims – II

 

50.40. pilgrimage

Verses for Pilgrims – II

Here again is the verse that will be recited during our prayer services on our third day of pilgrimage. It still seems strange to me that this verse by Father Andrew SDC came together so opportunely with the window in Patrixbourne.

It is not strange that one blest night
Should shine a star exceedingly bright
To lead three Kings upon their way
To Bethlehem, where Jesu lay,
All lowly, cradled in the hay –
Their journey’s happy ending!

And while the sentiments of Christmas are heart-warming, Friday’s verse reminds us that we may be suffering a little with blisters and sore and swollen feet. We’ve read this verse from Joyce Kilmer before. He was another Great War Poet, but unlike Robert Graves, he did not survive. The full poem appeared on the centenary of his death.

My shoulders ache beneath my pack

(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back).

I march with feet that burn and smart

(Tread, Holy Feet, upon my heart).

Lord, Thou didst suffer more for me

Than all the hosts of land and sea.

So let me render back again

This millionth of Thy gift. Amen.

May we be grateful for shoulders, knees and toes that ache and burn and smart. We are alive, we are together, we live in a relatively peaceful land.

And when we arrive at Saint Mildred’s, our closing prayer and closing feast!

 

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29 May, Pilgrimage to Canterbury IX: Travellers’ Joy

travellers joy3smWe will have prayers at the beginning and end of each day’s walk, and at least one station where we can pray in a church or open space on our way. (To make this happen means contacting churchwardens or priests: preparation, administration is a ministry in itself, so long as it keeps sight of the goal.)

Even spontaneous prayer requires some preparation! A choice of readings – excerpts from Luke’s account of the disciples on the way to Emmaus for morning and evening, while the two good dogs in the Bible, Tobias’s terrier and the one who snaffled snacks from Jesus’ table, will feature at the station prayers. patrixbourne.nativity.window.small

One of our stations, at Patrixbourne, has a window with a dog approaching the manger at Bethlehem. It so happened that before this station was confirmed I had chosen this verse for the day’s prayer.

It is not strange that one blest night
Should shine a star exceedingly bright
To lead three Kings upon their way
To Bethlehem, where Jesu lay,
All lowly, cradled in the hay –
Their journey’s happy ending!

Father Andrew SDC

When Abel and I were checking out the third and fourth days’ walks by bike, we were glad to find the window just right for a photograph. We can recite this verse before the window as part of our prayer for the day: after we leave Saint Mary’s it will be a short walk to the sports pavilion where we will celebrate our journey’s happy ending, till tomorrow.

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28 April: This is my body!

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We were put off by the grandiose monuments in the Conventual Franciscans’ church in Venice. A six metre high pyramid or a balcony upheld by gigantic black strongmen: I don’t see what their place is in a Christian church. Worse by far than what we have in Canterbury. But no more of that.

Take a look instead at this wall carving; it may be small but it says more than the marble monstrosities, however clever their workmanship.

This is Easter morning, first thing, before Mary reaches the tomb. The rising sun is gilding the tree and shining upon the One who has risen. An angel watches over him, as always. The angels had to watch the events of Thursday night and Friday without intervening. Were they already reassured that all would be well? We cannot know their experience of time.

Jesus is experiencing time, and space and all his senses, in a completely new way. The warmth of the sun on his chest makes him stop and think: This is my body!

His left hand explores his wounded side: no, I can feel it, but it doesn’t hurt. I can breathe freely, but I carry the marks, the stigmata, (as Saint Francis was to do). Time has left other marks, blotches, bruises, that probably were not all intended by the artist, but they point to this moment when Jesus took those first breaths, not in his new body, but in his body renewed, transformed; or in the process of transformation, in that twinkling of an eye, before he dressed and went out to meet Mary. Surely, with the blood flowing again – as we see it is – the bruises will disappear.

It was important to Jesus in this moment to explore his risen body, to know what he was waking up to. So, Thomas, come and put your hand in the mark of the nails, put your hand in my side, stop doubting and believe – just as I did last week!

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17 April: Stations for Peter XI: Jesus speaks to his Mother.

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Jesus spoke to his mother, but Peter was not beside him and Mary. Jesus asked John to care for his mother.

Scripture references: Peter a long way off: Luke 22:54-55; 23:49; Mary and John at the Cross: John 19: 25-27; Peter’s mother-in-law: Matthew 3:14-15.

I was not there, not really there. Back in the crowd I was.

I don’t think he could even see me, and no way could I hear his gasping words, but young John was there, John was listening closely.

Jesus knew John was there, and his mother, Mary. He told John to care for her.

I would have done it.

Didn’t he care for my mother-in-law?

I let him down again.

Let us pray for everyone caring for other people’s parents, and their own; for adoptive and foster children and parents, and for all who work with children.

