Another serious and humorous story. E.V. Lucas crossed the US from West to East soon after the Great War, staying in hotels or with friends. It was about 14 years since a destructive earthquake hit San Francisco, but California was still booming. There were, though, a few people who were rather more solitary, and here we meet one of them.
I heard many stories in America, where every one is a raconteur, but none was better than this, which my San Francisco host narrated, from his own experience, as the most perfect example of an honest answer ever given.
When a boy, he said, he was much in the company of an old trapper in the Californian mountains. During one of their expeditions together he noticed that a camp meeting was to be held, and out of curiosity he persuaded Reuben to attend it with him. Perched on a back seat, they were watching the scene when an elderly Evangelical sister placed herself beside the old hunter, laid her hand on his arm, and asked him if he loved Jesus. He pondered for some moments and then replied thus: “Waal, ma’am, I can’t go so far as to say that I love Him. I can’t go so far as that. But, by gosh, I’ll say this—I ain’t got nothin’ agin Him.”
From “Roving East and Roving West” by E. V. Lucas, 1921.
There are times when I feel the old trapper’s words are spot on: ‘Love him. I can’t go so far as that.’ That would be an honest but incomplete assessment based on conscience rather than aspiration. Think of Peter at the end of John’s Gospel: he was more than aware of his lack of love, but still said to Jesus, You know I love you.
Perhaps the trapper had pondered these things in his heart during his hours, days, and weeks of mountain solitude, but he was not ready with the right words when the sister touched his arm.
Today and tomorrow we are glad to share two posts from Sister Johanna that follow on nicely from Emily yesterday.
Lord, even the devils submit to us when we use your name (Luke 10:17). The disciples were elated. Seventy-two men had been appointed missionaries by the Lord and had been given their first assignment: to visit towns in the area where the Lord himself would soon be visiting (Luke 10:1f). They were meant to prepare the people for Jesus himself. Jesus gave them explicit instructions about what to wear for this, their first official engagement: normal clothes – nothing to distinguish them from anyone else, and what to pack: nothing. Indeed, they were to bring no food, no money, not even a change of clothing. No place had been arranged for them to stay when they arrived in a town: they would have to work that out when they got there. They were not to equip themselves ahead of time with anything that would allow them to feel self-reliant.
We know this story so well that we can forget how this must have sounded to the seventy-two when they listened to Jesus telling them what to do. Perhaps it seemed exciting – but I should think, too, that when they actually set out, without food supplies and with their pockets empty, they must have felt vulnerable in the extreme. It was their very first journey for Jesus, after all. They had no experience of past successes to give them confidence. They were only told by Jesus to heal the sick and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” Some must have secretly worried that they’d become tongue-tied when they started to preach, or would fail miserably in their first attempt at healing. Maybe they’d even be laughed out of town.
But instead, the gospel tells us that their missionary journey was a smashing success. The actual stories of their successes are just a few of the many untold tales that lie hidden behind what is recounted in the gospels. The evangelist skips them all in this instance, and zeroes in on something else – something of greater depth and importance. Luke tells us what happens after their triumph, when they return to Jesus like conquering heroes. For, when they see him, the first thing out of their mouths seems to have been that “even the devils” submitted to them.
Now, this is truly success on a spectacular scale. Perhaps the hopes of the missionaries had been much more modest: maybe they felt that they’d be doing well if they could make the child with the tummy-ache feel better, and manage to interest a small audience in stories of Jesus’ healings and sayings. But to tangle with devils and come up trumps – would they even have imagined this ahead of time? They must have said to each other as they journeyed home, “Won’t the Lord be overjoyed when he hears! I can’t wait to see his face when we tell him!”
