An all-female cultural dance troupe, comprising female students from Annunciation Secondary School, Nkwo, Nike, in Enugu State, Nigeria, dances to traditional Igbo music during the interhouse sporting competition held Feb. 26, 2019. (Wikimedia Commons/Arch-Angel Raphael the Artist, CC-BY-SA 4.0)
Sister Mary Morajeyo Okewola writes about dance from Nigeria for the National Catholic Reporter. An interesting reflection with a sting in the last paragraph for well-meaning missionaries.
As an African, dance is as much a part of my life as eating, drinking and working, but it is also an important part of our worship, following the guidance of the Bible where it is frequently referenced, particularly in the Old Testament. There dance is a form of worship — as a recognition of love and praise of God. It, along with other spiritual exercises, were believed to be accepted by God as satisfactory veneration.
Continuing Sister Johanna’s reflection from yesterday.
Yesterday, we left the seventy-two missionary disciples when they were feeling wonderful in the knowledge that they would be powerful in Jesus’ name. Jesus himself had just assured them of it (Luke 10:19). Which brings me to the next point in this reflection. It is a joy beyond all joys to work for the Lord and to be an instrument of his power and love. Jesus appreciates that the disciples are experiencing something they’ve never experienced before – and they can barely contain themselves. Perhaps they have even been slightly unbalanced by this experience. Who wouldn’t be? For, in addition to their joy, the entire experience – the journey, their success in preaching the Kingdom and in healing the sick, and, to cap all, their power over the demons – must have given this group of seventy-two men an enormous sense of power. And power can be a danger for those who wield it. No one was ever more astute than Jesus about the dangers of power. He wants the disciples to begin to understand this danger. He now has some sobering words for his missionaries.
The gospels are completely honest in recounting the instances when the disciples reveal that they are preoccupied by issues of power – their own power as a group against the Roman occupation, the apparent power of particular individuals within their group, Jesus’ power in relation to the religious establishment were just a few of the power-issues that distracted them. Jesus has repeatedly tried to lead them away from this preoccupation with power (cf. Luke 9:46-50). But now, here they go again. They have suddenly experienced a new kind of power – spiritual power. This is the most dangerous power of all. And they like it. They like it a lot.
Their words to Jesus when they arrive seem to indicate that they have seen that their spiritual power over the demons depends on their use of Jesus’ name. So that’s something. At least they have a vague notion that they are not the authors of the power they have exercised. Good, but not great, seems to be the judgement of Jesus about this. His words of warning come quickly: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you.”
Now’s the time for the newly minted missionaries to feel like the novices they are, to shuffle their feet and look down at the ground. Jesus’ words make them see that they’ve been gloating rather a lot, and feeling a bit smug and self-congratulatory – precisely because the spirits submitted to them. Jesus wants it to be very clear to them that only by his election are they themselves safe from the demonic. They must keep their attention focused not on who or what has submitted to them, but on where they themselves need to be – and who they need to submit to in order to get there. In case they weren’t sure, Jesus tells them: “Rejoice instead that your names are written in heaven.”
Their names are written in heaven – that is their reason to rejoice. They must keep their focus on heaven – because their names might not have been written there. They, of themselves, are nothing special. They are safe, they are heading for heaven, because Jesus is leading and protecting them; they are strong over Satan because of Jesus’ strength working through them. They bear a power in their hands, but it is not intrinsic to them, and without Jesus, they have no power at all. Jesus is the one to be thinking about. His love is their reason to rejoice.
They began their missionary journey taking nothing with them, at Jesus’ instructions. In this way, through the extreme vulnerability that their physical poverty would have awakened, Jesus meant to wake them up to the fact that everything good that happened to them between the beginning and the end of their journey was due to his gift to them. Luke’s gospel leaves us there, ending the account of the missionaries’ return rather abruptly, and not elaborating further on the episode. We, the readers, suddenly find ourselves alone, and left to consider how this story challenges us. Where is our focus? Are we preoccupied by power-issues? Do we keep our eyes on Jesus? Does Jesus have something to say to us?
*The Bible translation used throughout this reflection is The New Jerusalem Bible.
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)
This fisherman and his wee daughter stand on the quay at Mallaig, the Scottish port famous as the embarkation point for the Isles of the Hebrides. Many fishermen never came back home from the sea, leaving their families in a precarious way,
The tower beside the statues is modern technology, making the fishermen’s lives safer; good communication of weather problems can persuade the boats to come in in good time.
Peter knew fear on the lake when the waves came right behind the storm and he expected the boat to go down. Jesus walked out across the water, and for a few moments Peter did so too. Like someone learning to ride a bike, he panicked and disaster nearly followed. Some time later it sunk in that Jesus would never abandon him. As his second letter says: (2:9)
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
We hear no more of Peter’s wife after Jesus heals her mother except for one mention in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (9:5):
Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas*?
