Mark Piper rode 100km from Chicago to Michigan City, Indiana in aid of children with brain tumours; the event remembers a small boy of the Chicago parish who died with this disease, Patrick McNamara. The full story is here, together with Piper’s reflections, on the National Catholic Reporter website. Since the pastor who was the race starter dedicated the race to Mary and the finishing line was at one of her churches, it seems an appropriate item for her feast today. She, if anyone, exhibited holiness in the world!
The pastor of the parish reminded us that our coming together, through the prayers and material assistance raised for these families, was community at its best. And he ended his blessing by inviting us all to recite the Hail Mary.
While sitting down at the post-ride party my mind … reflected on my first, but certainly not last, Pat Mac’s 100K ride. Although not draped in piety or devotions, or having any sacraments administered, this ride, by bringing us together and building community, exhibited a holiness in the world that perhaps enlivened Gospel service.
During my six hours on the bike, and a few more under a tent filled with food, stories and friendship, I certainly experienced church, being church and being church for others. May Our Lady, in Italy, Spain, France or Michigan City, Indiana, watch over us, keep us safe and hasten the day when paediatric cancer research brings forth a cure. Until this hopeful prayer is granted, I look forward to this bicycle ride and seeing that mosaic of Mary, at prayer herself, at the finish line.
From Canon Anthony Charlton’s blog, exploring ways to welcome pilgrims to the shrine of Saints Thomas Becket and Oscar Romero in Canterbury.
It was a delight for me one afternoon recently to have eleven groups of students from the School of Architecture of the University of the Creative arts present to us their projects. They were asked to create in our Martyrs Chapel a space that should contain the relics of St Thomas More and St Oscar Romero. As one submission said the “space is without focus, having collected so many relics and icons over the years there is no order to how they are placed, creating a dissonant space which lacks a clear focal point for prayer and worship.”
I was very moved to see how each group presented their designs. There was much inspiration and it was great to see the different ways they found to create a space for prayer and reflection for pilgrims and those who wished to come and pray. Many of the submissions recognised there was a need for more light. One darkened the chapel and explored the relationship between the dark and the light of the relics. Another submission was bold in creating an outside entrance with an antechamber.
The challenge now is for parishioners to meet and decide the next step in creating a beautiful space for the relics of these two great Martyrs.
We look forward to that meeting and to developing the shrine as an accessible, welcoming space in the heart of Canterbury. Thank you, Canon Anthony! And let’s not sacrifice this window in the present shrine.
Edmund was the young King of East Anglia, the area in Eastern England that juts into the North Sea. It was then a watery landscape, with creeks and inlets and very few human settlements of any size. Edmund was killed by invading Viking pirates in November 869 and, like Olav, was immediately honoured as a martyr. When his followers recovered his body it was riddled with arrow wounds and the head was nowhere to be found until someone heard a voice calling from the brambles, where they found a wolf guarding the King’s head between its paws.
Edmund’s grave became a place of pilgrimage, encouraged by the Danish King of England, and also of Denmark and Norway, Canute (r 1018-1035). He himself was an invader, responsible for the deaths of King Ethelred the Unready and many warriors as well as Saint Olav in Norway. A repentant Canute established Edmund’s shrine in the Benedictine Abbey of Bury Saint Edmund’s 900 years ago in 1022. It was further enhanced after 1066 by the Norman kings, themselves Viking invaders, responsible for the deaths of King Harold, many warriors and countless civilians. See here an account of some of the ecumenical Millennial celebrations in May. Events continue during 2022: www.visit-burystedmunds.co.uk/abbey-1000
The Benedictine Abbey of Saint Edmund, patronised by English monarchs for centuries, was destroyed during the Reformation, though considerable ruins remain. The bones of King Edmund are reported to have been sealed in an iron chest and hidden, underground or under water. So far no archaeological survey has turned them up, but within the precincts of the former Abbey the pilgrim church of Saint James was chosen as the Cathedral for the Anglican diocese serving Suffolk: Saint Edmundsbury and Ipswich.
