It may be argued again that dissatisfaction with our life’s endeavour springs in some degree from dullness. We require higher tasks, because we do not recognise the height of those we have. Trying to be kind and honest seems an affair too simple and too inconsequential for gentlemen of our heroic mould; we had rather set ourselves to something bold, arduous, and conclusive; we had rather found a schism or suppress a heresy, cut off a hand or mortify an appetite. But the task before us, which is to co-endure with our existence, is rather one of microscopic fineness, and the heroism required is that of patience. There is no cutting of the Gordian knots of life; each must be smilingly unravelled.
To be honest, to be kind—to earn a little and to spend a little less, to make upon the whole a family happier for his presence, to renounce when that shall be necessary and not be embittered, to keep a few friends but these without capitulation—above all, on the same grim condition, to keep friends with himself—here is a task for all that a man has of fortitude and delicacy. He has an ambitious soul who would ask more; he has a hopeful spirit who should look in such an enterprise to be successful. There is indeed one element in human destiny that not blindness itself can controvert: whatever else we are intended to do, we are not intended to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. It is so in every art and study; it is so above all in the continent art of living well. Here is a pleasant thought for the year’s end or for the end of life: Only self-deception will be satisfied, and there need be no despair for the despairer.
Robert Louis Stevenson had reason to meditate upon death in 1887, when he was convalescing in the Adirondack mountains from a bout of the TB that would eventually kill him. He calls this a Christmas Sermon, and it was first published in December the following year. ‘We are not intended to succeed’: a sobering thought but a true one. Man proposes, God disposes. ‘Could do better’, says the school report, but we don’t need telling.
In Bethlehem Joseph must have felt a failure when a lowly cattle shed was all he could find for Mary to give birth, but God chose that place to start a new chapter in his story of salvation. Joseph’s failure to find a suitable room allowed God to succeed on his terms, which still look like a failure to us blind creatures.
Pope Francis has declared this to be the Year of Saint Joseph, the Man with the Father’s Heart. Here is the thinking behind that, from his letter, Patris Corde – with a Father’s Heart.
Now, one hundred and fifty years after his proclamation as Patron of the Catholic Church by Blessed Pius IX (8 December 1870), I would like to share some personal reflections on this extraordinary figure, so close to our own human experience. For, as Jesus says, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt 12:34).
My desire to do so increased during these months of pandemic, when we experienced, amid the crisis, how “our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people, people often overlooked. People who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines, or on the latest television show, yet in these very days are surely shaping the decisive events of our history. Doctors, nurses, storekeepers and supermarket workers, cleaning personnel, caregivers, transport workers, men and women working to provide essential services and public safety, volunteers, priests, men and women religious, and so very many others. They understood that no one is saved alone… How many people daily exercise patience and offer hope, taking care to spread not panic, but shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday ways, how to accept and deal with a crisis by adjusting their routines, looking ahead and encouraging the practice of prayer. How many are praying, making sacrifices and interceding for the good of all”.
Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all.
Rorate Cœli desuper, et nubes pluant Justum. Aperiatur Terra, et germinet Salvatorem. *
No sudden thing of glory and fear Was the Lord’s coming; but the dear Slow Nature’s days followed each other To form the Saviour from his Mother —One of the children of the year.
The earth, the rain, received the trust, —The sun and dews, to frame the Just. He drew his daily life from these, According to his own decrees Who makes man from the fertile dust.
Sweet summer and the winter wild, These brought him forth, the Undefiled. The happy Springs renewed again His daily bread, the growing grain, The food and raiment of the Child.
From “Poems” by Alice Meynell.
*Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened, and bud forth a saviour: Isaiah 45.8
Alice Meynell was a mother herself. I’m not sure what she meant by saying he was one of the children of the year, but it brings to mind school uniforms and new friendships between children and perhaps their parents and grandparents too. No longer shunned as the child conceived before marriage, since he is that nice John’s cousin or my Simon’s best friend. Get rid of prejudice and we can begin to see Jesus in each one of the people we find ourselves sharing time and space with.
Andrew is our daughter’s godfather, and he has kindly sent us this link to a Christmas message from Bishop Curry in the US, suggesting the title we’ve given it. Enjoy the short video and have a joyful Christmas wherever you may be.
From Rev Jo Richards’ morning updates for the Benefice of St Dunstan, St Mildred and St Peter, Canterbury. Parish life goes on, despite not getting to choose and see the path. Thank you, Jo, for permission to share your reflections.
