Tag Archives: power

29 May: On the receiving end.

Christina Rossetti reminded us that we do not always know leaf from leaf; there are often stinging nettles and prickly brambles behind the pretty flowers. A careless hand could be stung or scratched if it reached in to pick a pink campion or a head of Queen Anne’s Lace.

Saint Augustine, as we heard the other day, was insensitive to the dignity of the Welsh bishops who came to visit him. This was hurtful. I imagine this set back Christian unity in these Islands when mutual respect would have healed many rifts. And Augustine was a saint; we lesser mortals need to be vigilant not to be careless in dealing with each other.

Nationality and race are not the only stumbling blocks to the unity of Christians or the unity of all people, but they matter. If they are not respected, especially by those in authority or power, people will feel hurt and insulted and will be disinclined to co-operate. Here is an eloquent example from 19th Century India. Tagore was by no means intemperate, unlike the man he describes.

Let us pray for the grace to see other people as fellow-children of God, brothers and sisters to be respected and loved as equals.

CUTTACK, 10th February 1893. He was a fully developed John Bull of the outrageous type—with a huge beak of a nose, cunning eyes, and a yard-long chin.

The curtailment of our right to be tried by jury is now under consideration by the Government. The fellow dragged in the subject by the ears and insisted on arguing it out with our host, poor B—— Babu. He said the moral standard of the people of this country was low; that they had no real belief in the sacredness of life; so that they were unfit to serve on juries. The utter contempt with which we are regarded by these people was brought home to me when I saw how they can accept a Bengali’s hospitality and talk thus, seated at his table, without a quiver of compunction.

As I sat in a corner of the drawing-room after dinner, everything round me looked blurred to my eyes. I seemed to be seated by the head of my great, insulted Motherland, who lay there in the dust before me, disconsolate, shorn of her glory. I cannot tell what a profound distress overpowered my heart. How incongruous seemed the mem-sahibs there, in their evening-dresses, the hum of English conversation, and the ripples of laughter! How richly true for us is our India of the ages; how cheap and false the hollow courtesies of an English dinner-party!”

From Glimpses of Bengal, Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore“.

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26 April: Who should not live?

Leeds University War Memorial, Eric Gill.

It makes no sense that having Down’s syndrome is considered reason enough for an unborn child to be aborted. Not if you know one or two people with Down’s; and as Adam Rutherford reminds us:

None of the worst crimes of humanity … was perpetrated by people with Down’s syndrome … If we truly wanted to reduce the sum total of human suffering then we should eradicate the powerful, for wars are fought by people but started by leaders.

Adam Rutherford: Control: the Dark History and Troubling Present of Eugenics.

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16 March: People in their thousands, V.

Am I enough of a child to believe?

Part V.

If you are just joining this blog today, I hope you will go back to the beginning of these posts (12 March) to find out how we’ve arrived at this point today. We’re looking at Jesus’ message about death. Today I’d like to finish our reflection with the question, What must we do to be fully receptive to Jesus’ reassuring and loving message about eternal life? How can we really and truly make it our own, so that we, too, can say, Be not afraid?

First, I think it is a matter of trust, simple human trust. We must trust in Jesus, believe that what he says is true, be filled with faith.

Second, it’s about how we live. What does Jesus teach us on this point? Jesus wants to show us how to live in this life in order to be happy with him in the next. We are meant to be about Jesus, as Jesus is about the Father. We are to cleave to him now, pondering his teachings and praying to him, living as he teaches us to live, keeping the Commandments, and the Beatitudes.

Third, it’s about full commitment. We are meant to do this wholeheartedly, to embrace everything about Jesus, and whenever we are feeling mortally threatened by anything, we are to recall that he has hold of us. We will die one day, but he teaches us not to fear death because death, as he promises, is not the end of our life – despite all appearances to the contrary.

Fourth, it’s about right-thinking. Let’s unpack this in some detail. In Jesus’ earthly life, he works miracles of healing, and even raises a few people from the dead. But he was anxious that these miracles not be misunderstood. We are not supposed to deduce from them that Jesus is some kind of holy magician. More importantly, we are not supposed to see his power as being directed toward the political machinations of this world; nor does he use his power to reward with prosperity those who are good and punish with suffering those who are wicked. He does not want us to think that as Christians we arrogate his power to ourselves and have it on tap whenever we snap our fingers. Nor, again, does Jesus use his miraculous power to enable us to live forever in this difficult world where human propensities and human principles are so often widely at variance with each other. In answer to prayer, and for reasons known to him alone, he sometimes even now heals the dying and prolongs their life by some years. Perhaps someone reading this reflection has been the blessed recipient of such astonishing grace. But every time Jesus manifests power over the laws of nature this is meant to strengthen our belief in his divinity, and in the truth of every word he uttered. The miracles are meant to assure us that we can believe what Jesus says about eternal life because he is Lord of the living and the dead, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, all time belongs to him and all the ages, as the priest proclaims over the Easter Fire at the Easter Vigil.

