Tag Archives: Pope John Paul II

May 11: The Best Medicine? ask the Irish Chaplaincy.

Another posting from Eddie at the Irish Chaplaincy.


Eddie Gilmore

Eddie Gilmore

When coming away from my regular visit to one of our Irish Chaplaincy Seniors I was reflecting on how uplifted I felt and how it had to do, in part, by how much we had laughed during the visit. This particular lady is only in her 70s but has fairly advanced dementia, and her sister moved over from Ireland to stay in the one-bedroom flat as a live-in carer. It’s a challenging situation but we always regale one another with funny stories, and we hoot with laughter.

I’ve been enjoying a book by James Martin, the American Jesuit, called ‘Between Heaven and Mirth’ with the sub-title ‘Why joy, humour and laughter are at the heart of the spiritual life’. He speaks of the importance of humour, especially in religious settings, which can easily become terribly serious and joyless. I imagine, sadly, that there are many people who might consider laughter to be incompatible with church or religion. And I was interested to see in a recent survey in the Church of England that people didn’t want their priests to be cracking lots of jokes in their sermons! It’s true that humour doesn’t really come across in the gospels. I fear this is a case of jokes getting lost in translation (besides the notion that religion is a ‘serious business’) because I like to think that the stories of Jesus were filled with humour and hilarity, and that he liked nothing better than to have a good laugh with some of the dodgy characters he hung out with.

I still remember the words of my dear friend Tony (and the jokes he told) in his best man speech at my wedding. He reminded us that the words ‘humour’, ‘humility’ and ‘human’ all come from the Latin word ‘humus’ which means earth and ground, so that when we laugh we are connected in a particular way with the ground we walk upon and with those we walk with. It could be said indeed that a sure sign of a growing connection and intimacy with another person is the ability to laugh together. Physiologically, as well, it’s healthy for us to laugh. A good, hearty laugh can relieve physical tension and stress and leave the muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes. It boosts the immune system, decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, therefore improving resistance to disease. It also reduces blood pressure and releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers. Laughter is almost as good for the body as going to the gym! And it doesn’t cost a penny in membership! I remember at one time somebody in the NHS having the idea to send comedians into hospitals to help patients to laugh but sadly it doesn’t seem to have caught on.

And talking of funny people, I was tickled to hear what happened when John Cleese met the Dalai Lama. They didn’t say a word to one another but simply broke into spontaneous and prolonged laughter! James Martin tells us in his book that the Trappist monk and prolific spiritual writer Thomas Merton could be identified by visitors to his monastery in Kentucky (at a time, in the 1960s, when there were 200 monks there) because he was the one who was always laughing. And one of the many nice stories in the book concerns Mother Theresa from the time when John Paul II was pope and creating loads of new saints. A young sister asked what she would have to do in her life to achieve sainthood. Mother Theresa replied “die now; this pope’s canonising everyone”!

This season of Lent is perhaps not readily associated with fun and frivolity. Yet, in the scripture readings from Ash Wednesday at the beginning of Lent we have Jesus warning us (Matthew 6) not to look miserable when we fast; and we are reminded of the words from Isaiah 58 of the kind of fast that is pleasing to God:

“Let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke;

Share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor”

And I would add, try and have a bit of a laugh with people as well. It’s one of the things that most profoundly binds us together in our common humanity.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

22 April: Blessed is the evil that fell upon me. Brownings IX.

Elizabeth_Barrett_Browning

Among Elizabeth Barrett’s letters to Robert Browning I found this final paragraph from February 1846:

“May God bless you, best and dearest. If you are the compensation blessed is the evil that fell upon me: and that, I can say before God.”

Elizabeth had been housebound and largely bed bound for some years. Robert fell in love with her from a distance, a love that had firmed up on closer acquaintance. He seems to have gained entry to her room as a fellow poet, in Elizabeth’s father’s eyes a fellow-artist, not the potential husband he had become. It would not be possible to conceal this relationship for ever.

I was reminded of the line from the Exsultet which the deacon sings before the Paschal Candle at the Easter Vigil:

O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem.                              O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer.

It is good to have pictures, physical or mental to understand redemption. Words are not enough, but we must use them. Elizabeth Barrett’s personal epiphany is a way into understanding the poetry of the Vigil Anthem and the theology of our redemption. She came to realise that Robert Browning loved her as no-one had loved her before. He wanted with all his being to share everything with her. He did not pity her but loved her. That allowed her to love him.

If all God felt for human beings was pity he could have sorted out our redemption and the mess we are making of our world with a word, at a distance. But love meant he  shared everything: he lets us experience the divine ‘best and dearest’, seeing his glory as far as our feeble frame allows; but also himself sharing human experience to the full. ‘The Word was made flesh and lived and died among us. He rose again and prepares a new life for us, as Robert Browning did for Elizabeth, but in God’s case on what Pope John Paul II would call a cosmic scale.