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

Window, St Mary, Rye, Sussex, MMB.

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April 5. Before the Cross XXI: The power of evil is poured out on Jesus

I think Jesus might be dead… Or extremely close to death. The thought of His lifeless body growing cold terrifies me. Or of struggling to hear if He’s still breathing. Or hearing Him struggling to breathe. He has become nothing but weakness and pain and death. He has united Himself to us, even in our weakness and pain and death, even our oppression and victimhood. If you are united to the oppressed, you share their oppression.
Jesus is completely naked. He is left with nothing hidden, no protection, nothing off limits. His last possession, His final mark of dignity, is stripped from Him. Here He is. The authorities were trying to expose Jesus as a fraud, as a pathetic, weak, failure. What they did instead, was expose the fullness of His love, in giving absolutely everything, absolutely all of Himself, to His wife, the Church. Nothing at all has been held back from His beloved.
His mother is there, in the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, at the foot of the Cross. The blood from Jesus’ feet has run down onto her; she shares His death by her love; if He is bloody, she is bloody. In the icon, we can see the child Jesus: it is the same Jesus and same Mary, when Mary held Him in her arms, and when she stood at the foot of His cross. He is her child.
Why have an icon of Mary in the image, and not just Mary? Because Jesus told us, “Behold, your mother”, and the icon is where we do that. Behold her. She is our mother, the mother of the New Creation in Jesus Christ. And at the foot of the Cross, in her sufferings she is giving birth to us, the Church. Behold your mother: know her and love her.
Behind the cross we have the Church, led by Pope St. John Paul II (the Pope when it was painted, and also a great saint of the cross). The Church is at the foot of the cross, because that is where Jesus is. He gives His life to us on the cross, and that is where we must go to receive it. He unites Himself to us in our sin and suffering, and unites us to Himself in His obedience and glory. He offers Himself and us to the Father, and we must let Him. He unites Himself to us by sharing our death, and we must unite ourselves to Him by sharing His.
Then there are the many crosses. The cross has gone forth through the world, and through it, the sufferings of the world are being united to Jesus and offered to the Father. Through the cross, the sufferings of the world are becoming love, and being borne with the hope of resurrection. The world is being divinised through its suffering.
Jesus is either dead or nearly dead. He is pinned down so He can’t move. He is bleeding all over. He is physically torn apart by His own gravity. He is mocked openly by His enemies. He is stripped naked and put on display. He is annihilated. Evil has won.
But it doesn’t have the last word. This image seems to show Satan’s victory. On the cross we see God fully under evil’s power, but in this, evil is overcome, because He transforms it into His own love. All of the power of evil is poured out on Jesus, and all of it is overcome by being transformed into Jesus’s self-gift.
This post is from Ignatius, an old friend of Agnellus. Ignatius went to Poland for World Youth Day in 2016. This painting is from the Stations of the Cross by Jerzy Duda Grasz at Jasna Gora in Częstochowa, Poland. As Ignatius says, this is not a risen Jesus, but these stations, like Ignatius’ reflection, do end in resurrection. You can find the full pilgrimage of stations here.
I am very grateful to Ignatius for this reflection. There is room for us all before the Cross.
WT.

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27 March: Before the Cross XIII: Peace or Power?


osagie.osifo.x.rupertCrucified Jesus between two standing figures by Osagie Osifo

A wooden panel displayed in the Catholic Chapel of the University of Ibadan, carved by Osagie Osifo in 1961. (Willett, F. 2002 African Art London, Thames & Hudson Ltd.)

Here, Jesus is flanked by Mary, his mother, and John the “beloved disciple”, in a moment that could not be more serene. Mary and John both have their eyes closed, and their hands positioned as if in prayer. The object of their devotion is obviously the crucified Jesus, who, raised above and between them, forms the focus of the carving. Adding to the peace and calm of the image are the leaves: trefoil forms (possibly alluding to the trinity of the Christian God), while the simple interlace designs at top and bottom call to mind those of Celtic art. I think the whole composition has something of a Celtic “feel” to it.

Except, of course, that this is clearly an African work, and specifically one informed by the art and history of the kingdom of Benin, now a part of Nigeria. Osagie Osifo, himself from Benin, has fashioned this image deliberately to echo the famous bronzes, “rescued” by a British punitive expedition in 1897 mounted against the Oba (King of Benin) and his chiefs.

The Oba ruled over a highly organised society which, though famed now for its art and advanced understanding of casting bronze, was also extremely warlike. It was a culture where much of the religion and ritual was focused upon the King himself and on his ancestors. Some of these customs have been restored and are practised today in modern Benin. Osifo’s carving of Jesus challenges this in the most radical way.