In many ways, Jesus’ message is stunningly simple. Even a child can understand it. He is God. He loves us. He wants us to be with him now, through our life of faith and through our efforts to lead a life that is in accord with his teachings. He wants us to be with him in eternity. He is even now preparing a place for us with him. Am I enough of a child to believe this?

To you, my friends, I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more (Lk 12:4).

Thank you Sister Johanna! Five reflections to see us well into Lent, Easter and Beyond. I never once mentioned consciousness, our Lenten theme, but you open our eyes and ears to a deeper awareness of who Jesus is, and what life and death are all about. Thank you once again. Will Turnstone.

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10 December: Christianity means Stories, not Mechanical Rules.

Flowers and candles left after a bombing

Phil Klay is a young American war veteran. His 2020 novel Missionaries was selected by former president Barack Obama last December as one of his “favorite books of 2020” and was named one of the “The 10 Best Books of 2020” by the Wall Street Journal.

In the address Klay delivered upon receiving the Hunt Prize in 2018, he elaborated on the connection between the violence of the world around us and the life of faith. “Paul tells us ‘the Kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.’ And, at times, I think I can feel that power around me. Catholicism is not, or should not be, a religion of force. Not of hard mechanical rules, but of stories and paradoxes and enigmatic parables.

It is an invitation to mystery, not mastery, to communion, not control. It is a religion that fits with what I know of reality, that helps me live honestly, and that helps me set aside my dreams of a less atavistic world in which men follow rational orders and never rebel. Perfect obedience, after all, comes not from men, but machines. Fantasies of control are fantasies of ruling over the dead. And my tortured God is not a God of death, but of new life.

This post is abridged and adapted from an article in America magazine October 2021. Follow the link to read it all. ‘My tortured God is not a God of death, but of new life’: Christmas is part of that paradox.

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14 August: Things that have changed my life II.

The second half of the teenagers’ reflections on things that changed their lives. I have avoided analysing their contributions or sermonising on them; I hope each reader can do so for themselves. I do remember that when I pinned up copies of these thoughts on the classroom display boards they were pleased, far more so than I had expected. Clearly these events DID change their lives.

Let us be aware in our dealings with young people, that we can change their lives for good or ill. For the most part, power lives with adults: let us pray for wisdom to use it well.

When my parents got a divorce and I was fostered for a year.

When I got my dog, because I have always wanted a dog.

My brother leaving home. I had to get used to being without him, and I don’ have anybody to help me with my homework.(This was written by a girl.)

Parents treating me differently as I got older, and getting more protective because I am a girl.

My mum getting married again because we had another person to tell us what to do and where to go and when to do it.

My little brother was born when I was ten.

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1 July: Power can be a danger, Even the Demons Submit II.

Photo from CD: After a bombing in Brussels.

Continuing Sister Johanna’s reflection from yesterday.

Yesterday, we left the seventy-two missionary disciples when they were feeling wonderful in the knowledge that they would be powerful in Jesus’ name. Jesus himself had just assured them of it (Luke 10:19). Which brings me to the next point in this reflection. It is a joy beyond all joys to work for the Lord and to be an instrument of his power and love. Jesus appreciates that the disciples are experiencing something they’ve never experienced before – and they can barely contain themselves. Perhaps they have even been slightly unbalanced by this experience. Who wouldn’t be? For, in addition to their joy, the entire experience – the journey, their success in preaching the Kingdom and in healing the sick, and, to cap all, their power over the demons – must have given this group of seventy-two men an enormous sense of power. And power can be a danger for those who wield it. No one was ever more astute than Jesus about the dangers of power. He wants the disciples to begin to understand this danger. He now has some sobering words for his missionaries.

The gospels are completely honest in recounting the instances when the disciples reveal that they are preoccupied by issues of power – their own power as a group against the Roman occupation, the apparent power of particular individuals within their group, Jesus’ power in relation to the religious establishment were just a few of the power-issues that distracted them. Jesus has repeatedly tried to lead them away from this preoccupation with power (cf. Luke 9:46-50). But now, here they go again. They have suddenly experienced a new kind of power – spiritual power. This is the most dangerous power of all. And they like it. They like it a lot.

Their words to Jesus when they arrive seem to indicate that they have seen that their spiritual power over the demons depends on their use of Jesus’ name. So that’s something. At least they have a vague notion that they are not the authors of the power they have exercised. Good, but not great, seems to be the judgement of Jesus about this. His words of warning come quickly: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you.”

