Good Morning! I’d like to share an old family story that has a bearing on our lives during the second summer of covid-19; we hope you enjoy your holidays, but please let other people enjoy theirs in peace!
We looked around for somewhere to eat our picnic and my young daughters chose the spot between the paws of one of the sphinxes that guard Cleopatra’s needle, an inscribed obelisk associated with the Queen, on the Embankment in central London. Here we were out of the way and could watch the river traffic and the passing tourists.
In the half-hour or so we were there four different families or groups swarmed up beside the girls, posing for photographs; there is another sphinx on the other side of the Needle. Only the last family asked permission, and that was when we were leaving, otherwise there came no apology or acknowledgement of our family at all.
This extreme case of bad manners poses two questions. What, first of all, do we go away for? These people did not appear to be looking at or appreciating the monument at all. I guess they too were near Charing Cross, and had to tick the Needle off their list, and take a photo to prove it. In fact the second, unoccupied sphynx was better lit and unoccupied, so why intrude on us?
Which brings up the second question: do we consider other people when on holiday? The first time I ever felt ashamed to be English overseas was when a couple of middle-aged compatriots smuggled two Yorkshire terriers into a Galway restaurant and fed them titbits on their laps. It was not the last time!
It’s not just inebriated football supporters who get us a bad reputation abroad; it can be you or I, when we don’t take trouble to learn foreign ways, whether tipping, using the buses, or even the plumbing. The ordinary courtesy of consideration and neighbourliness are important, even in London.
Don’t spoil your holiday – or someone else’s – with bad manners!
Pope Francis invites us this month to pray for Social Friendship
We pray that, in social, economic and political situations of conflict,
we may be courageous and passionate architects
of dialogue and friendship.
To be friends with all the world is asking the humanly impossible, don’t you think? On the other hand, it’s a statement of intent, a personal mission statement, but one that none of us can accomplish alone. The school football team above played as one, courageous and passionate in the game. They were also ambassadors of dialogue and friendship in their area, representing the Catholic Church in a time when it was still regarded with much suspicion in Britain.
Courageous and passionate footballers helped build respect among men and boys who shared a love of the game even when they cheered the other team. Our gestures of dialogue and friendship need not be grand; a chat on the street corner can add a brick to the bridge. One good neighbour, who came to our street from Northern Ireland some 20 years ago, said I was the first Roman Catholic he’d ever had a conversation with. We have both gained by our acquaintance, and the other day, before we were interrupted, we were talking about ‘the Church’ – not ‘the Churches’ – needing to reform from within. We’ll meet again!
So do try saying good morning. The worst that is likely to happen is being ignored.
I was gathering the last few items for the Easter gardens when this pot caught my eye in the toolshed. Another symbol for the garden, Mary Magdalene’s pot of ointment for Jesus’s burial! I remembered this picture from York Minster, where her pot is shown in a golden yellow. She has put it down on the grass, and doesn’t seem to know where to put her hands. Maybe Jesus has just said, ‘Don’t touch me’, when that is what she really wants to do more than anything.
But look! He is reaching out to touch her. He has disguised himself as the gardener so as to let the revelation of his return come gently to her.
What neighbourly mask or disguise will he be wearing today to lead me gently to see him?
We revisit this scene tomorrow.
and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
This Pastoral Letter was sent out by Bishop Ralph Heskett of Hallam, the Catholic diocese of Sheffield, Yorkshire. He sets out the Catholic Church’s views on vaccination and other precautions regarding the corona virus.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
I am writing to you with renewed hope in these difficult times. A blessing for many during this lockdown is the opportunity to continue to come together for public worship. Government has recognised that public worship is central to our Catholic life and of benefit to the community at large. I know that some of our parishes, for safety sake, have taken the decision to stream Mass only for the present online.
Whether your parish remains open or closed for the moment we must all, however tiresome, continue to follow the rules and play our part in protecting our neighbours and ourselves in the coming months.
Also, to address letters and emails I have received questioning the ethical and moral nature of the vaccines being offered. I know that many of you will be asking yourselves what you will do when you receive your invitation for vaccination, especially with the misinformation that is circulating, not least on social media.
You may not be aware, but the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a Note on the 21st December 2020, in which it clarifies the absence of moral culpability on the part of those receiving the vaccine when there is no choice which vaccine is received. In fact, it says that there is a responsibility on the part of all to seek the vaccination as it is not just a matter of protecting one’s own health, but also the protection of others health as well.
We all know the effects of misinformation. It seeks only to divide and destroy and to hold people in fear. In the end it is the decision of each individual whether to receive the vaccine or not. However, this decision must be made from a well-informed conscience by listening to the voice of the Church and her teachings and not to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the loud voices we hear in social media.