Good morning everyone, hope all continue to keep well, as we are here.
Just back from a funeral – this is really tough on so many families, with the social distancing and limited numbers, as it is in so many different spheres of life.
Today I will be reviewing various documents from CofE re cleaning churches and social distancing regulations prior to any further guidance about opening our churches. Nothing further to note, but as and when we are told, we need to be prepared to the best of our ability. That sense of waiting is good to reflect upon, it gives us patience and time to process things. In our ‘normal busy lives’ that sense of patiently waiting can be easily put to one side – that must have now attitude, rather than waiting, and being patient. Looking in the Bible, folk were waiting in the wilderness, and again in exile from Jerusalem. Time and time again people have waited, as we do now, but the time can be well spent – listening to the eulogy at the funeral this morning – make the most of each and every day, whatever it may bring, each and every day is a gift from God.
God Bless you all. and do keep praying, keep connected, and keep safe.
While his companions slept in the ruined church, Saint Francis threw himself on his knees to pray; and behold in the first watch of the night there come a great multitude of demons, exceeding fierce, with a great noise and tumult, and began to do him grievous battle whereby the one plucked him this way and the other one dragged him up and another down; one threatened him with one thing, and the other accused him of another; and thus they sought to distract him from his prayer; but they could not, for that God was with him.
Therefore whenas Saint Francis had enough endured the assaults of the demons, he began to cry in a loud voice: “O damned spirits, ye can do naught, save what the hand of God alloweth you: wherefore in the name of God Almighty I bid you do unto my body whatever is permitted you of God; for gladly shall I bear it, sith I have no greater enemy than my body: and therefore if you avenge me of mine enemy, ye will do me good service.” Then the demons with great fury and violence took hold of him, and began to drag him through the church, and to do him greater trouble and annoy than at the first.
Thereat Saint Francis began to cry aloud, and said: “My Lord Jesu Christ, I give Thee thanks for the great honour and charity that Thou showest me ; for it is a token of great love when the Lord punishes His servant for all his faults in this world, so that he be not punished in the next. And I am ready gladly to endure every pain and adversity, that Thou, my God, dost will to send me for my sins.”
Then the demons, put to confusion and vanquished by his patience and endurance, were away,
And Saint Francis in fervour of spirit left the church and entered into a wood that was there hard by, and threw himself upon his knees, in prayer; and with prayers and tears and beating of the breast he sought to find Jesu Christ, the spouse and the delight of his soul. And at the last finding Him in the secret places of his soul, he now bespake Him with reverence as his Lord, now made answer to Him as his judge, now besought Him as his father, now held converse with Him as with a friend.
I won’t attempt to diagnose away the experiences Francis’s companions witnessed in that dark night in the ruined church. But at the end he held converse with Jesus as a friend. May we do so in our turn.
Apologies! This post ought to have appeared six months ago! See 27 & 28 February. Here are two more letters from Elizabeth Barrett to Robert Browning: she has sent away a lock of hair and a ring to put it into; but they have not come back, and she is getting impatient.
And this is 150 years before the arrival of Ebay and Amazon.
“I have been waiting … waiting for what does not come … the ring … sent to have the hair put in; but it won’t come (now) until too late for the post, and you must hear from me before Monday … you ought to have heard to-day. It has not been my fault—I have waited. Oh these people—who won’t remember that it is possible to be out of patience! So I send you my letter now … and what is in the paper now … and the rest, you shall have after Monday. And you will not say a word … not then … not at all!—I trust you. And may God bless you.”
“This is the mere postscript to the letter I have just sent away. By a few minutes too late, comes what I have all day been waiting for, … and besides (now it is just too late!) now I may have a skein of silk if I please, to make that knot with, … for want of which, two locks meant for you, have been devoted to the infernal gods already … fallen into a tangle and thrown into the fire … and all the hair of my head might have followed, for I was losing my patience and temper fast, … and the post to boot. So wisely I shut my letter, (after unwisely having driven everything to the last moment!)—and now I have silk to tie fast with … to tie a ‘nodus’ … ‘dignus’ of the celestial interposition—and a new packet shall be ready to go to you directly.” (from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by Robert Browning).
This post is taken from The Imitation of Christ, Book 3, Chapter XIX. I am using the copy my late Aunt Margaret gave to my Grandmother Evelyn sometime in the late 1930s.
