Tag Archives: poverty

7 May: A book of ours

You can never get enough of mediæval manuscripts – but sometimes just one can be almost too much.

Follow the link to read how this little Book of Hours is inspiring a Book of Ours in Manchester, thanks to the John Rylands Library of the University of Manchester. The link is to a post on their blog which will interest and move you.

WT.

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31 March. Before the Cross XVI: Repenting of Sanctions

 

cross.dreifontein (2)

Friar Chris writes to us from Zimbabwe, where he has been teaching. Thank you Chris, you have certainly had a fruitful time back in Africa! We are grateful for your sharing it with us and for inviting us to reflect on these issues. Agnellus’ Mirror is here for all manner of reflections!

When I was a teenager, I recall sanctions being imposed against the illegal continuation of a British colonial regime in Rhodesia. Struggles were taking place to replace that outdated structure and form a new nation, Zimbabwe, and by 1980 that had taken place. I also remember wondering how ordinary citizens can cope when many items which we consider to be essential are made unobtainable. When do sanctions become a big hammer used to crack a nut? How can anyone prevent them from becoming one more version of bullying?

This is a relevant question when the churches pass through a repeated catechetical exercise for newcomers to Christianity, which we call Lent. The danger is always the practice of frowning intensely about all the wrongdoings of the human race, but not seeing the changes of heart which need to be the true ‘penitence’ of a change of heart in ourselves. Letting go of our approval of strong arm tactics must often be an aspect of welcoming God’s peace and grace into our lives. Sanctions still exist in the southern African country of Zimbabwe, imposed not only by the United States, but also by the European Union. They seem to be a mode of coercion, not against a right-wing white-domination system, but against a mild version of socialism which happens to question the neo-conservative consumerist programmes favoured by the large market monopolies achieved by commercialist manufacturers. These are generally manufacturers who have done least to extricate the cultures of the world from environmentally-destructive practices.

I do not intend to compose an argument in favour of every governmental alliance built up technologically by the government of Zimbabwe. Geopolitics is an aspect of human circumstances which pervades news broadcasts but which mostly cannot be turned around by churches, even in their most valid calls for charity. Nevertheless, the current school student-led world-wide protests concerning the destruction of environments, which lament that we ignore paths that consider climate change, are genuine appeals for understanding grace and peace. Greater sensitivity to what makes sustainable community, not just sustainable industries, is a challenging and valid concern to introduce to our prayer lives.

In Zimbabwe at the beginning of 2019, a large increase in fuel prices was imposed, leading to rioting, six hundred arrests and a combination of woundings and deaths. With 90% unemployment, this added to an already existing awareness of shared vulnerability for great numbers of the country’s inhabitants. The effects of the sanctions only worsened the realities experienced by the most vulnerable. The cyclone which hit Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique in the middle of March brought flooding, with hundreds made homeless and a possible two hundred deaths. Lack of fuel has its further impact on limits to emergency services. I think for English readers, one factor which might capture the character of the problem is this: when there are raids or beatings, a call made to the police is likely to be met with a question, ‘when can you drive to the police station and pick up the police and bring them to the scene?’ That is an effect of crudely introduced sanctions, which seem to be an illegal measure for the sake of Western domination.

There are areas which feel these effects most, and others, especially for those with some kind of job, where an unimpressive but vaguely ‘normal’ level of daily existence continues to operate. Good numbers of Catholics continue to get to their nearest churches and celebrate the Eucharist as a community gift of solidarity. The teaching and training of young men to help the celebrations to be vibrant, kind, and compassionate continues to be taken on by a seminary and by a college in Harare which is nurturing members of several religious congregations. It takes time to acquire the kinds of perceptive insight and concern which make a genuine pastoral charism deepen and become evident. I have been spending three months teaching this group of young men, at Holy Trinity College.

