We pray for the Synod, that we may listen and so be conscious of the voice of the Holy Spirit, dwelling deep within our hearts; a prayer from St. Scholastica Monastery – USA
In silence, we listen
We come to you, Oh God, in silence to listen with the ear of the heart to the indwelling voice of your Holy Spirit.
We pray for unity of all the poor, the voiceless, the marginalised and all of those who are excluded. Gift our bishops with open hearts and ears to hear the Church, the people of God, with wisdom, knowledge, patience and courage. Amen.
Tomorrow: we celebrate the woman who listened with wisdom, knowledge, patience and courage. And said, Yes.
What is Lent all about? One answer is that it is about being conscious of our relationships with God and our neighbours. This is well expressed in the following prayer from Lenten Vespers in the Byzantine Rite:
While fasting with the body, brothers and sisters,
let us also fast in spirit.
Let us loosen every bond of iniquity;
let us undo the knots of every contact made by violence;
let us tear up all unjust agreements;
let us give bread to the hungry
and welcome to our house the poor who have no roof to cover them,
that we may receive mercy from Christ our God.
From The Lenten cookbook by Scott Hahn and David Geisser p31. Reviewed here on 12 February.
The churches are an important part of Canterbury’s work to get people off the streets. Being allowed to camp in the churchyard at Saint Mildred’s is perhaps as much help as these particular people can accept at this time.
God of Love,
show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who have power and money,
that they may love the common good,
advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.
seize us with your power and light,
help us protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you! AMEN.
St. Francis was not so much a minstrel merely singing his own songs as a dramatist capable of acting the whole of his own play. The things he said were more imaginative than the things he wrote. The things he did were more imaginative than the things he said. His whole course through life was a series of scenes in which he had a sort of perpetual luck in bringing things to a beautiful crisis.
To talk about the art of living has come to sound rather artificial than artistic. But St. Francis did in a definite sense make the very act of living an art, though it was an unpremeditated art. Many of his acts will seem grotesque and puzzling to a rationalistic taste. But they were always acts and not explanations; and they always meant what he meant them to mean. The amazing vividness with which he stamped himself on the memory and imagination of mankind is very largely due to the fact that he was seen again and again under such dramatic conditions. From the moment when he rent his robes and flung them at his father’s feet to the moment when he stretched himself in death on the bare earth in the pattern of the cross, his life was made up of these unconscious attitudes and unhesitating gestures.”
From Saint Francis of Assisi: The Life and Times of St. Francis by G. K. Chesterton.
I feel I often have to adopt conscious attitudes and hesitant gestures, but perhaps I also try to explain myself to myself a bit too often.
Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real.
Iris Murdoch, Existentialists and Mystics, p215.
Thomas enjoyed his finery and the wealth and privileges that went with being Chancellor of England and Archbishop of Canterbury. But he realised that life was more than fun, hard work, hard play, and being King Henry’s friend. He was wearing a hair shirt when he died but was already revered by the Kentish poor whom he supported through food kitchens. Poverty is real; poor people are real; God is real.
Jesus came into the world as each child comes into the world, weak and vulnerable, so that we can learn to accept our weaknesses with tender love. And to discover something important. As he did in Bethlehem, so too with us, God loves to work wonders through our poverty.
God came among us in poverty and need, to tell us that in serving the poor, we will show our love for him.
Was the Lord right in giving us so much? Is he right still to trust us? Does he not overestimate us? Of course, he overestimates us, and he does this because he is madly in love with us. He cannot help but love us.
Jesus, you are the Child who makes me a child. You love me as I am, not as I imagine myself to be. In embracing you, the Child of the manger, I once more embrace my life. In welcoming you, the Bread of life, I too desire to give my life. You, my Saviour, teach me to serve. You who did not leave me alone, help me to comfort your brothers and sisters, for from this night forward, all are my brothers and sisters.
Another remarkable young woman from these islands, Saint Samthan was an 8th century Irish nun. She was a foster child of King Cridan, who found a suitable husband for her, but she was determined to become a nun. The king decreed, We bestow you in marriage and join you to God, the spouse of your choice. After training under St Cognat in Donegal she started a convent in County Longford.
She sounds rather saner than some of her contemporaries in the religious life. Cardinal Tomas O Fiaich described some of the practices in early Irish monasteries: Fasting, silence, curtailment of sleep, repeated genuflections, prayer for long periods with arms outstretched, and corporal punishment with a leather strap were normal forms of mortification or could be inflicted for breaches of Rule.*
When a monk asked her what was the best attitude for prayer, she answered: “every position – sitting, standing or lying down.”
When another said he wanted to give up study to pray more, she said he would never be able to fix his mind on prayer if he did not study. When a monk said he was going on pilgrimage, she told him: “the kingdom of God can be reached without crossing the sea and God is near all who call on Him.”
St Samthan refused large estates for her convent and lived in poverty with her community and six cows.
I’ve never met a Samthan but I’m sure any Samantha seeking a patron saint could adopt Saint Samthan, a saint with determination!
Tomas O Fiaich, Columbanus in his own Words, Dublin, Veritas, 1990, p17-18.
The ladies could not, for a long time, comprehend what the merchants did with small pieces of gold and silver, or why things of so little use should be received as equivalent to the necessaries of life.