Wikipedia, Public Domain.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Easter, poetry

April 5. Before the Cross XXI: The power of evil is poured out on Jesus

I think Jesus might be dead… Or extremely close to death. The thought of His lifeless body growing cold terrifies me. Or of struggling to hear if He’s still breathing. Or hearing Him struggling to breathe. He has become nothing but weakness and pain and death. He has united Himself to us, even in our weakness and pain and death, even our oppression and victimhood. If you are united to the oppressed, you share their oppression.
Jesus is completely naked. He is left with nothing hidden, no protection, nothing off limits. His last possession, His final mark of dignity, is stripped from Him. Here He is. The authorities were trying to expose Jesus as a fraud, as a pathetic, weak, failure. What they did instead, was expose the fullness of His love, in giving absolutely everything, absolutely all of Himself, to His wife, the Church. Nothing at all has been held back from His beloved.
His mother is there, in the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, at the foot of the Cross. The blood from Jesus’ feet has run down onto her; she shares His death by her love; if He is bloody, she is bloody. In the icon, we can see the child Jesus: it is the same Jesus and same Mary, when Mary held Him in her arms, and when she stood at the foot of His cross. He is her child.
Why have an icon of Mary in the image, and not just Mary? Because Jesus told us, “Behold, your mother”, and the icon is where we do that. Behold her. She is our mother, the mother of the New Creation in Jesus Christ. And at the foot of the Cross, in her sufferings she is giving birth to us, the Church. Behold your mother: know her and love her.
Behind the cross we have the Church, led by Pope St. John Paul II (the Pope when it was painted, and also a great saint of the cross). The Church is at the foot of the cross, because that is where Jesus is. He gives His life to us on the cross, and that is where we must go to receive it. He unites Himself to us in our sin and suffering, and unites us to Himself in His obedience and glory. He offers Himself and us to the Father, and we must let Him. He unites Himself to us by sharing our death, and we must unite ourselves to Him by sharing His.
Then there are the many crosses. The cross has gone forth through the world, and through it, the sufferings of the world are being united to Jesus and offered to the Father. Through the cross, the sufferings of the world are becoming love, and being borne with the hope of resurrection. The world is being divinised through its suffering.
Jesus is either dead or nearly dead. He is pinned down so He can’t move. He is bleeding all over. He is physically torn apart by His own gravity. He is mocked openly by His enemies. He is stripped naked and put on display. He is annihilated. Evil has won.
But it doesn’t have the last word. This image seems to show Satan’s victory. On the cross we see God fully under evil’s power, but in this, evil is overcome, because He transforms it into His own love. All of the power of evil is poured out on Jesus, and all of it is overcome by being transformed into Jesus’s self-gift.
This post is from Ignatius, an old friend of Agnellus. Ignatius went to Poland for World Youth Day in 2016. This painting is from the Stations of the Cross by Jerzy Duda Grasz at Jasna Gora in Częstochowa, Poland. As Ignatius says, this is not a risen Jesus, but these stations, like Ignatius’ reflection, do end in resurrection. You can find the full pilgrimage of stations here.
I am very grateful to Ignatius for this reflection. There is room for us all before the Cross.
WT.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Easter, Lent, PLaces

8 February: Saint Josephine Bakhita

wed-feb-8-bakhita

Saint Josephine Bakhita

Saint Josephine was born in Sudan in 1869 where she was kidnapped and sold into slavery as a child. She was a modern slave: in servitude despite laws forbidding it. After changing hands many times, she was sold to an Italian diplomat and taken to Italy, where slavery was indeed illegal, but it was only through the help of some sisters, the Canossian Daughters of Charity, that she gained her freedom from his family. She learned about God from the sisters and entered the congregation where she lived a life of love and service until her death in 1947.

Josephine Bakhita was canonised by John Paul II on October 1, 2000. He spoke of Josephine Bakhita as ‘a shining advocate of genuine emancipation. The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence, and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights’.

Let us pray for all people caught up in modern slavery and those working to release them, often in grave personal danger to themselves.

You may also like to return to the Littlehampton Sisters’ reflection from last year.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

January 11: Temperance V: The Gift of Shame

phonecall..j (409x583)

The virtue of temperance does not require the stoic abstention from all physical pleasures. Temperance is the virtue by which we are strengthened in the ability to decide how much is good for us, and to follow through on that decision on the level of behaviour. What helps us in our decision?

St. Thomas teaches that the spontaneous reaction of shame that surfaces when we have over-indulged in the physical pleasures is both healthy and helpful to us. At first this might be hard to believe: shame is such a miserable, intensely uncomfortable feeling. We don’t like it, and often try to suppress it, or to defend against it by laughing it off and telling ourselves not to be so morbid. Yet, it is better for us to face our feeling of shame. It is a useful reaction whereby we recoil psychologically from the disgrace that comes from intemperance.