In the darker days over the last few weeks and months I have returned to the words of the prophet Jeremiah as a source of encouragement and hope and for this reason I share with you. “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare not evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11. The Church and her teaching is always for our welfare not evil and offers us hope for the future.
Why all these arguments? Worthiness cannot be earned merely by disputing about it. And I am unworthy, unworthy, unworthy.
What if I am unworthy? The true value of love is this, that it can ever bless the unworthy with its own prodigality. For the worthy there are many rewards on God’s earth, but God has specially reserved love for the unworthy.
from “The Home and the World” by Rabindranath Tagore.
It is good to take note of when different traditions come close to Christianity. We Catholics at Mass use the prayer of the Roman Centurion: I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’ Matthew 8:8.
Specially reserved love for the centurion was his son’s healing. But what good things have I received this day that I did not deserve? All is gift.
May we show forth God’s love to our neighbours this Christmas time, however fearful, resentful, or depressed they may be. Christmas is not just for good children, but for unworthy children – and unworthy adults.
Yesterday we were reflecting on the story of the rich young man, as told by Matthew (19:16-22). We saw that the young man has just asked Jesus which commandments are necessary for entry into eternal life, as though he is hoping he will not have to pay too high a price. I have read this story many times, but I was surprised, as though for the first time, to realise that Jesus does seem to reduce the price for this young man. He lists only six commandments: ‘You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false witness. Honour your father and mother. You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ This begins to seem like that quintessentially middle-eastern pastime: bartering and haggling. Maybe Jesus is happy to play this game a bit with the young man; maybe he hopes to win him round; perhaps we can imagine Jesus with a little smile here, a sidelong glance as he takes ten commandments and reduces them to six.
Then, astonishingly to me, the young man seems to think he’s got these six covered. I go back and reread the commandments given here and I concede that, ok, the first five of them are straightforward enough: you either have or you haven’t committed the sins they forbid. But the sixth one is, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ I wonder who can possibly boast of keeping this commandment perfectly. Human interactions are so complicated, and riddled with sad opportunities for causing offense. But the young man seems to be saying, “Easy!” to all of them. “Well, am I in?” he silently challenges. And Jesus is never at a loss to understand the unspoken question.
Not so fast, Jesus seems to say. And now we come to the place where Jesus is no longer playing. He becomes absolutely serious here. Let’s take this slowly. ‘If you wish to be perfect…’ he begins. Can there be a touch of irony here on Jesus’ part? Our rich boy thinks he’s perfect already. But Jesus will not reinforce his mistaken view of himself. He gives him a deeper challenge: ‘…go and sell your possessions….’ The man’s blood runs cold for a moment. Jesus probably detects it, and so he both appeals to his generosity and, at the same time, calls his bluff with regard to that love of neighbour he claims to have mastered. He tells the young man, ‘…give the money to the poor.’
I notice for the first time now that it is only money that is gained from selling his material possessions that the young man is told to give away. This would constitute a sort of excess, over and above the money he lives on. Jesus isn’t asking him to make himself destitute. But he is asking him something that involves a life-style change. If he sells his ‘possessions’, it probably means his house and what’s inside it. The young man would probably have thought that if those things go, what would protect him from a life of homelessness? The loss of cherished personal treasures, large and small, that give him a sense of identity, emotional comfort and security – how would he manage without all that? Jesus probably sees him turn pale, and quickly promises him a different kind of security: ‘You will have treasure in heaven,’ he offers. The young man had asked, after all, about attaining eternal life. Here is his ‘how to’ manual. This treasure in heaven, Jesus implies, is so much better than the one he is so scared to lose now. As I ponder these lines, I recall from my own experience that you simply can’t tell how freeing it is to get rid of your possessions by merely looking at it from a safe distance and trying to imagine what it will be like; this state of joyful freedom and openness to God is a gift given by Jesus’ Spirit in our hearts, but it only comes after you have made the renunciation. This is something I’d have wanted to tell the young man, had I been there. But no one else intrudes upon this, by now, intense exchange.
Finally, Jesus issues the ultimate and most privileged invitation of all. He says to the young man: ‘Come! Follow me!’ You will have a life of immense purpose and profound meaning with me. I will give you joy now, and lead you to attain what you have asked for: eternal life. But the rich young man cannot fathom this. He cannot see beyond the cost, and it costs far more than he had expected. And by now he is beyond haggling. He feels the full weight of this exchange with Jesus and it has oppressed his spirits. He turns his back on Jesus and leaves him, a very sad young man indeed.