(from Rasselas by Samuel Johnson)
Samuel Johnson’s ‘Rasselas’ of 1759 takes a Prince of Abissinia, Rasselas, from his luxurious captivity, escaping out into the world, accompanied by a female cousin and her maid, all guided by a wise man who had become weary of the place as well. He takes them to Egypt, where Cairo was already a bustling metropolis. The young people have a lot to learn.
And so do we. We have seen these tokens before: they were minted in German cities after the Great War when inflation impoverished many people. And they remind us that Judas sold his Lord for a handful of silver, and that Mammon will always ‘see a market’ and persuade us that things of little use are equivalent to the necessaries of life. We sometimes waste our money, but money has wasted many people around the world since the hyperinflation of Germany in the 1920s.
If money loses the trust of people it will no longer procure the necessaries of life. Can we help provide some necessaries during this Advent, beginning tomorrow?
Then Friar Leo, obedient, stood still and waited for him, with such fear that, as he afterwards told his companions, he would rather, at that moment, that the earth had swallowed him up than wait for Saint Francis, who he thought was angered with him; because with very great diligence he took heed not to offend his fatherhood, lest, through fault of his, Saint Francis should deprive him of his company.
When he had come up to him, Saint Francis asked him: “Who art thou?” and Friar Leo, all trembling, replied: “My father, I am Friar Leo”; and Saint Francis said unto him: “Wherefore didst thou come hither, friar little sheep? Did I not tell thee not to come and watch me? For holy obedience, tell me whether thou sawest or heardest aught.” Friar Leo replied: “Father, I heard thee speak and say many times: ‘Who art Thou, my most sweet God? What am I, most vile worm and Thine unprofitable servant?'” And then Friar Leo, kneeling down before St. Francis, confessed himself guilty of disobedience, in that he had done contrary to his commandment, and besought his pardon with many tears. And thereafter he prayed him devoutly that he would explain those words which he had heard, and would tell him those which he had not understood.
Then, seeing that to the humble Friar Leo God had revealed or granted to hear and to see certain things, by reason of his simplicity and purity, Saint Francis condescended to reveal and to explain unto him that which he asked; and he spake as follows: “Know, friar little sheep of Jesus Christ, that when I was saying those words which thou heardest, then were shown unto me two lights for my soul; the one of knowledge and understanding of my own self, the other of knowledge and understanding of the Creator. When I said: ‘Who art thou, O my most sweet God?’ then I was in a light of contemplation wherein I saw the abyss of the infinite goodness and wisdom and power of God; and when I said: ‘What am I?’ I was in a light of contemplation in the which I beheld the depth of my baseness and misery; and therefore I said: ‘Who art Thou, Lord of infinite goodness and wisdom, that deignest to visit me, that am a vile worm and abominable?’
And in that flame which thou sawest was God; who in that form spake with me, even as of old He spake unto Moses. And, among other things which He said unto me, He asked me to give Him three gifts; and I made answer: ‘Lord, I am all Thine; Thou knowest well that I have nothing beside the habit and the cord and the breeches, and even these three things are Thine; what then can I offer or give unto Thy majesty?’ Then God said unto me: ‘Search in thy bosom, and give Me that which thou findest therein’. I searched and found a ball of gold; and I offered it to God; and thus did I three times, even as God three times commanded me; and thereafter I kneeled me down three times and blessed and thanked God who had given me wherewith to offer Him. And straightway, it was given me to understand that these three offerings signified holy obedience, highest poverty and most resplendent chastity; the which God, through His grace, hath permitted me to observe so perfectly that my conscience accuseth me of nothing.
And as thou sawest me put my hands in my bosom and offer to God those three virtues symbolised by those three balls of gold, which God had placed in my bosom; so hath God given me such virtue in my soul that, for all the benefits and all the graces which He hath granted me of His most holy goodness, I ever praise and magnify Him with heart and mouth. These are the words which thou heardest when I thrice lifted up my hands, as thou sawest. But look to it, friar little sheep, that thou watch me no more; but return to thy cell with the blessing of God, and do thou have diligent care of me; because, a few days from now, God will do such great and marvellous things upon this mountain that all the world shall wonder thereat; for He will do certain new things, the which He hath never done unto any creature in this world.”
And, when he had spoken these words, he caused the book of the Gospels to be brought unto him; for God had put it in his mind that, by the opening of the book of the Gospels three times, that which it was the will of God to do unto him should be revealed.
It is the feast of Saint Francis, so here is the story of a Franciscan vocation, beneath a model of a Franciscan parish in South America, sent in by Brother Chris. The story is that of Brother Martin, a Capuchin Franciscan: we share the first paragraph, the rest can be read here.
The Lord calls people in various ways and I heard His invitation when I was 17. Few years prior to that I became seriously ill and in search of treatment. I ended up moving from my home country of Poland to England. Dreams of studying languages changed into the hope of studying medicine. During my preparations for A’ levels, however, another event occurred that made me set out on a totally different course in life – I came across a person known to the world as Padre Pio, a Capuchin saint. Through his intercession I was partially cured of my illness and a desire was born within me to be a religious. I had no idea what that would entail, but I thought it cool to wear the habit, have a long beard, do penance whilst living conscious of the presence of God all the time!