Did they have children? Did the whole family go to Rome in Nero’s time? Certainly Peter’s wife seems to have spent some time as a missionary with him. In those days there was no GPS, no radar, radio, coastguard stations, or even life jackets; no private suite cabin. But Jesus would never abandon them.
Peter came to repentance the instant he abandoned Jesus; a few weeks later he was sent to feed his sheep.
Leet us not be afraid to live the Gospel of Love, preaching it by the example of our lives, as did Peter and his wife. Lord hear us.
Reading this poem by Saint Robert Southwell, I at once remembered my father’s rosary, with the skull below Christ’s feet. So although Southwell does not directly refer to the crucifixion, this is the image that comes to my mind. How Dad’s fingers have eroded the figure of Christ and the skull! May he pray for us still, as he prayed for his children every day. Reginald Billingsley would have been 100 years old last New Year’s Eve. A ‘hearse’ at Southwell’s time was a frame that held candles over a coffin. Robert Southwell was a Jesuit missionary to his native England, and a martyr at Tyburn, London in 1595.
Upon The Image Of Death
Before my face the picture hangs That daily should put me in mind Of those cold names and bitter pangs That shortly I am like to find; But yet, alas, full little I Do think hereon that I must die.
I often look upon a face Most ugly, grisly, bare, and thin; I often view the hollow place Where eyes and nose had sometimes been; I see the bones across that lie, Yet little think that I must die.
I read the label underneath, That telleth me whereto I must; I see the sentence eke that saith Remember, man, that thou art dust! But yet, alas, but seldom I Do think indeed that I must die.
Continually at my bed’s head A hearse doth hang, which doth me tell That I ere morning may be dead, Though now I feel myself full well ; But yet, alas, for all this, I Have little mind that I must die.
The gown which I do use to wear, The knife wherewith I cut my meat, And eke that old and ancient chair Which is my only usual seat,- All these do tell me I must die, And yet my life amend not I.
My ancestors are turned to clay, And many of my mates are gone; My youngers daily drop away, And can I think to ‘scape alone? No, no, I know that I must die, And yet my life amend not I.
Not Solomon for all his wit, Nor Samson, though he were so strong, No king nor person ever yet Could ‘scape but death laid him along; Wherefore I know that I must die, And yet my life amend not I.
Though all the East did quake to hear Of Alexander’s dreadful name, And all the West did likewise fear To hear of Julius Caesar’s fame, Yet both by death in dust now lie; Who then can ‘scape but he must die?
If none can ‘scape death’s dreadful dart, If rich and poor his beck obey, If strong, if wise, if all do smart, Then I to ‘scape shall have no way. Oh, grant me grace, O God, that I My life may mend, sith I must die.
During June we pray with Pope Francis that priests, through the modesty and humility of their lives, commit themselves to an active solidarity with the world’s poorest people.
When disciples of Christ are transparent in heart and sensitive in life, they bring the Lord’s light to the places where they live and work.
– Pope Francis
After an appeal by a Mill Hill missionary, we acquired a Red Box for collecting small change which is sent to help the Church’s mission where our solidarity is needed. We had one when I was growing up, but I hadn’t seen one for years! We received the Missio magazine this week from which this post is taken. More to follow.
We know that Christian missionary saints believed God would commit to the flames of hell those not baptised into the Church, even when living in good faith. They were saints – but they were mistaken. Christian missionaries forced converts to renounce all their previous ways of striving after God, making them adopt Western ways that had nothing to do with religion. Much cruelty was inflicted through the inability to distinguish between cultural and social customs, and religious convictions.
Modern Social Sciences make it easier for us to accept this as missionaries sought to try to understand the different cultures and ways of thought of non-Christian folk, and they began to understand non-Christian religious convictions from the way the people saw them. Like being less than impressed looking at stained glass windows from outside – so different when seen from inside.
The patristic scholar Jean Daniélou proposed seeing the great Eastern Religions as being pre-Christian but leading to Christ. Their followers are saved by their commitment, the hope that seeks a future fulfilment. The fact that these people live after Christ [today] is not important, because their experience is before Christ as long as they have not heard the Gospel in a form that makes sense to them. While there is one Hindu living the Hindu tradition in good faith and with conviction, we cannot speak of the Hindu religion as false.
It is not only through their sincerity in striving after God as best they know how, that God comes to meet them; it is also because their striving is true. Our religious language is symbolic in a special way. It describes realities we have hardly glimpsed, and cannot comprehend. In the Jewish tradition it was important not to make images of God – because all images are false, the only image of God is the human person. So they speak as though God is a human person – masculine gender, a father-figure, who can get angry and change his mind. These characteristics are not literally true of God – but are true in another sense – they are true of our experience of God.
Other faith communities also know that language about God cannot be literally true. They express their experience of God. Asian faiths tend to be more contemplative than those of the Western world; they leave symbols in their symbolic form rather than seek explanations. Hindus say when you have images you understand you are making only a remote comparison, but when you have explanations you might be misled into thinking you understand much more than you do. God cannot be understood.