The tragedy of the young man’s situation comes home to me again. But this time, as I see him walk away with his head down, I am suddenly reminded of other stories. First, Zacchaeus comes to mind, the rich tax collector in Luke who climbs a tree to see Jesus in the crowd, and later, invites Jesus to his home, where he throws a huge party for him, after joyfully offering to give huge amounts of his money to anyone he had cheated. The joy of Zacchaeus leaps from the pages. It’s the same with Matthew – another tax collector – called to be one of the Twelve. He throws a big party, too. Or I think of Our Lady, who gives her very body, her whole being, her life, everything: the sublime joy of her Magnificat echoes through the millennia. And her cousin Elizabeth: the unborn baby in her womb leaps for joy at the presence of the young, pregnant Mary. Elizabeth understands in her soul that Mary’s self-gift, and her own, will bring God our Saviour into the world. What greater joy can there be? I recall the overflow of loving emotion in the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair. I think of the story of the prodigal son. It ends with a great celebration for the wayward son who returns to his father. The bitter, jealous elder brother excludes himself from the celebration, but the father would welcome him with joy in a moment, if he showed up at the door. Everywhere in the Gospels Jesus gives joy beyond imagining to those who surrender to his love, dedicate themselves to him, and say yes to his invitation to follow him. Only those who resist his grace are left in sorrow, but it is a sorrow of their own devising. They could end it in a moment by returning to the Lord and answering his call.
We must choose then. The deepest kind of joy is easily within our grasp. And maybe in the end, only one good deed is needed. The deed of choosing Jesus over all other things.
You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? do not even the publicans this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? do not also the heathens this? Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.
I read this passage from the Sermon on the Mount in June, when Rev Jo Richards was considering, with her churchwardens, how to open up their churches. They felt that with the Cathedral nave open in the evening there would be a building people could enter to pray privately. After Mrs T and I visited, we agreed with them.
But I was reminded of another time we visited; it was for an open evening, where we saw an order of service from 1914-1918, which included a prayer for our enemies. Then as now, Europeans were working in each others’ countries, had spouses, cousins, who were citizens of elsewhere, and suddenly found themselves ‘at war’ with dear ones.
When we pray for our enemies we are praying for our brothers and sisters; let us not make enemies for ourselves today in public or private life.
O God, from whom all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works do proceed; Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and also that by thee, we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may pass our time in rest and quietness; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.
One of the joys of the web is access to books that the local library will not have on its shelves.
The Canadian poet Bliss Carman translated Sappho into verse; this poem is a challenge to a believer: like Sappho I am a ‘fragile lamp of clay’. But am I burning with the Light of the World, witness to a great wind from the light?
There may be occasions in this month of November to speak a word of hope to a bereaved neighbour; do not be shy of saying it.
How soon will all my lovely days be over,
And I no more be found beneath the sun,—
Neither beside the many-murmuring sea,
Nor where the plain-winds whisper to the reeds,
Nor in the tall beech-woods among the hills
Where roam the bright-lipped Oreads,* nor along
The pasture-sides where berry-pickers stray
And harmless shepherds pipe their sheep to fold!
For I am eager, and the flame of life
Burns quickly in the fragile lamp of clay.
Passion and love and longing and hot tears
Consume this mortal Sappho, and too soon
A great wind from the dark will blow upon me,
And I be no more found in the fair world,
For all the search of the revolving moon
And patient shine of everlasting stars.
LV Soul” (from “Sappho: One Hundred Lyrics” by Bliss Carman)
Scraps of conversation heard in passing can be instructive.
the students are back in town. I’ve no reason to believe these two young women are representative of anyone but themselves: ‘Yes, but we need to get our drinking in before we go out’.
The electric invalid buggy was parked at a sharp angle because the rider was taking a call on his phone: ‘I’m not that good a grandad. But it’s good to hear your voice, thanks for ringing, much appreciated, thank you, Good bye.’
A widowed neighbour, after a friend had helped with advice: ‘Thank you for taking time to help me. I do appreciate that. It means a lot.’
This is what is wrong. This is the huge modern heresy of altering the human soul to fit its conditions, instead of altering human conditions to fit the human soul. If soap boiling is really inconsistent with brotherhood, so much the worst for soap-boiling, not for brotherhood. If civilization really cannot get on with democracy, so much the worse for civilization, not for democracy.
Certainly, it would be far better to go back to village communes, if they really are communes. Certainly, it would be better to do without soap rather than to do without society. Certainly, we would sacrifice all our wires, wheels, systems, specialties, physical science and frenzied finance for one half-hour of happiness such as has often come to us with comrades in a common tavern. I do not say the sacrifice will be necessary; I only say it will be easy.
from “What’s Wrong with the World” by G. K. Chesterton
More wise words for our time. Many of us have had a taste of ‘village communes’ in the lockdown phase, and appreciated the estra concern shown between family and neighbours.