We have a right to a sacrosanct place set aside for encountering God … Jesus teaches that we must ensure that the temple is always conducive to prayer – silent, reverent, empty of all other kinds of pursuits. We need this place – perhaps much more than we realise. And Jesus defends this need. He is IN this place. This is the place where Jesus can be found.
Sister Johanna Caton OSB: Hanging on. See this morning’s posting.
Thank you Sister Johanna for a second taste of your wisdom today; and thank you to Harbledown church for this visual reminder that this is the place where Jesus can be found. Not the only place, of course.
“I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”
This verse jumped out at me the other morning. This is a single line that needs no context to be understood, but it comes in three parts: ‘delivered me from all my fears’ is the last, not the only part.
First: ‘I sought the Lord’: walking along Orchard Street, I was not consciously seeking anyone, but I had made the decision to get active and not sit around inviting feelings of self pity. Stepping outside myself, then; surely this is turning to God?
Second: ‘He answered me.’ On this occasion with a magnificent magnolia.
Third: Even if only for a moment, enjoying the tree, and the old brick wall beneath, I am set free from my fears. Perfect love casts out fear, and perfect love gave every passer-by, as well as the householder, this beautiful tree. Enjoy the spring so that you can bring your fearlessness – it was there for a moment! – to those around who need it.
A thought from the French singer-songwriter Laurent Voulzy, who put off writing a song to Jesus for 10 years. You can hear him sing it at the link below.
Right now, I am searching, I pray every day, I go into churches and I look at the diversity of faces … and I see wickedness in some of them …
The idea of faith as perseverance, full of humour and beautiful light, is a part of my prayer. It gives me a reason to believe, to feel joy every day, even if our times do not evoke it. My faith consists of questions. God is in all the faces I see, in all the questions that I put to myself. And in my search for answers…
that those suffering from addiction may be helped and accompanied.
Here we see Pope Francis opening wide the Door of Mercy at the cathedral of Bangui, in his words as “a sign of faith and hope” for the people of the Central African Republic and “symbolically for the whole African population who are most in need of rescue and comfort.”’
My great-great grandfather, an actor, is seen here with a gin bottle, then a cheap source of alcohol and oblivion – not what Francis meant by comfort. Mother’s ruin, it was called. Many were addicted to it, and attracted the attention of the forces of law and order; here, it seems, the gin itself is under arrest.
I’m not sure what Grandfather would have made of the rough sleepers and street drinkers of today. Many seem to avoid the people who might be willing and able to help, stuck in their personal deserts. We saw that with Ruby, eighteen months ago. I don’t think she was addicted to any substances, but she most definitely was refusing to have anything to do with me. I hope she’s accepted help and is making her way somewhere.
The illegal drugs for sale on our streets have taken the place of 19th Century cheap alcohol. As well as those who are addicted, we should be praying for a change of heart along the supply chain. How do we support young people who are vulnerable to the suppliers? I first met Ruby when she was in care but lost touch when I left that job; she more than likely went overnight from being well accompanied in a residential home to almost no support ‘in the community’. If our society were merciful, that would not happen but Francis called us to be merciful like the Father during the Year of Mercy. We should not stop being merciful!
Pope Francis’s prayer needs to be consolidated with action to accompany, not only those already addicted, but also those most obviously at danger of becoming addicted. The very least any of us could do is to have a smile or a ‘good morning’ for whoever we meet. They may need it today! If you do it to one of these little ones, you do it to me.
Zoom calls have quickly become a part of the ‘new normal’, and I’ve even now participated in my first zoom remembrance service.
Pam Dodds was born in Canterbury in 1958 and she came, in 1981, to live at Faith House, the newly-opened L’Arche house in Canterbury. I moved into Faith House at the start of 1989 and in May of that year, there came L’Arche UK’s first ever Korean assistant and the woman who was to become my wife, Yim Soon.
Pam sadly died alone flat on March 22nd, and there were 37 of her friends gathered for the service, some from L’Arche, some from St Thomas’, the Catholic church in Canterbury where Pam was a well-known and well-loved member. Indeed there were about 40 people present as some of the zoom windows had two people in them. How Pam would have been touched by so many people coming together to sing, to pray and to share memories of her. It was lovely to see old faces, all of us brought together by Pam.
When it got to my turn I explained how my bedroom at Faith House had been directly underneath Pam’s and mentioned, rather diplomatically, that I knew well what Pam’s favourite records were. The reality was that Pam would play the same 3 records very loudly: and not just the same 3 records but the same bits of the same 3 records: very loudly! I liked Pam, and I wasn’t really bothered by her ‘feistiness’, and I suppose I must have found a way to cope with the noise coming from above (human beings are very adaptable, which we are finding at the current time of coronavirus).