We did not get as far as the Catholic church of Saint Edmund, King and Martyr, but it is old for an English Catholic church, dating from 1791 for the present building, although the original, hidden chapel still stands hidden behind the presbytery, as it had to be in 1760, thirty years before Penal Laws against Catholics were abolished. It must have been a brave community that came together to worship illegally.
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
The text on the reading desk in Saint Thomas’s chapel invites us to compose ourselves, to be calm as we come before God. This is a quiet corner of Saint David’s Cathedral in Wales, but the saint it celebrates did not live a quiet life. Perhaps he had plenty of time to be still in God’s presence while he was in exile from England after disputes with the King, who wanted more control over the Church.
Archbishop Thomas, however, could not agree to this. God did not depend on earthly kings for his greatness: he was not and is not a tame god, working for a narrow national interest.
Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.
In the stillness of his heart, Thomas accepted this and refused to be King Henry’s puppet. His martyrdom in his own Cathedral of Canterbury was the consequence of exalting God over his earthly lord.
This is the feast of the Translation of Saint Thomas – the day in 1220 when his bones were ‘translated’ to the new shrine in Canterbury Cathedral, and a better day for pilgrims to travel than late December, when he died.
Let us pray for the Church under persecution in so many parts of the world. And pray, too, for the Bishops of the Anglican Communion, gathered for their Conference, and for unity among all Christians, as Jesus prayed. AMEN.
Or should I say, an encouragement for pilgrims? This particular stretch of Wales’s Pembrokeshire Coast Path winds down only to go almost straight uphill, or up 121 stairs – I counted them. At the end of the day you can discover how many metres you have climbed overall. If you began at sea-level you will have descended a similar amount. We were not counting.
Fellowship is one of the gifts of pilgrimage, as yesterday’s picture showed us. Christina Rossetti reminds us that in our life-long pilgrimage we have also the support of the Church Triumphant, the saints who have gone before.
And “Yea, beds for all who come”, though “travel-sore and weak.” She does not specifically mention blisters!
Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting-place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you standing at that door.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yea, beds for all who come."
The latest circular from the Synod Office looks at the Biblical sources of the Synod. Read the whole document here. See the opening paragraphs below. (Did I once express the hope that there would not be too much technical language or long sentences? Perhaps I was dreaming.) One article which is more accessible comes from Burkina Faso, where they have great problems in getting together because of terrorist attacks.
How are you? We come with new information and a theme that is inspiring and fundamental: The Word of God in the synodal journey. We are in a process of listening, in which we must be attentive to the Word like Mary. This Word will encourage and guide us in our journey as a pilgrim Church.
Synodality and the Word of God
The Biblical Subgroup of the Spirituality Commission of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops has prepared a resource entitled “Biblical Resources for Synodality,” which highlights how Scripture is at the heart of the synodal journey.
My Catholic primary school taught us stories from the Bible, one between two at a shared desk. We also heard about miracles outside Scripture, including visitations of Our Lady, especially at Lourdes and Fatima. I came to feel the emphasis on these ‘private revelations’ was excessive, but visiting England’s Walsingham, a shrine for almost 1000 years, set me thinking about the role of Mary ever since.
We’d been told that only Catholics honour Mary, yet Walsingham has beautiful Anglican and Orthodox Shrines as well as the Catholic one. Each one made us welcome. We learned that icons like the Mother of Perpetual Succour came from the East. Later, joining ecumenical pilgrimages meant walking and talking, eating and praying together.
This book may inspire the reader to go on pilgrimage to one of the featured shrines, or to turn the pages while voyaging in imagination, beads in your hand, a candle and pilgrim’s shell beside you. The many well-chosen pictures will help you to be there.