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https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1990.332/

The Oba stands between two of his officials in this bronze plaque. He holds a huge sword in one hand, and a staff of office on the other. The three figures are helmeted, the Oba appearing the most fearsome of all with his distinctive collar and his domineering stance. His helmet is spiked. Nothing in this image would signify peace or tranquillity; it has only to do with naked power and aggression. By substituting the Oba for Jesus, and the two warriors for Mary and John, Osifo has consciously declared his position: Christ is Lord. He alone is worthy of worship.

Stylistically, Jesus and the Oba might share some characteristics: short legs and long arms, and both sport a similar wrapped garment with its hem rising to the waist at the front. (And there are leaf shapes on the Oba’s bronze background, too). But there the similarity ends. Much as with the confrontation between Jesus and Pilate, here two entirely opposite world-views collide. The one exercises power by bullying and coercion, military might and political clout. The other, relying on the power and authority of a loving Father, chooses to suffer, and dies on a cross.

Osifo’s carving is beautiful in its own right, but for me it becomes all the more so as I consider how it, and how the gospel, subverts the traditional order of things. Paul writes to the church at Colossae:

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Col.2:15.

The work is a beautifully contextualised statement on how Jesus challenges that which diminishes our humanity, oppresses us, or distracts us from our true vocation. It is in recognising the truth of Israel’s God and of the one he sent, that we can then see a hope for the world. Without him, insecurity and violence are sure to reign. The carving redeems something of Benin’s art, but in doing so must drastically alter it. Rightly, Jesus is at the centre, and the true power lies – as it should in our lives – in the crucifixion itself.

Rupert Greville

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26 March. Before the Cross XII: the beatific vision.

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Rood, Our Lady and English Martyrs, Cambridge.

This Crucifix is like that of Tignes a couple of days ago in one respect: it is a representation of the Risen Christ, but in a different context, and equally valid.

This Victorian Rood, full of symbolism, is in the Catholic Church of Or Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge, England. It is challenging in a different way to some of the other images we have seen this Lent, but like the Welcoming Christ, it is essentially an image of resurrection. No way is this Christ dead or in agony!

So what is the Rood telling us?

Let’s start with the Christ figure. We see a man in the prime of life, vigorously alive, not hanging naked on the cross but standing tall and robed in majesty. No-one could say of him, he cannot save himself! The crown on his head is of royal gold, not thorns; the nails in his hands and feet are in gold also, but lest we forget the earthly reality of the cross, we see red blood on his palms and insteps. As well as a King’s crown, he wears the long white alb and the red scarf or stole of a priest vested for Mass.

The white scarf around his neck is called a pallium. These are woven from lambs’ wool and given to archbishops by the pope. One appears on the coat of arms of Canterbury Anglican diocese and that of Westminster Catholic diocese. As well as announcing Christ as high priest, the pallium is associated with the idea of the Good Shepherd who brings home the lost sheep, and with the sacrificial Lamb of God.

The alb is a symbol of purity – we see in the Book of Revelation all the saints in white garments. Christ’s here has red trimmings; together with the red stole they tell of blood shed in martyrdom or persecution. The priest celebrating Mass today wears an alb to show that he is representing Christ, the High Priest, and seeks to be as saintly as the white garment implies. Christ, of course, has every right to wear the white garment, and each baptised Christian is given a white garment at Baptism: so we are crucified and risen with Christ: a thought to sustain us in times of hardship.

At the foot of the Cross stand Mary – the dedicatee of the Church, and John the Apostle and Evangelist. They are not mourning in this Resurrection Crucifixion but are absorbed in the beatific vision: this cross presents the artist’s interpretation of the true meaning of the Crucifixion.

Angels adore the Lord from around the Cross: again sending us to Revelation and pointing out the one-ness of Creation, of our world of time and space where Jesus died in Jerusalem with the heavenly Jerusalem where he is Priest and King; King of All Creation, not just of the Jews.

At the foot of the Cross and along its trunk and arms are stylised leaves and grapes: in John’s Gospel Jesus says, I am the Vine, make your home in me as I make mine in you. The wine pressed from the fruit of the Cross brings relief from our spiritual thirst and joy to our hearts. Take up your Cross daily and follow me – to the Crucifixion, yes, in smaller and bigger ways each day, but to the risen life each day as well, even before we die and go to meet the Good Shepherd.

Finally, at the feet of Jesus we see a chalice – for the cup at every Eucharist is indeed the Holy Grail, the cup of the Last Supper – and above the cup, marked with a Cross and radiant in gold, is a round of white unleavened bread; the ‘forms of bread and wine’ that make present in our day all that this Crucifix sets out to tell us.

If, like me, silence does not always come easily to your heart in church or in prayer, maybe sitting with this image can help direct your thoughts to the eternal reality which it professes. The whole story of Jesus is symbolised here from his birth to Mary, up to John running to the empty tomb and seeing and believing – and witnessing to what he believed. May we be ever more faithful witnesses to what we believe.

MMB

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