And Jesus is overjoyed, just as they had hoped. He affirms them. It seems that he already knew what had happened – this kind of sensational news must have spread from village to village like wildfire. He declares: ‘I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven.’ Hearing these words of Jesus must have felt good, very good to the disciples. And Jesus is generous, not only with his praise, but with his promises. He has more to say here about what they will be able to do. “Look, I have given you power to tread down serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you.” I like to think of the disciples’ silence as they bask for a few minutes in Jesus’ assurances – their sense of wonder and gratitude must have been profound. They would be taken care of by the Lord whenever they were doing his work. They have just had their first experience of this. They would be powerful in his name. This was an important moment for the seventy-two. Let us leave them for twenty-four hours in this state of glowing wonder, and come back tomorrow to continue our reflections.
. I shall know why, when time is over, And I have ceased to wonder why; Christ will explain each separate anguish In the fair schoolroom of the sky.
He will tell me what Peter promised, And I, for wonder at his woe, I shall forget the drop of anguish That scalds me now, that scalds me now.
XXXIX from Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete, via KIndle
Peter, whose feast we celebrate today, famously went out and wept bitterly. His woe was put behind him by Christ’s forgiveness (John 21) which gave him the grace to preach the good news far from the Sea of Galilee, the grace to be Saint Peter. But that was after the Ascension, when the Good News was totally entrusted to Jesus’ followers.
Tomorrow and the next day we welcome back Sister Johanna from Minster Abbey, who opens up the disciples’ first taste of ministry and what they learned from Jesus’ reaction to their experience. Let us remember all those who will be ordained priest or deacon this Petertide.
José Maria Cantal Rivas is a Missionary of Africa working in Algeria. During a sabbatical year he took a qualification as a Life Coach and is putting it to good use among young people. It is not his task to preach with the immediate intention of ‘Christianising’ his students, but to be a witness to Christ’s empowering love among them. Fr José Maria sees his work as a form of inculturalisation – getting alongside the people he is sent to bring the Good News to. He tells about his experiences in the article from which this post is extracted; the link below is to the French language original. How can we be Christ for young people in our own community?
‘My “students” come to realise that very often it is they themselves who are the chief obstacles and brakes impeding their own happiness. They have mentally forbidden themselves the right to imagine that their daily life could be different.
‘Many people seem to think that happiness will arrive one day in the post, in just one delivery, and when the parcel is opened, they will find happiness, all “ready to wear”. Very few are aware that to be happy, like body building, needs time to be given up to it; needs perseverance and discipline, as well as clear priorities and passion. There’s no other way!
The course is given in French and Arabic. Wherever possible I try to use examples, videos, personalities, literature from their Arab-Muslim culture: firstly to avoid any suspicion of proselytism, but above all to confirm that what I propose is practicable and compatible with their culture.
A short presentation by the Algerian women’s Paralympic basketball team, even if the sound quality is poor, has more impact that an excellent video from a similar team from a northen country!
Africa in general is changing and it seems to me that it’s good to know how Africans themselves, with their rich culture, face up to changes such as the spectacular rise in the numbers of women at university and in the world of work; the influence of the internet, demographic changes, new forms of social organisation, spiritual longings divorced from religion, urbanisation and so on.’
Please remember in your prayers this Sunday our sisters and brothers in the Eastern Churches. Many of them face hardship and persecution, as they did in the earliest days of Christianity, which unfolded in the Middle East. This post from FACE tells us about the day of prayer and is followed by a letter from Cardinal Michael Fitzgerald, former Papal Ambassador or Nuncio to Egypt.
Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians – 9th May 2021
What is the Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians?
The Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians is an annual day of prayer which enables Eastern and Western Christians to come together in communion through prayer. The event unites Latin rite dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church in Europe with dioceses of the Eastern Catholic Churches in union with the Bishop of Rome.
When is the Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians?
The Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians will take place on the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 9th May 2021, with the participation of Christians from all over Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and India.
Why is the Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians on the Sixth Sunday of Easter?
Sunday after Sunday, during the Easter celebrations, Eastern and Western Christians hear the Acts of the Apostles which witness to the first preaching of the Gospel. These readings remind us of the origin of the Eastern Churches and the history of the first Eastern Christians, who brought the Gospel to us. Nowadays, many of these Eastern Christians are oppressed and persecuted, and struggle to survive and to pass on our faith to their children, in their own lands where Christianity was born and first spread.