There were a few more people in the boat that morning than we can see here: Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathaniel, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples; seven of them altogether. I can see how they’d have wanted to get Jerusalem out of their hair, and in any case, the message was to get themselves back to Galilee. And once there, it made sense to go fishing, just as it made sense to the children in yesterday’s picture to go fishing. They preferred the river to the lough, and could charm little trout onto a bent pin dangling from a hazel rod, putting us to admiring shame, but I digress – a little.
We, after all, were amateurs. Peter was a professional, whose livelihood depended on a good catch. Had he lost his touch? He’d lost his brash self-confidence …
The stranger on the shore could see the shoal through the mist, but Peter the professional could bring the fish in.
The story in John 21 is familiar enough: as on Easter morning, John gets the picture before Peter, but it’s Peter who jumps in and staggers ashore; Peter who is challenged three times, three challenges that allow him to accept forgiveness for three denials; Peter who is commissioned three times. And Peter leaves the lorry behind – or at least the aspirations to a better life that Joe’s lorry stands for in yesterday’s story. Peter’s vocation now was not to be a fisherman but a fisher of men, a feeder of the five, ten, hundred thousand sheep and more, even down to us today.
There’s good in the heart of the likes of Joe’s dad, working hard, denying himself to provide for his family with a lorry he could earn more money from. No wonder Joe was proud of him! And then some of us are called to leave our father’s house and spread the love of the risen Lord. Come to think of it, that’s you and me as well. We should all be ready to share the love, even with a simple smile to a stranger whenever we leave the house (and perhaps at home as well; but that can be a real challenge!)
‘My baby’s called Aubergine’, the little girl told me. I can’t help feeling that Aubergine will stick, even though it is not the one her parents will propose at her Baptism.
Some people are insistent on getting their names spelt and pronounced correctly. I taught one boy who had a soft spot for me because I always spelt his name with a K instead of the C it has in English. I must say I hate it when my name is spelt wrong, especially when people do it in front of me, without asking.
Others just do not feel comfortable with their names. I was reading of a Spiritan Missionary who prefered to be called Shorty rather than Colman Watkins. He worked in Kenya and helped in Ethiopia when the Catholic Church there was in crisis. Peter was a nickname given to Simon by Jesus.
Another missionary who changed his name was Saint Edmund Campion. He travelled through England incognito during the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth, celebrating Mass for faithful Catholics when to do so was counted treason and liable to the death penalty.
We see him with his martyr’s palm and the rope he was hanged with, and his name in blood red mosaic tiles. Another name appears to the left: IHS – the first three letters of the Holy Name of Jesus in Greek. Biblical shorthand has a long tradition, going back to when parchment or papyrus was not cheap, and it has stayed with us.
Appropriately enough this image is in the Holy Name church in Manchester, run by the Jesuit order to which Edmund Campion belonged. Happy Feast to them!
John XXIII’s opening paragraph really applies to any baptised Christian, and so does much of this extract. John concludes by reminding us that women were there from the beginning of the Church, and perhaps he challenges us all to act as one in what he calls a fusion of souls.
No soul consecrated to the Lord is dispensed from the sublime duty of continuing the saving mission of the Divine Redeemer.
The Church expects much from those who live in the silence of the cloister, and especially from there. They, like Moses, have their arms raised in prayer, conscious that in this prayerful attitude one obtains victory.
So important is the contribution of women religious of the contemplative life to the apostolate that Pius XI wished to have as co-patron of the missions—and a rival therefore of St. Francis Xavier—not a Sister of the active life, but a Carmelite, St. Theresa of the Child Jesus.
May the Church militant feel that you are present wherever your spiritual contribution is needed for the good of souls, as well as for real human progress and human peace.
May those who are dedicated to the active life … strive in obedience to study and obtain the degrees which will allow you to surmount every difficulty. Thus, in addition to your merited and proven capability, you may be better appreciated also for your spirit of dedication, patience and sacrifice.
There is, moreover, the presage of further demands in the new countries which have entered the community of free nations. Without lessening one’s love for his own country, the world has become more than ever before a common fatherland. Many Sisters have already felt this call. The field is immense.
Not even the Sisters dedicated to contemplation are exempt from this duty. The people in certain regions of Africa and the Far East feel a greater attraction to contemplative life, which is more congenial to the development of their civilization.
The consecrated souls in the new secular institutes should know also that their work is appreciated and that they are encouraged to contribute toward making the Gospel penetrate every facet of the modern world.
May the spirit of Pentecost prevail over your chosen families and may it unite them in that fusion of souls which was seen in the cenacle where, together with the Mother of God and the Apostles, several pious women were to be found (Acts 1:14).
We thank God for the families we have been given, but also for our friends who are sisters, especially the Littlehampton Sisters, the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Saint Joseph and the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood, who were all part of the community at the Franciscan International Study Centre.