Doctor Samuel Johnson, a devout 18th Century Anglican philosopher, had this to say regarding pilgrimage: ‘To abstract the mind from all local emotion would be impossible, if it were endeavoured, and would be foolish if it were possible’. In other words, there is room to be led by feelings as well as by intellectual theology when visiting shrines.
The book may set you thinking about Mary and her place in the life of the Church. When it first opened Walsingham’s Anglican shrine attracted charges of ‘Mariolatry’ – idolising Mary. Less stridently, others judge the honour given to Mary to be obscuring her Son. But on the Feast of the Assumption this year, Pope Francis pointed out that Mary was and remains humble, so that God was able to beget his Son through her and pour out blessings through her, down to today. So it is in humility that we should set out on pilgrimage, on foot, by transport, or through the imagination.
Whoever receives an apparition can expect grief from a naturally sceptical world and a deliberately sceptical Church which has to discern the spirits at work in these incidents. But once the Church has accepted an apparition as genuine, we can follow Johnson’s advice: ‘Far from me, and from my friends, be such frigid philosophy as may conduct us indifferent and unmoved over any ground which has been dignified by wisdom, bravery, or virtue.’
Wincenty Laszewski has limited his explorations to apparitions beginning from the late 19th Century, thus omitting Lourdes which still witnesses renewal of faith as well as physical and emotional healings. Renewal and healing occur at other shrines too, and Laszewski leads us to many across the world.
Fatima, whose Sister Lucia certainly suffered at the hands of the Church, is well known but most of these shrines were new to me. At Beauraing, Belgium, in the 1930s the children who saw and heard Mary came from families indifferent to religion; it was only after the Occupation ended that the local bishop could pronounce the supernatural nature of the events. The children faded into the background, later marrying and raising Christian families. Thus they lived out their response to Mary’s two questions: “Do you love my Son?” and “Do you love me?”
Far from there, in Ngome, South Africa, a German Benedictine missionary received visions in the 1950s. Sister Reinolda heard from Mary that she should be addressed as ‘Tabernacle of the Most High’, as she had held Jesus, the Host, in her womb and in her arms. It was time for Christians to be ‘a sea of hosts’ to bring Christ’s salvation to the world; a poetic but doctrinally orthodox idea. We are the Body of Christ, as Saint Paul proclaims (1 Corinthians 12:27). Mary also asked for a shrine where seven springs come together.
In Egypt it was at a Coptic Orthodox Church dedicated to Mary that she was seen by thousands of Muslims and Christians on a number of occasions. As always there is scepticism from more than one side, theories of mass suggestion or natural phenomena or fakery, as Laszewski makes plain. But in the spirit of ecumenism which characterises Egyptian Christianity, the Catholic Church accepts the judgement of the Orthodox Patriarch’s Commission that the apparitions, and subsequent individual healings, were God’s work.
Scepticism is an honest position to adopt towards apparitions, and always the first stance of the Church which proclaims Christ Crucified, foolishness to the Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23). But Mary makes the sign of the cross during many apparitions, indicating that the Cross is central to her message. Those who accept the divine origin of the apparitions should not disdain people who are indifferent or unmoved.
As time goes by, shrines may continue to flourish in ways that the original visionaries could not have expected. Who would have predicted today’s ecumenical scene in Walsingham? Mary was seen here before the Reformation, before even the Great Schism between Eastern and Western Christianity; now it is a place where some of those wounds are being healed. What blessings will be made available to the faithful and the world as these modern shrines find their lasting mission?
A few points regarding Wincenty Laszewski’s labour of love. At p197 he wrongly portrays Frank Duff as seeking permission of St John Paul II to found the Legion of Mary. Duff had begun this work in 1921 in Dublin, more than half a century before meeting the Pope in Poland. Saint Pius X became Pope in 1903, not 1913. Laszewski relates how his predecessor, Leo XIII had a vision of the 20th Century and its evils. The Pope did not reveal details of this event, but Laszewski claims it as a Marian Apparition because Leo championed the Rosary. Pious suppositions are not history!