A day of communion through prayer.
On the Sixth Sunday of Easter, we invite Western Christians to recite the following bidding prayer for Eastern Christians:
Let us pray for peace in the world, especially in the Middle East. May the Christians in these lands be strengthened in their faith so that they may continue courageously to give witness to Jesus Christ.
How to celebrate this day?
We ask you to say the prayer as part of the International Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians
We ask you to share this intention and the prayer with your family and friends
We suggest that parishes include the intention of Eastern Christians in the Prayers of the Faithful during Mass on the Sixth Sunday of Easter.
Who are the Eastern Christians?
The Eastern Christians in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa are direct descendants of the Early Christians and trace their roots back to apostolic times. There are more than 26 million Eastern Christians living in the Middle East and surrounding regions. For Western Christians, they provide a direct link to the Apostolic Church, leading us to the roots of Christianity and showing us, through their tradition and witness, a living faith in Christ.
How can you help Eastern Christians?
Pray for Eastern Christians. You can use our prayer for Eastern Christians (above) or join our prayer group to receive a monthly prayer, a reflection and information on an Eastern saint. Please do sign up to our prayer group: https://facecharity.org/prayergroup/
Engage with Eastern Catholic Churches. There are several Eastern Churches in the United Kingdom. You are welcome to participate in their liturgies and share your common origins. You will receive a warm welcome.
Support Eastern Christians through our projects in education, healthcare, pastoral support and inter-religious dialogue, which are organised under the patronage of the bishops and religious communities of the Eastern Catholic Churches. You may support these projects here: https://facecharity.org/give/
Letter from Cardinal Fitzgerald
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Day of Prayer for Eastern Christians is fast approaching. It will take place on the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Sunday, 9th May 2021), with the participation of Christians from all over Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa and India.
This Day of Prayer – promoted in the UK by Fellowship and Aid to the Christians of the East (FACE) in partnership with the Congregation for Oriental Churches – will offer Eastern and Western Christians an opportunity to be united in prayer during the time of Easter.
It will offer us in the West an opportunity to think of the Eastern Churches and to give thanks to God for all that we owe them: the first preaching of the Gospel, the origins of the monastic tradition, the early Church Fathers, and above all the witness of the Eastern Christians down the centuries, which has been, and still is, an inspiration to our faith. This Day could also be an occasion to give thanks for the recent pilgrimage of Pope Francis to Iraq and to draw inspiration from its message of solidarity, fraternity and hope.
The Eastern Christians were the first evangelisers without whom Christianity would never have spread to the UK. Today, the Eastern Christians, many of whom are suffering from the effects of war and from discrimination, now face the added crisis of the Covid epidemic, with its threat to their livelihood, health and well-being. This is a crisis within an already existing crisis! They deserve our prayerful support.
In commending this Day of Prayer to you, may I suggest that you bring it to the attention of your family and friends, perhaps sharing with them the following prayer:
Heavenly Father, we pray today for peace in the world, especially in the Middle East. By your heavenly grace, strengthen the faith and hope of Eastern Christians. May they be blessed with peace and prosperity in their countries. May we be inspired by their devotion and witness to the Gospel, by their love and compassion for all in their communities, and by their courage, their endurance and self-sacrifice. Through their charity, tolerance and friendship, bring peace and reconciliation to those troubled lands, where Christianity was born and first spread. This we ask of you through Christ our Lord. Amen.
I trust that this Day of Prayer, despite the restrictions caused by the current pandemic, will bring comfort and assurance to Eastern Christians. In our solidarity and communion, may we all be renewed by the hope we place in the Risen Christ.
With the assurance of my prayers and with my warmest wishes for a joyful Eastertide,
The church had imposing monuments, emphasising the worldly wealth that was Venice’s, but what struck me was this carving of Christ on Easter Morning, watched over by a Guardian Angel, a serenely happy angel indeed. But Jesus maybe does need an eye kept on him, He looks as though he is not at all used to his risen body, see how he’s feeling the wound in his side; it’s bleeding as though he were alive.
