The beach at Rye Harbour.
The writer Radclyffe Hall was a parishioner at the Franciscan parish of St Anthony, Rye and donated its great crucifix. Let her short verses contemplating God’s Mercy be our introduction to tomorrow’s Good Shepherd Sunday.
The faintness of my heart
When strife and evil rose,
The worse and lesser part
Which it for ever chose,
The passions that have bound
My soul with chains of earth.
The sorrows that have found
Their home with me since birth.
Of all these nobler things
That make existence fair,
The stain of sin that clings
Until we cease to care
All this must I atone:
And though eternal woes
My banished soul alone
Must bear without repose,
Yet I am not afraid
To know God knows.
This is the prayer of a lost sheep who knows she is lost but wants to be found. The tension building towards the last couplet is resolved in the person of the child of Bethlehem, the crucified, risen Lord; the God who knows our humanity from the inside. He is the Good Shepherd who knows us and is ready to carry us home.
I promise you I did not know this Synod document was about to be published when I began answering your question, Is Christianity Dead? But there are good ideas in there to help address your concerns. I move on to the short paragraph entitled Going Out. I think we have to realise that when Pope Francis is talking about vocations he is by no meaning just the priesthood and religious life.
Pastoral vocational care, in this sense, means to accept the invitation of Pope Francis: “going out”, primarily, by abandoning the rigid attitudes which make the proclamation of the joy of the Gospel less credible; “going out”, leaving behind a framework which makes people feel hemmed-in; and “going out”, by giving up a way of acting as Church which at times is out-dated. “Going out” is also a sign of inner freedom from routine activities and concerns, so that young people can be leading characters in their own lives. The young will find the Church more attractive, when they see that their unique contribution is welcomed by the Christian community.
The church porch is important; each one is a door of mercy where people, old and young, should feel welcome to come in and go out freely. If that is not the case, how can it be remedied? What ways of acting do we need to give up? Pope Francis does not promise it will not be demanding.
The way we overcome fears is not by coldly reasoning out an alternative. It is by accepting the gift of Christ’s new heaven and new earth, given to us as love. Mary received that gift on our behalf, a vision of new stars and a new sun, the sun of righteousness and integrity. Joy is an aspect of wonder in the Christian outlook of hope, because we look forward to transforming love as a community of joy. We cherish this authentic vision of love in all the layers of our personality.
As Karl Rahner expresses it:
“An authentic vision can probably be explained as a purely spiritual touch of God, affecting the innermost centre of a man, and spreading from there to all of his faculties, his thought and imagination, which transform this touch. Hence, when a ‘vision’ reaches the consciousness of a visionary, it has already passed through the medium of his subjectivity, and therefore also bears his individual characteristics as regards language, interests, theological presuppositions and so forth.”
Does this make our distinct cultures into barriers? Not so.
“The grace of which the Church is the enduring sign is victoriously offered by God even to those who have not yet found the visible Church and who nevertheless already, without realizing it, live by its Spirit, the Holy Spirit in the love and mercy of God.” “Some who would never dream of telling themselves… that they have already received ‘the baptism of the Spirit’ of the radical freedom of love… nevertheless live in a community secretly liberated by God’s grace in the deepest core of their existence.”
Monday of Week 5
Jesus allows people afflicted by sickness to touch Him, even lepers, who are shunned because of the fear of contagion. He shares His company and teaching with those whose sins make them social outcasts. ‘It is not the healthy who need the doctor’, he says ‘but the sick’(Mark 2:17).
For Jesus, sin is a form of sickness. It moves His heart to be with the afflicted person, to reach out with acceptance, forgiveness and healing wisdom. Whether the sick respond to the doctor with co-operation or hostility, this does not affect Jesus’ commitment to be among those who need him.
Although He could have hidden or run away from those who wanted to kill Him, Jesus instead ‘set His face towards Jerusalem’ (Luke 9:51). His teaching by example in the Passion reached out to the many people around Him in need of wisdom and forgiveness. His compassionate mercy extended to the people who crucified Him, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’(Luke 23:34), and to the man dying beside Him, ‘Indeed I promise you, today you will be with me in paradise’(Luke 23:43). This desperate man was saved on Good Friday because of Jesus’ commitment to be among His enemies as a healer.
I thank our Saviour for always remaining with me in my spiritual blindness, to guide me back to the right path. The martyrs, like Paul Miki and companions whom we remember today, follow Jesus in His mission to witness to God’s indestructible love among those who need it most, regardless of the cost to themselves.
I pray today for the same courage, strength and trust in God to love my enemies as they did.
That I exist is a perpetual surprise which is life.
Stray Birds XXII
Or in the words of the Welsh Poet W.H. Davies:
Good Morning Life and all things glad and beautiful.
I fully realise that for you, reader, maybe this is not the way you feel today. Certainly not ‘all things glad and beautiful.’ WHD knew suffering as a tramp, an amputee and a homeless hostel dweller before he was helped to become a full time writer. ‘What is this life if full of care …’ was written from experience.