I would not be alone in scratching my head over Laszewski’s description of Ngome as a place where natural realities came into contact with the supernatural. Springs of water have always been places where contact with the supernatural is a given, as at the Pool of Bethesda, or Lourdes, or many a holy well. In the words Chesterton put into the mouth of Mary, speaking to King Alfred:
The gates of Heaven are lightly locked,
We do not guard our gain,
The heaviest hind may easily
Come silently and suddenly
Upon me in a lane.
Lord, grant us eyes to see with and to discern your presence in the people we meet.
In 1120, Thomas Becket was born in London; in 1170, he was murdered in his Cathedral. By the time his remains were translated (moved) to a new shrine in the cathedral, Canterbury had become a major pilgrimage destination and a place of healing. Perhaps relatively few of the healings recorded by the Benedictine custodians would be recognised as miracles today but those who were healed, whether by divine intervention or the workings of human psychology – mind over matter, if you will – went home rejoicing. Even King Henry II, whose tempestuous outburst spurred the four knights to confront and kill the Archbishop, came as a penitent pilgrim.
But in 1538 another king was angry. Henry VIII wanted a divorce from Catharine of Aragon, who had borne a daughter but no son. Unable to attack militarily the Pope who had refused the divorce, he divorced the Church of England from the Catholic church. Thomas, the low-born bishop who had stood up to the king was now, not a martyred saint but a traitor, whose name was to be forgotten, written out of history, even out of prayer books.
I was warned about Manchester’s 2019 Santa well before I saw it. Now it’s difficult to unsee the thing. As a representation of a saintly bishop it leaves a lot to be desired! The little Kentish village of Barfrestone has a better one.
Here he is, recognisably a bishop, recognisably blessing his people (I doubt the Mancunian’s gesture could be so interpreted), with symbols of his generous charity: the three gold coins for the dowries he gave to three girls who might otherwise have been enslaved; the little boys he rescued from drowning, and a representation of the little church of Saint Nicholas.
We in L’Arche Kent called by during our community pilgrimage last year, for it was in this village that the community was born more than 40 years ago. I was on a sort of pilgrimage to Manchester, not to tip my hat to Santa by Piccadilly Gardens but to visit my mother and my daughter; two good reasons for the journey on a murky day in Manchester. Since my daughter has left town there’s only my mother, but she is isolating herself and outsiders are meant to keep away from Greater Manchester. So thank God for the internet!
Today, 6 December, is Saint Nicholas’ feast day. We can’t do much about the hijacking he has been subjected to by the forces of Mammon, but we can find ways to be generous, maybe in secret, as he often was.
And let us use this season of Advent to make straight the paths of the Lord, through marshland, mountain, or Mancunian murk!
Although the crypt at Canterbury Cathedral is usually quiet, there are always sounds to absorb or blank out; I think most people would soon find their inner silence undisturbed by passing footsteps of pilgrims or tourists passing by or finding a seat.
These steps were different, a measured tread, leather soles with steel segs to make the heels last longer, as worn by the Combined Cadet Force at my secondary school. The visitor advanced to the candle stand, took one, lit it, and positioned it upon the rack. A step back, and he stood ramrod straight before the altar for a minute, bowed deeply, turned and left. It was a man I have known by sight for maybe thirty years, but this was the first time I had seen him wearing the regimental tie of the Buffs, the East Kent Regiment, now amalgamated out of existence.
It was obviously an important date for him to mark in this way. When I searched the web I discovered that the Battle of Cambrai began on 20th November 1917 and many Buffs were involved.
Perhaps this man’s grandfather was in the battle, but he had come to the crypt in solidarity with his comrades, even with men he never knew; his regimental tie, his candle and his silent moment a prayer of hope for them and for this ravaged world; his visit, even if it was but a short walk from his home, a true pilgrimage.