The Pope’s intention for October is: We pray that by virtue of baptism, the laity, especially women, may participate more in areas of responsibility in the Church.
Having been dismissed summarily from a post of responsibility in my parish by a newly ordained curate, I realise that it is not always ‘by virtue of baptism’ that ‘the laity’ participate in the Church, but by the favour of the clergy. Something’s wrong when a priest abuses the power that rightly goes with the responsibility of leading a parish community. As Pope Francis says, the pastor should smell of his sheep.
Do you remember the Doors of Mercy that were set up during Pope Francis’s Year of Mercy? This one was in Zakopane, Poland. Through God’s mercy we can enter what we rather inadequately call ‘The House of God’ — if there is a way to avoid crippling steps, put there by history but not needed for today’s church, which seems to be called to be much more lay-led in the near future.
1981; not all readers will remember it, but we called it IYDP, the United Nations’ Year of Disabled Persons. It came to mind the other day when we saw workers making dropped kerbs to allow wheelchair users – and of course pram pushers – to cross the road more easily. We had campaigned for these forty years ago. That’s progress!
It’s surely part of our work as co-creators of God’s world to ensure that every human being is able to be fully part of the family of humanity, the family of God. So this post is appropriate in this season.
The UN Enable web page says that the theme of IYDP was “full participation and equality”, defined as the right of persons with disabilities to take part fully in the life and development of their societies, enjoy living conditions equal to those of other citizens, and have an equal share in improved conditions resulting from socio-economic development.
Christian churches should be showing the way forward, and indeed there has been progress. Buildings with steps were once the norm, if only to keep the mud at bay, but even sensitive old places like Canterbury Cathedral have been able to address the access problems successfully.
BUT ARE WE OPEN ENOUGH? I was pleased to see recently the Parish Guide to Disability published by the Catholic Disability Fellowship who advise the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales. They adapted a pamphlet of the Office of Ministry with People with Disabilities, Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania USA, updating it for British use.
While I have to say that most of what the Guide says we were saying back in the 1980s, it is all worth repeating. And I hope never to hear again of priests refusing sacraments or catechesis to persons with disabilities. What is encouraging is the emphasis on the mission of every Christian to witness to faith: the first page cites Pope Francis:
The people of God: “A living community, one that supports, accompanies, integrates and enriches. Never separated, but united, where everyone learns to be a sign and blessing of God for others.”
Pope Francis (Bulgaria – May 6, 2019)
The Guide will help this to happen; the checklist at the end is a valuable tool that summarises the aims and policies described, and enables communities to discern what’s going well, where improvements are possible, and where they need help to grow. Every parish could do better; this Guide will help – if it is read and shared. Find it here.
Maurice Billingsley, sometime Chair, 81 Group for Disabled People in the Church.
The Columban Missionaries know of what they speak with regard to God’s Creation. This post is a gateway to some of their experience and wisdom.
Episode Two of the Columban Biodiversity Podcast series ‘Jubilee for the Earth,’ is on the theme, ‘A New Kind of Economy’.
“We need to grow in the conviction” Pope Francis says, “that a decrease in the pace of production and consumption can at times give rise to another form of progress and development” (Laudato Si’ #191).
Two members of the Columban international team for justice, peace, and ecology – lay missionary John Din in the Philippines and Columban co-worker Becca Eastwood in the United States – discuss the urgent need to re-imagine how our economy operates and to redefine what human flourishing looks like.
We found this plaque on the wall of our holiday house, so the Christian roots sink deeper there than at Minster Abbey in Kent, two modern or five ancient realms apart. Ty Gwyn – the White House – is walking distance from Saint David’s Cathedral; a short walk further is his birthplace. We were on holiday rather than pilgrimage, but that was part of the holiday too, even if we took plenty for the journey including changes of clothes, and a meal for the first evening. We did use the local shops after that.
Sister Johanna of Minster Abbey wrote this reflection for us, about the preaching pilgrimage Jesus set up for his disciples. This was David’s way of life as a missionary bishop. As well as preaching, he was known as a healer.
He called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over all devils and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for the journey; neither staff, nor haversack, nor bread, nor money; and do not have a spare tunic…. . So they set out and went from village to village proclaiming the good news and healing everywhere. Luke 9: 1-4,6.
I’m ashamed to admit that I usually go blank when I read this passage from the Gospel of Luke. But, today I lingered over the words, repeating them over and over gently in my mind, in order to give the Holy Spirit all the time necessary to help me find my way through this text. And before long, things began to happen.