The parish of the Nazareth House sisters next to the college has a strong lay commitment to developing genuine community gifts and relationships. The students are also involved in running prayer services and giving talks at a number of parishes, forming a network of Christians with shared convictions and sympathies. I try to explore connections between church history and theological developments, especially Vatican II, with them. One student asked me what the reasons are for the well-known decline of European Christianity. I explained it in terms of a lack of real understanding of community bonding and its qualities of transforming awareness. I said that those single diocesan priests who do have a sense of community are moved around with no respect for the needs and wishes of a local congregation. At the same time, where religious orders have been able, with slightly larger numbers, to create a good presence as a communal empowerment focus, they may not be known by believers living twenty miles away, so helping their good charism to spread to other areas will often not take place at all easily.

I have been staying with one of these student groups, the Franciscans, who are present now in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia as well as Zimbabwe. This group struggles to win new members, and has increased its ties of Franciscan commitment across the region since the late 1950s. I lived with the friars in the Zimbabwe custody residence, half an hour’s walk from the College.

The image of a carving of the crucified Christ that accompanies this article is in the small chapel of the friars’ residence. It comes from a centre for sculptures at Driefontein, some way outside Harare. We don’t know the name of the carver. I like the restrained honesty of the image. It speaks to me of the gift of Christ’s understanding of human hardship, of the human need for better interactions and interdependency. This is a thoughtful Christ, one who has clearly spent his life perceiving the pains and heartfelt longing of those to whom he brought forgiveness and hope. Although it seemed as though the hope was rejected by those who wanted to see him killed, I see in the face a possible mind, one which looked in love beyond the knee-jerk rejections and sanctions, which grew up like a wall to prevent his message. In his death he was open to the empowerment of his divine Father, the living God of all human aspirations for peace. There is no barrier to risen reality in this face, and no barrier to our risen realities in the gifts which come to us from the God, who heard his prayers, and who brings our prayers too into their realisation.

Chris Dyczek, OFM

Harare, March 2019.

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March 24: Before the Cross XI: The Truest Love of All

christ acc2

 

If clouds of doubt should ever fall,

A fog so thick that I should cry:

Is this the truest love of all –

Where men still suffer, bleed and die?

A quiet voice might ask of me

What other love I thought so true

What greater, deeper love I see

More heartfelt than the God I knew?

 

See there, beside the poor and weak,

Among the broken, there, he stands,

And with the voiceless, there to speak

With grieving heart and nail-pierced hands.

Abandoned once by dearest friends,

He meets the lonely, brings them near,

His mercy and gentle presence mends

Souls bound by bitterness and fear.

 

And he would show me in my prayer,

His woundedness, his cross, his shame:

The truest love of all was there –

There, even there, he knew my name.

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12 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus VI: Healing Friendship Offered to All

stmaurice.pilgrims

But wait, what’s going on? There is some restlessness in the crowd now. The people seem dismayed. The ones nearest Jesus’ group have sent the perplexing message around: Jesus has gone to stay at a sinner’s house! How shocking! It can’t be true! Now the crowd is straining to see what is happening. Zacchaeus is too short to be seen clearly, but it’s clear enough that Jesus is smiling, and some of his closest companions are looking happy. One is even wiping his eyes. They see them preparing to leave together, and yes, they see that Zacchaeus is the centre of attention. Naturally. But look – yes, Zacchaeus is actually being embraced by some of Jesus’ friends. They seem to be speaking to Zacchaeus with expressions of relief and gratitude. Relief? Gratitude?? Because of Zacchaeus?? And Jesus and his friends are all heading in the direction of Zacchaeus’s house. The atmosphere in the crowd quickly becomes more hostile, and angry people are beginning to surround Jesus and his newly enlarged group. They don’t understand. That villainous chief tax collector, whom they all despised and had relegated to the outermost edges of their lives, is suddenly in the inner circle of this holy man’s friends. What is this?

But now, Zacchaeus is ready. He hears the bewildered comments and knows that it is up to him to do something, to act, to explain. Jesus is now his friend, and he is Jesus’ friend, and Zacchaeus has already decided on the changes he will make in his life. He declares his promise to Jesus with conviction – and it feels so wonderful, so free to declaim the words, Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ The bystanders have fallen silent.