Pam didn’t find it easy to live with others and in the early 90s she announced that she wanted to leave L’Arche and was supported to move into her own flat. She retreated somewhat into her own (rather troubled) world in the ensuing years and I was delighted when in recent years L’Arche was approached by social services to see if Pam could be given a bit of support again. It was decided that Pam would spend a couple of hours each week with Yim Soon, so Pam came to our house on Tuesday afternoons and she and Yim Soon would drink tea and eat cake and chat and watch a few episodes of ‘Last of the Summer Wine’. And Ian, one of those at the service, told of how excited Pam was when she visited him in Yorkshire and he took her to Holmfirth where the show was filmed and how they had tea in ‘Sid’s café’.
Occasionally I would be working from home on a Tuesday and it was special to connect again with Pam and she always asked how my mum was and she always gave me the latest news from her old friends Janet and Maurice. And I would enjoy hearing the raucous chuckles coming from the living-room as Pam watched her favourite sit-com.
Pam counted many Catholic priests amongst her circle of acquaintances, and was in regular correspondence with several bishops. I was once chatting with her outside Canterbury Cathedral following a big ecumenical service and she spotted Derek Warlock, then Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool. Pam grabbed me and pulled me over to introduce me to her old friend Derek! And she was so happy when another old friend Nick Hudson, who had been an assistant priest in Canterbury in the late 80s, was made a bishop.
I ended my sharing about Pam with a favourite memory, also on a clerical theme. My friend Richard arrived at L’Arche as an 18-year-old in April 1989 and was living at Little Ewell, another of the houses of L’Arche Kent. His House Leader Maria sent him over to Faith House one day for a visit. Richard was in the middle of his Goth phase, and so this young guy turned up wearing black jeans, a black shirt, large black winkle-picker boots, hair standing up, and around his neck a huge cross. Pam didn’t always take kindly to new people but she was all over Richard: the reason, it turned out later; she thought he was a priest!
Thank you Pam. Your life was a gift. May God bless you.
Here is Sister Johanna once more, Welcome! We are following Jesus as he gets nearer to the Cross – the next chapter of Luke tells of Palm Sunday, but today he meets a blind beggar. In Sister’s reflection there is a question not unlike Woodbine Willy’s ‘Well?’ the other day: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’
There was a blind man sitting at the side of the road begging…. He called out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.’… Jesus stopped and ordered them to bring the man to him, and when he came up, he said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘Sir,’ the blind man said, ‘Let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight. Your faith has saved you.’
Luke 18: 35-43.
This passage from the Gospel of Luke tells me a lot about what it means truly to encounter Jesus in prayer. I’ve read this story many times, but this time when I read it, I was at first a bit taken aback by the apparently daft question Jesus asks the blind man: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Well, I thought, he obviously wants to be healed of his blindness. But then I realised that the blind man could have had other issues; his blindness might not have been the priority for him. Perhaps he had a son on the verge of death, or perhaps he had other illnesses that were not evident. It could have been anything. The question is a highly important one. Jesus wanted the blind man to state his wishes so that he, the blind man, would be fully aware of what he was asking and could take full responsibility for the encounter and for what might happen next.
‘Sir, let me see again,’ the blind man says. This in itself is impressive – and Jesus doesn’t miss the fact that the blind man expresses no doubts about Jesus’ ability to heal him. His faith rings out with clarity. Moreover, the blind man knows what he wants. He does not hesitate or appear to weigh alternatives before speaking. He wants to see again, and he knows that Jesus is able to bring this cure about. And Jesus’ answer? Direct, simple, almost off-hand. A modern-day Jesus might have said simply, ‘Sure! See! You are already half-way there because of your faith.’
So what does this tell me about asking Jesus for something? About prayer?
The text says, ‘Jesus ordered them to bring the man to him.’ It is important, therefore, to go right up to Jesus, and have a real encounter with him, to be aware of him and to address my prayer to him. I should not just be talking to myself or dreaming. I must, in my mind and heart, stand before Jesus, and be in his presence, when I pray.
It is important to be clear, to tell Jesus what I want and not, out of some misguided idea of abandonment to the divine will, go all vague. Moreover, I must take responsibility for my request. There may be times, perhaps many times, when we do not receive the specific grace we have asked for – but we can be sure that we always receive something, and usually it is a grace that goes much deeper than the one we requested. Eventually we will be able to identify that deeper grace as the real answer to our prayer. But unless we make that original request specific, and own it, this deeper grace would probably have gone unrecognized – and perhaps would not even have been bestowed.