I first noticed the words, ‘He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.’ To proclaim and to heal. Jesus is not a man of words only, but of words and deeds: and here, the deeds are deeds of healing. Deeds of life, therefore. Jesus wanted his disciples not merely to tell, but show that he, Jesus, was a man who could bring about change – change of the most important kind. This, for ordinary people, is vital. And ordinary people, hard workers, carrying a burden of responsibility and of sorrow – these are the ones Jesus was trying to reach.
The Twelve were also given ‘power and authority over all devils’ – well and good, surely. Good for the Twelve. Jesus was commissioning them here, and he knew that Satan would try to undermine their efforts, their confidence, everything. But Jesus doesn’t suggest to the Twelve that they walk up to the ordinary man on the street and announce, ‘I have been given power and authority over all devils’. Imagine it. I rather think that then, as now, the reaction of the man on the street to such an approach would have been one of hasty withdrawal from that apostle, a withdrawal of eye contact, a striding in the opposite direction, and throwing only the quickest of backward glances to make sure that apostle wasn’t following. But the authority to cure diseases was something else. This was something the Twelve could use, and ordinary people would respond to. The Twelve were the primary ones who needed to know that Jesus’ power was greater than Satan’s – but the ordinary people were the ones who needed to see real results. And Jesus is happy to respond to this need.
Jesus isn’t finished with the Twelve yet. He has more instructions – and they are strange ones. First, ‘Take nothing with you for the journey.’ Imagine what it would have been like for the Twelve to hear that. It was probably not possible for them to exchange puzzled glances with each other right then, but they must have wondered incredulously, “Whoever heard of someone being so crazy as to set out on an important journey without packing?” But the subtext here is in words Jesus uses elsewhere, ‘Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask him.’ Rely on him. You are going out to do his work. He will provide. The labourer deserves his wages. Jesus, anticipating their questions, perhaps, goes on to make the nature of God’s providence perfectly clear by detailing the things they were not supposed to take:
‘No staff’ to lean on as you walk. Lean on me, he suggests.
‘No haversack.’ Right. He already said ‘take nothing with you.’ No, not even an empty bag to put things in once the gifts start coming. You are not to stockpile.
‘No bread.’ I am the bread of life. You will have food of a different sort to sustain you. Your fathers had manna in the wilderness. You will be fed.
‘No money.’ Why? Because I am your wealth. People long for me more than for money. Offer me to them free of charge. They – or enough, anyway – will fall all over themselves to help you whenever you have a need.
‘No spare tunic.’ No, not even a change of clothes. Some people will welcome you so fully into their lives that they will seem to adopt you. You will be like their son. You will want for nothing.
And now, I place myself for a moment in the sandals of one of the Twelve, imagining myself going on this missionary journey. With nothing. I feel exposed, vulnerable. Very. But only for a moment. Then I remember that this is always a very good thing in the spiritual life. Self-assurance is worth very little in my relationship with Jesus. I think of how it’s been when I have gone off on my own to pursue projects that did not originate in Jesus. Self-assurance, therefore, is not what Jesus wants to inculcate in the Twelve on this, their first missionary endeavour – or in me, ever. He wants us to rely on him utterly – and on ourselves, never.
And off they go. The program was successful beyond their wildest dreams. ‘They went from village to village proclaiming the good news and healing everywhere.’ Everywhere.
Continuing our armchair pilgrimage to Wales: this altar stone is a treasure of Saint David’s Cathedral. Traditionally, Catholics have had, at the centre of altars, a stone containing relics of martyrs. This one, we are told by tradition, was a portable altar stone that could be used to celebrate the Eucharist outdoors or in a private dwelling.
The stone was given to David in Jerusalem. He brought it home to Wales and carried it on his travels around his diocese of Menevia. It is generally known as the Sapphire Stone.
This is a relic on many levels! It is a relic of Saint David himself, a reminder of his devotion to bringing the Eucharist to his flock: the source and summit of the Church’s life. It links the cathedral and visitors to David, founder of the cathedral, patron of Wales. And it links us, through David, to the pre-Islamic Holy Land, to the Apostles and to their Lord and ours.
Whatever your thoughts or feelings about altars or altar stones – and this one must have been well hidden in Reformation times to have survived – the emotional and spiritual resonances of this rather non-descript stone cannot be denied.
Respect for the Planet’s Resources We pray that the planet’s resources will not be plundered, but shared in a just and respectful manner.