Zacchaeus pauses, panting a bit. He knows Jesus understands the full import of his declaration: it means that now I am a new man. I have a new identity; I am the friend of Jesus, because Jesus has befriended me. Jesus did this completely out of the blue, not as a reward for any good deeds of mine for I had no good deeds. He offered his friendship because he is friendship, he is love. Jesus saw through my facade, my fake bravado, saw beyond the unscrupulous tax collector, the cheat, the bully – he saw through all that, he saw the hurt, frightened child. And now he sees my human potential and his friendship has healed me. Jesus confirms this in his words:

Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham, for the Son of man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’

These words of Jesus are directed to Zacchaeus, primarily, but they are also words for the angry bystanders. They, too, need healing from their wound of self-righteousness, from their various facades of self-sufficiency and bravado. Jesus is here re-teaching the crowd the message that he repeats so often during his minstry: he has not come for those who suppose themselves to be righteous, capable and therefore deserving of God’s blessings. He has come for the lost, the rejected; he has come for the wounded – physically and emotionally. That refers to Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus knows it. That also refers to the crowd standing around Jesus in Jericho – and they are a bit slower to grasp the point.

If we are honest, we know that this refers to us, also. We need to be needed by Jesus. And we are. Jesus longs to be in a relationship of deepest friendship with us. His relationship with Zacchaeus can give hope to all who realize that they are precisely in Zacchaeus’s position.

SJC

(MAfr African Pilgrimage, St Maurice)

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7 March. Zacchaeus and Jesus – A Different Kind of Healing, I: Introduction.

Palm Sunday Sussundenga, Mozambique 2015 01

At 1m76, 6ft3.5, I am not vertically challenged as Zaccheus was, and my tree-climbing days are less frequent than once they were. But we can all sympathise with Zacchaeus in Luke’s Gospel. Jesus does not add to his physical stature, but instead provides an opportunity for Zacchaeus to grow in heart and mind. This week’s posts are from our friend, Sister Johanna Caton of Minster Abbey in Thanet, Kent. This reading opens the season of Lent in the Eastern Church, so this week we bow to our Orthodox sisters and brothers as we reflect on Zacchaeus’s transformation.

The New Testament story of Zacchaeus has always been a delight to me. It is told only by Luke (19:1-11), and is a story that I love to reread. And, although I had done so many times, I recently began to find new depths in Zacchaeus’s character, and new drama in his story. That is the way lectio divina tends to work. Lectio divina is an ancient Latin term meaning sacred reading, and refers to the daily practice of a slow and prayerful reading of the bible. I have found that in this daily form of prayer, a passage in scripture that I think I understand well will one day suddenly open up further, and new aspects of the text will reveal themselves.

In the story of Zacchaeus, we find a story of healing. But we are not dealing here with the healing of leprosy, blindness, paralysis or any of the other physical disabilities that are usually brought to Jesus for a cure. Zacchaeus is healed on a different level. We know well that the body isn’t the only thing that needs healing. Our spirit, our emotions, the personal history with which we are burdened all need to be healed by the Lord. Oh, we try to cover up these wounds by deploying whatever coping mechanisms we can find in our attempt to survive in an unkind world. Sometimes we have learned to cover up so effectively that we convince even ourselves that these wounds are not there. This, no doubt, is what Zacchaeus had to do, too, and St Luke more than hints at this in his telling of Zacchaeus’s story. I would like to try to look at the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus from this perspective over the next few days in a series of posts.

First, I’d like to review the passage. This translation is from the New Jerusalem Bible.

Jesus entered Jericho and was going through the town and suddenly a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance; he was one of the senior tax collectors and a wealthy man. He kept trying to see which Jesus was, but he was too short and could not see him for the crowd; so he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was to pass that way. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up and spoke to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down. Hurry, because I am to stay at your house today.’ And he hurried down and welcomed him joyfully. They all complained when they saw what was happening. ‘He has gone to stay at a sinner’s house,’ they said. But Zacchaeus stood his ground and said to the Lord, ‘Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham, for the Son of man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’

Until a few weeks ago, I saw Zacchaeus as a loveable and slightly comical character. In my mind, he was an older man, short and maybe a bit pudgy – a rich man with a rich man’s girth – a bit of a joker, an extrovert playing to the gallery. But now, I have revised my whole picture of him. We will begin to explore this further tomorrow.