The English Easter gardens, from a village in Northumberland, Canterbury Cathedral, and Saint Mildred’s Church nearby, are unpopulated so far as we can see, but just as with Doctor Johnson the other day, we can feel God’s presence.
When I helped at Children’s Masses, some of them enacted Mary, John and Peter going to the tomb, and finding no-one. We then unrolled a poster saying ‘Jesus is nowhere’, because they did not find him. The priest had to take a pair of scissors to it, so that it read, ‘Jesus is now here’. Our daily challenge for mission is to live as though that’s true. Which it is!
Doctor Johnson, on his 18th Century tour of Scotland, got into a discussion about Catholics. There were thousands of Catholics in the Highlands and Islands, served by missionary priests largely trained overseas; a seminary in the Highlands was illegal and repeatedly destroyed. Johnson was misinformed about where the Catholics were, but it would not be long before many were driven out during the Clearances, though Johnson would not have seen that coming.
Roads were poor or non-existent; to cross this loch would have meant hiring a rowing boat or sailing vessel, there was no telephoning ahead to warn people a priest was coming, and he was a more or less tolerated outlaw. He was, however, a worthy son of Saint Andrew, patron of Scotland.
“There is in Scotland, as among ourselves, a restless suspicion of popish machinations, and a clamour of numerous converts to the Romish religion. The report is, I believe, in both parts of the Island equally false. The Romish religion is professed only in Egg and Canna, two small islands, into which the Reformation never made its way. If any missionaries are busy in the Highlands, their zeal entitles them to respect, even from those who cannot think favourably of their doctrine.” (from “Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland” by Samuel Johnson)
Tomáš Halík: From the Underground Church to Freedom, University of Notre Dame Press,Notre Dame, Indiana, 2019.Available through Waterstone’s or online.
Tomáš Halík is a Czech Catholic priest who has lived under repressive Communism, even coming to the Faith in an officially atheist country, a process he unfolds for the reader in one of the chapters of this autobiography. An interest in history, including the career of the ‘heretic’ Jan Huss; reading about psychoanalysis as a schoolboy, and a growing awareness of politics and that life under an oppressive regime was not the inevitable fate of his country; all these had him asking questions, and finding the ready-made answers of the atheist regime lacking.
But he had ‘absolutely no experience of the living church.’ How true is that of many of our neighbours? It was during a solitary pilgrimage he made one holiday that he assented to belief in God; from there to attending a church with good music, gradually moving closer to the altar, week by week; thence to a church frequented by students where the pastor’s homilies were challenging.
The journey to the priesthood had begun but had to continue underground, and his ordination was held behind closed doors in Erfurt, East Germany.
That sets the scene for a ministry conducted in secret but also in plain view as a psychotherapist and university teacher; often feeling the eye of the secret police upon him. Many of the generation of priests before him had been imprisoned; there were almost parallel churches; some priests ministering as best they might at the churches that were permitted to remain open, others, like Fr Halík, in closely guarded secrecy, until the regime collapsed like those in neighbouring countries.
It was time to unite the Catholic Church. The official church had been deprived of international links and scholarship; the priests were tired and ‘the onset of freedom caught them very much unawares.’ Thirty years have not healed all the wounds inflicted before 1990.
Openness to the universal Church, the re-establishment of church structures, the initial and ongoing formation of pastors and people, freedom from fear: these things take time, and hard work, and grace. At 70, Fr Halík feels he may not have much more time, but he has been the means of grace. This book will inspire the reader to believe in the action of the Holy Spirit. And perhaps nudge us to ask what we can share with those around us with ‘absolutely no experience of the living church.’
Thank you to Revd Jo Richards for reminding us of this prayer of St Teresa of Avila, whose feast is today.
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Image from Wikipedia, public domain, believed to be a copy from a live portrait.