I typed in Pope Francis’s intention earlier in the year, little thinking how the world would have changed by September. It was noticeable how much cleaner the air was when there was far less traffic on the roads of Kent, and I expect you noticed something similar. Fresh air is one of the resources tat should be shared, not plundered for industry or personal travel.
But still, it’s September and we should be thinking of Harvest Festival and how
All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above;
Then thank the Lord,
O thank the Lord,
For all his love.
And yet, it’s a bit rich to proclaim our thanks unless we take account of the sinfulness that clings to our fingers when we buy non-fair trade chocolate or coffee, or indeed absolutely any mobile phone, with all the rare earths that go into them, possibly mined under conditions of near slavery and lack of safety in the workplace. And where our brothers and sisters are exploited, the planet will be also.
I went to the Bishop’s office because she needed to change an appointment: an unexpected engagement out of town that she was very much expected to attend. Her secretary apologised: ‘when we make an appointment, we keep it, no matter what comes up. As well I had set aside the day before yours, in case it was needed, so let’s fill it in.’
I could not help seeing the blocks of colour on the computer screen, showing engagement after engagement. Clearly the bishop does not work only on Sundays, as the unfair jibe would have it. ‘And it’s like that every week’, said the secretary, scrolling through screen after screen. ‘Being with people is her strength.’ As Pope Francis would say, she will smell of her sheep.
Augustine of Hippo seems to have been as busy; he was pastor and writer, producing far more than Will Turnstone ever will, and more cogently argued and more poetically expressed. So on his feast, let’s pray for all bishops, that they may be given the wisdom to do their work, capable, caring secretaries to make sure their lives are ordered without strain and stress, and friends who will make sure they know when to stop!
Of course, that meeting took place before the corona virus put a stop to any idea of pilgrimage in May, and Bishop Rose found herself in a new job where she had to put out into deep water. Hanging about the shoreline leads to rocks through the hull. But that’s a tale for another day.
The basilica of St Augustine, Annabar, Algeria: today is his feast day.
Fr Sylvester is leaving Saint Thomas’ Canterbury at the end of August. To show our appreciation of the 2 years he has spent with us, we are organising a collection which Fr Sylvester would like to go towards his Farm project in Nigeria. If you wish to donate and write a cheque please make it payable to Fr Ibitoye Sylvester Adeniyi. Any donations made directly to our parish bank account should clearly be marked “Fr Sylvester’s Farm” please. There will be a special red bucket collection for Fr Sylvester after all Masses this weekend for cash collections.
A bit about the farm… In 2015, a sizeable portion of land was given to Father Sylvester by the community of the Irawo people, in appreciation of the successful completion of other projects, most notable of which was the building of a bridge across a large river to ensure accessibility, even during the long months of monsoon rains, thus removing the many difficult and sometimes dangerous complications caused by living in a very isolated area. The Spiritans Springs site is rich agricultural and forested land, boasting not only a river but also beautiful lakes that are well-stocked with fish. Such diverse habitats require careful stewardship: this is both a responsibility and a joy. Spiritans Springs is a community whose mission it is to provide for the welfare of every person we can reach. They do this through the creation of an enabling environment to support the spiritual, physical and practical needs of all. They know we have received the Divine Mercy as a gift. Jesus is that gift: the son of God who died on the cross that we might have everlasting life. In His name, we welcome all to share the gift of Divine Mercy by caring for His children and creation.
Pope Francis’s prayer intention for this month is:
May all those who suffer find their calling in life and allow themselves to be touched by the heart of Jesus.
I invited Christina Chase to share this reflection; Thank you Christina for offering it to Agnellus’ Mirror.Will.
Suffering is something that people complain about far and wide. As a Catholic, however, I have heard people speak about the gift of suffering. Those people look at me, a faithful, joyful, uncomplaining person crippled and crumpled in my wheelchair, and they believe that I have been given this gift by God. I am a believing and practicing Catholic, through and through, but I don’t believe what those well-meaning, goodhearted people seem to believe.
I don’t believe in the gift of suffering.
I believe in the gift of life.
I believe profoundly and unconditionally in the absolute and terribly beautiful gift of life.
Life naturally includes limitations, imperfections, and hardships — life naturally includes suffering. Everyone who has received the gift of life will suffer at one time or another, or even chronically.
But we don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, do we?
Bishop Claude Rault M Afr was bishop of the Sahara before retiring. He knew most of the Algerian Martyrs whom we have reflected on before. Their feast day was May 8th, and Bishop Claude preached this homily in Paris. What do you think makes someone a saint?