SJC

Zacchaeus would have been unable to see past this crowd. (MAfr)

 

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22 February. What is Theology Saying? XLVIII: The need for a new world.

light in dark rainy window

Jesus had said his kingdom was not of this world, he could not establish the kingdom using any kind of force. For the next several centuries there was little chance of Christians being involved in decision-making – they were being constantly persecuted. Then from being objects of persecution they became part of the establishment in Eastern Roman Empire, with the Decree of Constantine [Edict of Milan 313] – Now came the tendency to believe the empire was the kingdom of God. They saw their role as to obey Christian princes; problems only arose when there were clashes between Popes and Emperors.

The Church in Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on The Church in the Modern World, recognised the findings of Teilhard de Chardin but it soon became evident that this document did not solve all the issues – for instance it does not touch on the value of human work in the world – is technology helping or just keeping us busy? What the Bible tells us and tradition has handed on is in symbolic form, and needs interpretation. We do not know the future in the way we know the past. All that we really know is the demand the future makes on the present. We learn not by looking, but by doing, we are not waiting for the next world to come, but we do feel the need for a new world.

For the Bible the world is not just a place but history itself – it is history always moving towards fulfilment of God’s promises. We must be constantly on the move from a comfortable status quo to a universal better future for everyone – no exclusions. It is not action in the world that must go, but our individual and privileged stake in the present: the privilege of being white where black people have to do menial tasks, the fostering of economic development with larger economies crushing the smaller, the exclusion of the poor from places reserved for the privileged – these are the evils in the world that must pass away.

AMcC

We will hear more from Austin in a few weeks’ time. WT.

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16 February. Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLVIII: Brother Ruffino 5, the beautiful sermon.

chris-preaching

The folk of Assisi beholding Saint Francis in the self-same guise as Brother Ruffino, made mock of him, deeming that he and Brother Ruffino had grown mad through overmuch penance.

Saint Francis entered into the church where Brother Ruffino was preaching these words “Dearly beloved, flee from the world and put away sin; render to others their due, if ye would escape from hell; follow the commandments of God, in loving God and your neighbour, if ye would go to heaven; do penance, if ye would possess the kingdom of heaven.”

Then Saint Francis went up into the pulpit, and began to preach so marvellously of the contempt of the world, of holy penitence, of voluntary poverty, and of the desire of the kingdom of heaven, and of the nakedness and shame of the passion of our Lord Jesu Christ, that all they that heard the preaching, men and women in great multitude, began to weep most bitterly with devout and contrite hearts; and not there alone, but in all Assisi was there that day such weeping for the passion of Christ, that never had there been the like.

And the people being thuswise edified and comforted by this act of Saint Francis and Brother Ruffino, Saint Francis re-clad Brother Ruffino and himself and so re-clad, they returned to the House of Portiuncula, praising and glorifying God, that had given them grace to overcome themselves, by the contempt of themselves, and to edify the little sheep of Christ by good example, and to show how greatly the world is to be despised. And on that day so much did the devotion of the people towards them increase, that he deemed himself blessed whoso could touch the hem of their garment.

Let’s pray that Brother Chris’s work in Zimbabwe is prospering. Lord hear us.

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14 February, Mass in the City of Light, February 1946

candle

A reminder that Christ is among us at the Eucharist, whether celebrated in splendour or in dirt and poverty – and in the case of Archbishop Spellman’s visit to Notre Dame de Paris, in dirty, poverty stricken splendour. Spellman was en route to Rome, to become a Cardinal,

The post-war visit to the French capital by and large was anything but gay. For Mass in the great Cathedral of Notre Dame, each priest was still assigned one little piece of candle stuck in a bottle, which was carried from the sacristy by the server and carefully returned. Even when His Eminence gave Solemn Benediction at the main altar, there were only two candles burning. The streets were dark too, the streets of the City of Light, dark and dirty. The hotels were cold. The shops were shabby. Only the famous Flea Market, which seemed to be very much bigger than ever, was doing a thriving business.