Now’s the time for the newly minted missionaries to feel like the novices they are, to shuffle their feet and look down at the ground. Jesus’ words make them see that they’ve been gloating rather a lot, and feeling a bit smug and self-congratulatory – precisely because the spirits submitted to them. Jesus wants it to be very clear to them that only by his election are they themselves safe from the demonic. They must keep their attention focused not on who or what has submitted to them, but on where they themselves need to be – and who they need to submit to in order to get there. In case they weren’t sure, Jesus tells them: “Rejoice instead that your names are written in heaven.”

Their names are written in heaven – that is their reason to rejoice. They must keep their focus on heaven – because their names might not have been written there. They, of themselves, are nothing special. They are safe, they are heading for heaven, because Jesus is leading and protecting them; they are strong over Satan because of Jesus’ strength working through them. They bear a power in their hands, but it is not intrinsic to them, and without Jesus, they have no power at all. Jesus is the one to be thinking about. His love is their reason to rejoice.

They began their missionary journey taking nothing with them, at Jesus’ instructions. In this way, through the extreme vulnerability that their physical poverty would have awakened, Jesus meant to wake them up to the fact that everything good that happened to them between the beginning and the end of their journey was due to his gift to them. Luke’s gospel leaves us there, ending the account of the missionaries’ return rather abruptly, and not elaborating further on the episode. We, the readers, suddenly find ourselves alone, and left to consider how this story challenges us. Where is our focus? Are we preoccupied by power-issues? Do we keep our eyes on Jesus? Does Jesus have something to say to us?

*The Bible translation used throughout this reflection is The New Jerusalem Bible.

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30 June: Even the Demons Submit, Part I.

The mediaeval masons tried to cut the demons down to size on churches like St Nicholas at Barfrestone, Kent. They knew the stories of how Jesus confronted them and sent them packing – and so did his disciples.

Today and tomorrow we are glad to share two posts from Sister Johanna that follow on nicely from Emily yesterday.

Lord, even the devils submit to us when we use your name (Luke 10:17). The disciples were elated. Seventy-two men had been appointed missionaries by the Lord and had been given their first assignment: to visit towns in the area where the Lord himself would soon be visiting (Luke 10:1f). They were meant to prepare the people for Jesus himself. Jesus gave them explicit instructions about what to wear for this, their first official engagement: normal clothes – nothing to distinguish them from anyone else, and what to pack: nothing. Indeed, they were to bring no food, no money, not even a change of clothing. No place had been arranged for them to stay when they arrived in a town: they would have to work that out when they got there. They were not to equip themselves ahead of time with anything that would allow them to feel self-reliant.

We know this story so well that we can forget how this must have sounded to the seventy-two when they listened to Jesus telling them what to do. Perhaps it seemed exciting – but I should think, too, that when they actually set out, without food supplies and with their pockets empty, they must have felt vulnerable in the extreme. It was their very first journey for Jesus, after all. They had no experience of past successes to give them confidence. They were only told by Jesus to heal the sick and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” Some must have secretly worried that they’d become tongue-tied when they started to preach, or would fail miserably in their first attempt at healing. Maybe they’d even be laughed out of town.

But instead, the gospel tells us that their missionary journey was a smashing success. The actual stories of their successes are just a few of the many untold tales that lie hidden behind what is recounted in the gospels. The evangelist skips them all in this instance, and zeroes in on something else – something of greater depth and importance. Luke tells us what happens after their triumph, when they return to Jesus like conquering heroes. For, when they see him, the first thing out of their mouths seems to have been that “even the devils” submitted to them.

Now, this is truly success on a spectacular scale. Perhaps the hopes of the missionaries had been much more modest: maybe they felt that they’d be doing well if they could make the child with the tummy-ache feel better, and manage to interest a small audience in stories of Jesus’ healings and sayings. But to tangle with devils and come up trumps – would they even have imagined this ahead of time? They must have said to each other as they journeyed home, “Won’t the Lord be overjoyed when he hears! I can’t wait to see his face when we tell him!”

And Jesus is overjoyed, just as they had hoped. He affirms them. It seems that he already knew what had happened – this kind of sensational news must have spread from village to village like wildfire. He declares: ‘I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven.’ Hearing these words of Jesus must have felt good, very good to the disciples. And Jesus is generous, not only with his praise, but with his promises. He has more to say here about what they will be able to do. “Look, I have given you power to tread down serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you.” I like to think of the disciples’ silence as they bask for a few minutes in Jesus’ assurances – their sense of wonder and gratitude must have been profound. They would be taken care of by the Lord whenever they were doing his work. They have just had their first experience of this. They would be powerful in his name. This was an important moment for the seventy-two. Let us leave them for twenty-four hours in this state of glowing wonder, and come back tomorrow to continue our reflections.