What is it thou sayest, my son? Cease to complain, and consider my Passion, and that of the other Saints. Thou hast not yet resisted unto blood. (Hebrews 12.14)
Thou oughtest to call to mind the heaviest sufferings of others, that thou mayest the easier bear the very little things that thou sufferest. And if to thee they seem not little, take heed lest this also proceed from thy impatience. But whether they be little or great, strive to bear them all with patience.
He is not a truly patient man who will suffer nothing, only so much as he shall think fit, and from whom he pleaseth. The truly patient man … how much soever and how often soever any adversity happeneth to him from any creature, he taketh it all equally with thanksgiving as from the hand of God, and esteemeth it a great gain. For with God not anything, how trifling soever, suffered for God’s sake, shall go unrewarded …
Make, O Lord, that possible to me by grace, which seemeth impossible to me by nature. Thou knowest how little I can bear, and that I am soon dejected when a small adversity ariseth. Let all exercises of tribulation become lovely and most desirable to me for thy Name’s sake, for to suffer and be afflicted for Thee is very healthful for my soul.
There is scriptural foundation for the Imitation’s position on accepting suffering: Here for instance is Ben Sirach, otherwise known as Ecclesiasticus, a late Jewish wisdom writer. (Ch2:3-10).
Wait on God with patience: join thyself to God, and endure, that thy life may be increased in the latter end. Take all that shall be brought upon thee: and in thy sorrow endure, and in thy humiliation keep patience.For gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation. Believe God, and he will recover thee: and direct thy way, and trust in him. Keep his fear, and grow old therein. Ye that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy: and go not aside from him, lest ye fall. Ye that fear the Lord, believe him: and your reward shall not be made void. Ye that fear the Lord, hope in him: and mercy shall come to you for your delight. Ye that fear the Lord, love him, and your hearts shall be enlightened.
And here is Jesus in Luke 6:27-29:
But I say to you that hear: Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you. Bless them that curse you, and pray for them that calumniate you. And to him that striketh thee on the one cheek, offer also the other. And him that taketh away from thee thy cloak, forbid not to take thy coat also.
Nana’s little copy of the Imitation was well thumbed and could really do with some repairs to the cover. She had a great devotion to Christ crucified. Nana knew many trials in her life, but was a source of strength and fun to us, her grandchildren. (MMB)
What does the word ‘mermaid’ suggest to you? Andersen and Disney sweet young girl, giving herself to the man she loves? Or else the seal-women of Scotland, or the sirens of Greek legend, luring unloved men to their deaths?
The Mermaid rose is s beautiful as any of those, but has more in common with the sirens. Get too close to her and you won’t escape easily from her sharp, backward-facing thorns. But she’s lovely enough, if handled with leather gloves. She’ll grow 4m plus high and those buds will open to creamy yellow single flowers. The deep red berberis leaves set her off well.
It’s not altogether necessary to go on pilgrimage to appreciate the ‘flowers of the field’. (Matthew 6.26) I think that when Jesus encouraged us to consider them, he wanted us first of all to look about us, to look around our feet, on in Mermaid’s case, at or below eye-level; we have to protect our neighbours from her by careful use of secateurs.
But think of all those patient souls who have bred the varieties we love; their considerations went much further, looking at the future and how this or that rose might perform. Or the men and women working to refine the healing power of plants from around the world for the good of all.
‘Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief,’ but let no part of it stay in me.
If my life brings me darkness, help me to meet it with faith; if pain, with courage; if bereavement, with hope; if joy, with gratitude; all things with love and patience.
So let my life indeed be the expression of my faith.
This prayer comes from Father Andrew, the pioneering Anglican Franciscan, who was a hard-working parish priest in East London during the Blitz. A good prayer for the start of Lent; we cannot live up to those resolutions without the grace of God.
Help me to meet and embrace my life, Lord.
This Lent we will start with a series of reflections from Sister Johanna Caton OSB on the Zacchaeus story. This is an early Lenten text in the Eastern Churches. There will be a number of reflections from regular and guest contributors which place us before the Cross. Writers have been invited to respond to an image of the crucifixion of their choice.
Finally, during the last fortnight of Passiontide, we will follow the Way of the Cross with Saint Peter, written as if he were reflecting in the prison cell in Rome, linking events in his life on the road with Jesus to the stations, scriptural and traditional, that are celebrated in this devotion. Stay with us and pray with us!