So, Let your light shine! One candle in a neglected, dirty cathedral was a sign of hope, a sign of the Lord’s presence among his people. And even that one candle was an act of defiance to the darkness, the darkness will never overcome!

From ‘The Cardinal Spellman Story’ by Robert L Gannon, London, Robert Hale, 19963, p288. 

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29 January: From the Franciscans of Zimbabwe, I.

ofm.zim

We haven’t heard much from Brother Chris Dyczek for a while. After leaving the Franciscan International Study Centre, he’s been busy studying and working in Oxford, but is now off to teach in Zimbabwe. The friars have had a custody there for sixty years; this picture shows them all (bar Brother Chris!) in a boat, reminiscent of the one on the L’Arche emblem.

Chris hopes to send us some reflections from Zimbabwe, but in the meantime he has sent us their house journal from which we’ll share a few extracts.

This passage sets out their philosophy and vision.

The Franciscan Friars of the Custody of The Good Shepherd- Zimbabwe are called by Christ, in the footsteps of St. Francis. We are a Missionary and Contemplative Fraternity, striving towards a Self-Sustaining life, in Minority and Simplicity, in continual Formation, and being adaptive to the needs of our times.

How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! (Psalm 133:1)

The challenge for anyone wanting to follow Francis set out very clearly! Let us pray for the grace of minority (or an attitude of deep humility and brother- or sisterhood), and simplicity, wherever we are called to meet the needs of our times.

 

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22 January: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Day 5: Good news to the poor.

scaales

To bring good news to the poor (Luke 4:18)

  • Amos 8:4-8

  • Luke 4:16-21

Starting point

The prophet Amos criticized traders who practiced deceit and exploited the poor. God, who sides with the victims of injustice, will not forget such wrongdoing. In a globalized world, such marginalization, exploitation and injustice is rampant. The gap between rich and poor is becoming wider. Economic demands become the deciding factor in our relationships and the demands of justice are more and more pushed to the side-lines. Christians are called to challenge the prevailing attitudes and to work for justice.

Reflection

I’ll believe it when I see it!

I’ve heard it all before!

‘Things can only get better’

‘Audacity of hope’

Promises of something new!

Good news?

They are just bus-slogans when the poor remain poor,

the vulnerable abused and no-one speaks out!

Do you think I can jump up and dance

when my hands and feet are made heavy with the anger from broken promises?

And so I stare at you, because to stare is all I can do.

But

if ‘good news’ means

rising up against power,

overturning the tables down the road in the big city,

walking, talking and eating with people like us,

going the whole way with us,

not departing when things get too tough,

even when the suffering becomes too great to endure,

this would truly be something new.

It would be good news fulfilled.

Then I could be tempted to trust one more time.

Prayer

God, the bringer of good news,

forgive our lust for power

and free us from the temptation to oppress others.

Instil in us the determination

to see your good news made real in us and those around us,

as we share in the mission of your Son Jesus

to fulfil your promise of freedom from poverty and oppression.

We pray in his name. Amen.

Questions

  • Where do you see deceit and false promises?

  • Who are the poor and the powerful in your community?

  • What can we do to bring the good news of the gospel to both the powerful and the poor?

Go and Do

(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)

The World Economic Forum meets from 22nd – 25th January 2019 in Davos, coinciding with the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This moment highlights the extreme disunity and inequality across the world. 42 people own the same wealth as the poorest 50 percent (Oxfam 2018).

Take time this week to work together for a world where there is unity not just between Christians but where we as human beings can flourish together. Renew your commitment to trade that is fair and ethical and to continue to campaign for taxes to be paid. Visit Go and Do for more information.

(Unlike those Amos condemned, these Victorian scales are accurate and still in use today.) MMB.

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