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29 December: King David by Pope Francis.

King David window, Chichester Cathedral.

29 December used to be kept as King David’s feast day as well as Saint Thomas’s.

Pope Francis spoke about King David to a recent general audience .

Jesus, said the Pope, is called “Son of David” and fulfilled the ancient promises of “a King completely after God’s heart, in perfect obedience to the Father.”

David’s own story, said Pope Francis, begins in Bethlehem, where he shepherds his father’s flock. “He worked in the open air: we can think of him as a friend of the wind, of the sounds of nature, of the sun’s rays.” The Pope said David is first of all a shepherd. He defends others from danger and provides for their sustenance. In this line, Jesus called Himself “the good shepherd”, who “offers His life on behalf of the sheep. He guides them; He knows each one by name.”

Later in life, when David goes astray by having a man killed in order to take his wife, he immediately understands his sin when the prophet Nathan reproves him.

“David understands right away that he had been a bad shepherd,” said the Pope, “that he was no longer a humble servant, but a man who was crazy for power, a poacher who looted and preyed on others.”

Pope Francis went on to reflect on what he called David’s “poet’s soul”.

“He has only one companion to comfort his soul: his harp; and during those long days spent in solitude, he loves to play and to sing to his God.” He often raised hymns to God, whether to express his joy, lamentation, or repentance. “The world that presented itself before his eyes was not a silent scene: as things unravelled before his gaze he observed a greater mystery.”

David, said the Pope, dreamed of being a good shepherd. He was many things: “holy and sinful, persecuted and persecutor, victim and murderer.” Like him, events in our own lives reveal us in a similar light. “In the drama of life, all people often sin because of inconsistency.”

William Blake’s image and poem.

Pope Francis said that, like David, there is one golden thread that runs through all our lives: prayer. “David teaches us to let everything enter into dialogue with God: joy as well as guilt, love as well as suffering, friendship as much as sickness,” he said. “Everything can become a word spoken to the ‘You’ who always listens to us.”

David, concluded Pope Francis, knew solitude but “was in reality never alone! This is the power of prayer in all those who make space for it in their lives. Prayer makes us noble: it is capable of securing our relationship with God who is the true Companion on the journey of every man and woman, in the midst of life’s thousand adversities.”

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2 October, Praying with Pope Francis: The Laity’s Mission

door.zakopane (514x640)
The Pope’s intention for October is: We pray that by virtue of baptism, the laity, especially women, may participate more in areas of responsibility in the Church.

Having been dismissed summarily from a post of responsibility in my parish by a newly ordained curate, I realise that it is not always ‘by virtue of baptism’ that ‘the laity’ participate in the Church, but by the favour of the clergy. Something’s wrong when a priest abuses the power that rightly goes with the responsibility of leading a parish community. As Pope Francis says, the pastor should smell of his sheep.

Do you remember the Doors of Mercy that were set up during Pope Francis’s Year of Mercy? This one was in Zakopane,  Poland. Through God’s mercy we can enter what we rather inadequately call ‘The House of God’ — if there is a way to avoid crippling steps, put there by history but not needed for today’s church, which seems to be called to be much more lay-led in the near future.

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31 August: Wesley’s thoughts upon slavery II; the injustice.

St Gregory sees Anglian children at the Roman Slave Market c590.

Slavery might have been legal but that did not make it just. From the first paragraphs of Thoughts upon Slavery.

Slavery imports* an obligation of perpetual service, an obligation which only the consent of the master can dissolve… It generally gives the master an arbitrary power of any correction, not affecting life or limb. Sometimes even these are exposed to his will, or protected only by a fine, or some slight punishment, too inconsiderable to restrain a master of a harsh temper. It creates an incapacity of acquiring anything, except for the master’s benefit. It allows the master to alienate+ the same, in the same manner as his cows and horses. Lastly, it descends in its full extent from parent to child, even to the last generation.

The beginning of this may be dated from the remotest period of which we have an account in history. It commenced in the barbarous state of society, and in process of time spread into all nations. It prevailed particularly among the Jews, the Greeks, the Romans, and the ancient Germans; and was transmitted by them to the various kingdoms and states which arose out of the Roman Empire. But after Christianity prevailed, it gradually fell into decline in almost all parts of Europe. This great change began in Spain, about the end of the eighth century; and was become general in most other kingdoms of Europe, before the middle of the fourteenth.

  • *i.e. implies.
  • + legally confiscate unto himself, so that the slave may own nothing.

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