Excesses on the level of our physical appetites give us a feeling shame that is usually more intense than the shame we feel over our other moral failings and sins. St Thomas explains that this is because our bodily appetites are what we share with animals, and when we over-indulge them we feel deep down that we have lost something of our innate dignity as human beings.

aquinas-carlo_crivelli_007JohannesPaul2-portrait

Shame, again, surfaces spontaneously. In the masterful book Love and Responsibility, written by Karol Wojtyla*1 in the 1960s, the phenomenon of shame is one of the topics he studies in depth. Here is a brief passage from his book:

Shame is a tendency, uniquely characteristic of the human person, to conceal sexual values sufficiently to prevent them from obscuring the value of the person as such. The purposes of this tendency is self-defence of the person, which does not wish to be an object to be used by another… but does wish to be an object of love (Chapter III).

Perhaps this requires some unpacking. First Wojtyla affirms that shame is part of our in-built moral equipment, as it were – uniquely characteristic of the human person. As such, it is a gift, and it has an importance and a purpose in our spiritual and human lives. Then, he speaks of ‘sexual values.’ Again, an important notion. We see here that he is not trying to say that our sexuality is bad. Then why does he talk about ‘concealing’ this value? Simply because this value has a tendency to loom larger than it should, so much so that it can ‘obscure the value of the person.’ There is a hierarchy of values here, he is saying: the person is of greater value than sexual values. Through shame we actually protect ourselves as persons, so that we do not become an object of “use”. According to Wojtyla, then, shame is not the result of prudish conditioning by repressive religious teachings, or over-strict authority figures. It is inherent in our nature, and surfaces spontaneously with a message for us. That message is that we are created to be loved and to give love in a manner that always affirms the unique beauty and dignity of the person – both our own person and that of the beloved.

This beautiful insight by Karol Wojtyla shows us something that helps us to moderate our physical appetites, by reminding us that we were created to love and be loved. This is the fulfilment we crave most deeply. But we must love and be loved rightly, with great respect for ourselves as persons and for the unique personhood of our loved one.

1 Karol Wojtyla was elected pope in 1978, and was known as Pope John Paul II. His papacy lasted until his death, twenty-five years later.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

October 22: Their cross is yours

crososososo1450655040

You have made an altar

out of the deck of the lost

trawler whose spars

are your cross.

In Great Waters,[1].

It is the dead refugees in the Mediterranean that these lines bring to mind, long after R.S. Thomas wrote them.

We see God making an altar, not Abel, Abraham, or Moses. John Paul II wrote of the ‘altar of the world’ on which sacrifice is unceasingly offered. Here, where the boat foundered on the rocks, is Calvary, not just for the crew and their beloved, but for Christ. He accepts the tarnished offerings of their lives, (tarnished because all are sinners): their cross is made to fit him, their brother.

A cross to remember Christ by need not be golden (see Wednesday’s post): this report and photo come from Independent Catholic News, ICN, 20.12.15 . Thanks to the editor, Jo Siedlecka.

A stark cross, made from the wreckage of a boat that that sank in the Mediterranean in 2013, drowning hundreds of refugees, was the final acquisition made by the British Museum on Neil MacGregor’s last day as Director, on Friday, 18 December 2015.

The cross was made by Mr Francesco Tuccio, a carpenter who lives and works on the island. It is made from parts of a boat that sank near Lampedusa on 3 October 2013, carrying refugees. 500 people were on board when the overcrowded boat caught fire, capsized and sank. Only 151 survived. Some of the survivors were Eritrean Christians, fleeing persecution in their home country. Mr Tuccio met some of them in his church of San Gerlando and frustrated by his inability to make any difference to their plight, he went and collected some of the timber from the wreckage and made each of them a cross to reflect their salvation and as a symbol of hope for the future.

On request Mr Tuccio also made a cross which was carried by Pope Francis at the memorial service for the survivors. The British Museum heard about the crosses and contacted Mr Tuccio to see if it could acquire one for the collection. Mr Tuccio made and donated this cross to the collection as a symbol of the suffering and hope of our times. When the museum thanked him he wrote: “it is I who should thank you for drawing attention to the burden symbolized by this small piece of wood.”

In a statement, the Museum said: “It is essential that the Museum continues to collect objects that reflect contemporary culture in order to ensure the collection remains dynamic and reflects the world as it is. The Lampedusa disaster was one of the first examples of the terrible tragedies that have befallen refugees/migrants as they seek to cross from Africa into Europe. The cross allows the Museum to represent these events in a physical object so that in 10, 50,100 years’ time this latest migration can be reflected in a collection which tells the stories of multiple migrations across millennia.