‘… we have no time to stand and stare?’ Davies continues. It is no bad discipline to make time to stand and stare at any moment, or sit and reflect at day’s end. There is never a day without something to be grateful for: a smile, a star, sunshine on waves, an unseasonably early flower, dust motes dancing in a beam of light. And more small mercies to come tomorrow.
May the Lord grant us a quiet night and a perfect end. Amen.
I cannot choose the best.
The best chooses me.
Stray Birds XX
I cannot always explain why a particular picture ends up with a post on this blog. Yesterday’s picture of the shadows was one I had on file, waiting for the right words. They came. Today’s jumped out of the file as I flicked through. ‘Of course! It’s about mercy!’ I said. The best chose me, even when I was not feeling at all capable of choosing the best.
So, take courage. When all was about to fall apart, the best told his disciples:
You have not chosen me: but I have chosen you; and have appointed you, that you should go, and should bring forth fruit; and your fruit should remain: that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
I suggested yesterday that there is something ridiculous – humanly speaking – about the whole Christmas story. But we love stories! Books, TV, films, The Archers on the radio, all have their followers – and their detractors. We learn who we are through stories.
When training as a teacher I reviewed a children’s picture book about the Rhine, a few words and some rather good photographs, including the Lorelei Rock. After the story of the sirens luring boats to destruction was told the young reader was asked, Do you think this story is true?
Abel is now eighteen months, a little young to listen to stories, but not too young to tell himself some. Among his words are digger, car, and brrrrm. Enough to start conversations in what some people call the real world, as he points to his Dad’s or his grandmother’s car. Enough to recognise a toy digger as a digger, and push it along, brrrrm. Enough to recognise a cartoon of a car on a tiny sticker given to me by one of his Auntie’s pupils. Is it a true car?
The idea of a car does not depend on size for Abel. Yes, some will dismiss the toy and sticker as unreal. But as Fr Kurzynski suggested yesterday, we are in danger of just not getting it. Small and big may well look different from a divine point of view. Or even from a deeply human one – see our post “A World of my own?” last May 14.
In this life, Jesus started off very small … Be grateful for small mercies.
And let’s pray today for mercy on innocent children suffering in war zones in Congo, Syria and elsewhere.
I have a friend whom I have not seen or heard from for quite a long time now. Every day, I prayed and hoped that one day we should be re-united. How I longed that this day would come! I had imagined how happy and excited I would be if I eventually had contact with her.
Waiting for the coming of Christ is another big event for me. Out of his love for me, Christ humbled himself to be born as a little baby among us. He shed every glory he had with his father to come and identify with you and me. This event, like welcoming a dear friend, should spur me to an eager preparation. How am I preparing to welcome Christ the Son of God made man?
In the process of evaluating my preparation, I discover I have not measured up very well in my Christian calling. I have not loved unconditionally, not been kind enough and sometimes have judged others without mercy. I realise I still have much work to do, to enable Christ to enter into my heart. In order to feel that joy and excitement I desire when Christ comes, I need to get rid of all kinds of anger, pride, jealousy or hatred that tend to occupy my heart.
Let us look deep into our hearts to see where God is calling us to change. God is willing and always ready to come and dine with us if we invite him.
Isaiah the prophet challenges us today in the first reading to ‘have a care for justice and keep away from evil’.
Listening to what is happening in world today, it seems there is no justice anywhere and everywhere is full of different kinds of evil. There are so many wars, hunger, illnesses, killings, displacement etc being faced by many people. Every created thing seeks for justice and fairness. I often wonder where God is in all this. When I reflect on various areas in which injustices are being perpetuated in our world, I weep and feel powerless.
When I consider further, I tell myself I can make a difference in whatever little way is possible for me. I can speak out for those who are unjustly mistreated. I can write to MPs supporting proposals that promote fair treatment for all. I can stand up for the truth no matter what it will cost me. I can also pray for a change of heart for those who no longer seek for God’s justice but rather for punishment without mercy. If I see injustice around me, I can try to be, by following Jesus’ example, a light that shines for all to see.
I pray that in my everyday activities, I will do my best to detach myself from anything that does not promote goodness. I ask God to help me make sure that people and other creatures are treated with fairness, and never trample on them because I have the power and resources to do so.
Come Lord Jesus, Sun of Justice!
We bid goodbye to John Masefield this Advent, remembering that the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light (Isaiah 9.2). And that’s us! Every star is a great light, even if we see no more than a pinprick, since we are far off. And when we look closely at this world, how many stars shine in people’s smiles, in a robin’s eye, a drop of rain? Laudato si’.
By mercy and by martyrdom,
And many ways, God leads us home;
And many darknesses there are.
By darkness and by light he leads,
He gives according to our needs,
And in his darkness is a star. (pp46-47)
Let us pray that we may be instruments of mercy; may be stars in other people’s dark times, and that God’s merciful grace will lead us all home. May we follow his star and seeing the star rejoice with exceeding great joy. (Matthew 2:10)