Jesus easily cures the blind man, without a laying on of hands or any other physical process. He merely utters the healing words. He is able to do this because the blind man trusts him completely – his faith saves him, as Jesus declares afterward. The blind man, presumably, had never met Jesus before; he knew him only from hearsay (rather like us). And that was enough for the blind man. Is it enough for me?
Jesus’ question, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ tells me a great deal about Jesus’ eternal ‘attitude’ toward us whenever we go right up to him, in faith, and ask him something. He is already there, saying, ‘Johanna, or Tom, or Annette, what do you want me to do for you?’ He places himself completely at my disposal.
In the morning, before the rush of visitors, Saint Anselm’s chapel can be quiet; a desert place. Your eyes can turn to the window with its perennial question, ‘CUR DEUS HOMO’? Or, ‘why did God become man?’ Or you can turn towards the light cast by the window on the opposite wall. Pray with or without words.
An Estonian friend’s news from home: Tallinn is unnaturally quiet, few people on the streets, but the forests and beaches are full of people enjoying unexpectedly not being in town. Let’s hope and pray they stay safe.
No sooner had I written that paragraph than I read that in France, the Prefects of Departements around the coast are closing all the beaches to the public.
I’m sure that like me, you must be worried about the situation with COVID-19 at the moment. CAFOD is very much part of the Catholic family and as with any family, when one of us is unsettled or anxious it affects us all. We pray for all those affected by the virus both here in the UK and overseas, and for all the medical staff who are working so hard to keep us safe.
Although gathering as a church community is paused, it was good to hear that the doors of churches will remain open, to offer us a place to be still in God’s presence.
We are learning new ways to keep spiritually connected and look after ourselves and others, particularly during Lent. Here are some ideas to help to keep us together as a community even though we need to be apart:
To hear about our work, each week we will have a series of live online events you can take part in. These will include opportunities to come together for prayer and chat as well as interviews with staff.
We are working on the different ways our parish volunteers and campaigners can still involve their communities and continue to be a powerful force for good, so please keep in touch with us on Twitter and Instagram as well. Our work in some of the world’s poorest communities continues. There is great concern as this is a fast-moving situation and we are closely monitoring developments in the countries where we work around the world so that we are ready to support our local experts with whatever they need.
Our work with so many in need is only possible because of the generosity and love you show to those around the world. If you wish to donate to our Lent appeal and support the crucial, ongoing work of our local experts like Sister Consilia, we will ensure your gift reaches the poorest and most vulnerable at this uncertain time.
As I’m sure is the case for many of us, I am praying for guidance from the Holy Spirit to help steer us through these difficult times. Thank you for continuing to keep CAFOD in your prayers. Please stay safe as we continue to support one another.
With love and prayers, Christine AllenDirector, CAFOD
Pope Francis, in this final extract from his 2019 Lenten message, tells us that the traditional Lenten disciplines should be teaching us to love creation, not despise it.
Creation urgently needs the revelation of the children of God, who have been made “a new creation”. For “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The path to Easter demands that we renew our faces and hearts as Christians through repentance, conversion and forgiveness, above all by fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
Fasting, that is, learning to change our attitude towards others and all of creation, turning away from the temptation to “devour” everything and being ready to suffer for love, which can fill the emptiness of our hearts. Prayer, which teaches us to abandon idolatry and the self-sufficiency of our ego, and to acknowledge our need of the Lord and his mercy. Almsgiving, whereby we escape from the insanity of hoarding everything for ourselves in the illusory belief that we can secure a future that does not belong to us. And thus to rediscover the joy of God’s plan for creation and for each of us, which is to love him, our brothers and sisters, and the entire world, and to find in this love our true happiness.
Dear brothers and sisters, the “Lenten” period of forty days spent by the Son of God in the desert of creation had the goal of making it once more that garden of communion with God that it was before original sin (Mark 1:12-13; Is 51:3). May our Lent this year be a journey along that same path, bringing the hope of Christ also to creation, so that it may be “set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
Let us not allow this season of grace to pass in vain! Let us ask God to help us set out on a path of true conversion. Let us leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and turn to Jesus’ Pasch. Let us stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them. In this way, by concretely welcoming Christ’s victory over sin and death into our lives, we will also radiate its transforming power to all of creation.