Neil MacGregor said: “This simple yet moving object is a poignant gift to the collection. Mr Tuccio’s generosity will allow all visitors to the Museum to reflect on this significant moment in the history of Europe, a great migration which may change the way we understand our continent. In my time at the Museum we have acquired many wonderful objects, from the grand to the humble, but all have sought to shine a light on the needs and hopes that all human beings share. All have enabled the Museum to fulfil the purpose for which it was set up: to be a Museum of the world and for the world, now and well into the future.”

The Cross given to Pope Francis can be seen in this video .

[1] SP, p 128

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

October 11: CONSCIENCE IV: Under the Microscope, Continued

_Blake_-_The_Ghost_of_a_Flea_-_Google_Art_Project

William Blake, the Ghost of a Flea

There is such a thing as a true conscience and a false conscience.  Our true conscience is the one that is in touch with God’s law.  But it can be submerged beneath a false conscience that is formed not by God’s law, but by all sorts of other influences.  Today, it can be difficult to get away from the influence of our culture’s easy-going morality and its message that if something seems good to me, then it is good.    It is important to realise that this kind of thinking usually comes from ‘doctrines that have lost the sense of the transcendent or are explicitly atheist,’ as Pope Saint John Paul II said in his remarkable Encycylical Letter, Veritatis Splendor [no. 32].

In his last homily before he was elected to the papacy, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger said,

“We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognise anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires”                                                                                  [Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on 18 April 2005].

Strong words.  But what is this “relativism”?  It is the popular teaching whereby the individual conscience is held up as the ultimate moral authority answerable to nothing but itself.  It refers to no objective criteria by which to evaluate its decisions; the only requirement is that of personal sincerity.  It does not refer to anyone else to discover what is right.  Personal sincerity is considered sufficient to justify any action.

In relativism, there is no awareness that if personal sincerely is the only yardstick by which I measure the moral content of my actions, moral chaos soon results.  What if, for example, I sincerely believe that causing harm to my next door neighbour is good because I sincerely believe him to be wicked?  Or, what if I sincerely do not believe that the foetus of a human being is human?  To call such exaltation of personal opinion a “dictatorship” is not too strong.  We try to tell ourselves that this way of thinking is tolerant of different points of view.  But what of the point of view of the one who is weaker than myself, and whose human existence and potential I “sincerely” do not acknowledge?

If you are even reading this post, you probably would not go to the lengths I have just described, but it is not necessary to ascribe consciously to such relativist or individualist doctrines in order to be susceptible in a lesser sense to the kind of thinking that goes with them.  The selfish tendencies that we all have as a result of our fallen nature can make it hard, at least at times, to realise that conscience is not about personal sincerity.

Then what is conscience about?

Conscience is directed beyond ourselves toward God and true goodness in a manner similar to the way a compass directs a traveller toward her destination.  The difference is that the traveller knows before she sets out that she doesn’t want to go round in circles, stay in the same spot, or end up further away from the place of her destination.  We expect a compass to direct us to a place that is different from the place where we began.  We do not necessarily have the same expectation with regard to our conscience.  We might prefer it if our conscience would kindly sanction what we are doing, or planning to do. We don’t want it to challenge us or deprive us of our fantasy.

SJC

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

8 October: Our Inward Mirror or Conscience.

milkyway

By calling this blog a Mirror we set out to be reflective.

Recently Sister Johanna wrote to the editor offering some reflections on conscience, that human attribute by which we can perceive, if through a glass darkly, the soiled image and likeness of God in our hearts (1 Corinthians, 13:14).

Allow her wisdom, distilled from Aquinas, John Paul II and Benedict XV, to percolate through your brain and heart. I’m sure you’ll agree that I was right to accept her offer.

WT.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

Year of Mercy: ‘Divine Mercy in my Soul’

crux (427x528)

Strasbourg  Cathedral

Anne continues by exploring the prayers of Saint Faustina on the healing Blood of Our Lord.

We know through the writings of Saint Faustina (canonised by St John Paul II in the Year 2000) in her diary ‘Divine Mercy in my Soul’ that Jesus wants us to know that the Blood and Water which gushed forth from His side on the Cross continues to be poured out upon us as a fount of mercy for us.

He wants us to call on that mercy all the days of our life.

DSC00010 (640x480)

In the ‘Three O’Clock Prayer’ given to Saint Faustina we read:

‘You expired, Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls

And an ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world.

O Fount of Life,

Unfathomable Divine Mercy,

Envelop the whole world and empty yourself out upon us…’

Thank you, Lord, for your great gifts to us:

Our Faith,

Your body and Blood in the Eucharist

And your gift of eternal Love and Mercy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Year of Mercy