Tag Archives: presence

27 February: The Open-handed Missionary V

St Augustine on an Algerian stamp.

Vatican II presents the Church as an ongoing story; the Church is a pilgrim, living; she has a mission: we have all lived a chapter or two. The Church comes from the Son and the Spirit, according to the Father’s word. It is not the theology that lies behind the story, but the story that lies behind the theology. So how do we tell that story? My dear local Arians – the Jehovah’s Witnesses – knock on doors every month, but the Council Fathers realised that:

sometimes … there is no possibility of expounding the Gospel directly and forthwith. Then, of course, missionaries can and must at least bear witness to Christ by charity and by works of mercy, with all patience, prudence and great confidence. Thus they will prepare the way for the Lord and make Him somehow present. (AG 6).

This preparation is what each of us may be called to do at any moment of our lives. Can we in effect tell a story to the little girl or the troubled young mother, starting with, ‘Once upon a time I met a girl called _____ and she was good and beautiful.’ That is Good News, and if our script makes it plain ‘by charity and by works of mercy, with all patience, prudence and great confidence’; that is part of Evangelisation. One man sows, another reaps, but before they can do their work, someone else has prepared the ground.

Richard Bawoobr, of the Missionaries of Africa, the society who welcomed the Uganda Martyrs into the Church, distils Ad Gentes into two activities: Proclamation of the Good News of Jesus, and Witness to this Good News. These complete each other and need each other as the left hand needs the right hand or the left leg the right. Both are essential to our Mission and emphasising one at the expense of the other is detrimental to the Mission itself.

But the Missionaries of Africa have worked in North Africa as witnesses rather than proclaimers for a century and a half; making very few converts, yet achieving a mutual respect with their Muslim neighbours, to the extent that, for example, the Algerian Government helped pay for the restoration of Saint Augustine’s basilica in Hippo, recognising him as a great Algerian. Despite the witness of their martyrs in the 1990s, the Fathers are berated by evangelical protestants for not actively seeking converts by their preaching.

Elsewhere in Africa, despite terrorist groups like Boko Haram, the story is more often one of a peaceful and respectful dialogue of life. A community in a slum area of Dar es Salaam with 70% Muslims reports:

Poverty is a bond between Christians and Muslims. Faith is respected. Coexistence is pacific. Interreligious dialogue is experienced through daily human sharing between neighbours. Christians and Muslims mutually invite each other to eat at the religious festivals: Christmas, Easter, Eïd (after Ramadan)… There is great solidarity at funerals and wakes. The Christian community shows no prejudice whenever help is needed by underprivileged Muslims. The majority of the poor receiving help from parish-based Caritas and World Food Programmes are Muslims. There are many examples of love and trust in a compassionate living together. At the same time, strictly theological dialogue is almost non-existent.

Advertisement

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Laudato si', Lent, Mission, PLaces

3 July: Leaf from leaf.

All Saints, Godshill, Isle of Wight.

This Lily Crucifix is striking. The figure of Christ is bleeding yet not broken; indeed he looks vigorous. The cross, too, is not dead wood but a lily of the field, full of sap and flowering. It’s not a canna – the one we usually call an Easter Lily – but an Easter Lily for all that. Christ, the wounded Christ, is risen! Immediately below the lily cross the church has placed the tabernacle or aumbry, housing the wafer that Christians recognise as the body of Christ.

Scattered across the wall are five-petalled pink flowers, surely wild roses like the one below. Or are they stars, their numbers counted by Him alone? Earth’s astronomers keep on counting more and more of them as their instruments look ever further, but they seem to have given up on names, instead allotting numbers to the innumerable golden grains they perceive and whose vastness they measure from light years away. They know they will never reach the end of the numbers but they trust that their work is valuable. It is valuable, for it is awe inspiring.

Here is Christina Rossetti, saying all this and more, with greater eloquence than your correspondent!

Leaf from leaf Christ knows; Himself the Lily and the Rose

Leaf from leaf Christ knows;
Himself the Lily and the Rose:

Sheep from sheep Christ tells;
Himself the Shepherd, no one else:

Star and star He names,
Himself outblazing all their flames:

Dove by dove, He calls
To set each on the golden walls:

Drop by drop, He counts
The flood of ocean as it mounts:

Grain by grain, His hand
Numbers the innumerable sand.

Lord, I lift to Thee
In peace what is and what shall be:

Lord, in peace I trust
To Thee all spirits and all dust.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, Easter, Laudato si', PLaces, poetry

12 June: Traherne XLIII: The Soul’s Treasures.

From L’Arche Ipswich.
Till we know the universal beauty of God’s Kingdom, 
and that all objects in the omnipresence are the treasures of the soul, 
to enquire into the sufficiency and extent of its powers is impertinent. 
But when we know this, 
nothing is more expedient than to consider whether a soul be able to enjoy them. 
Which if it be, its powers must extend as far as its objects. 
For no object without the sphere of its power, 
can be enjoyed by it. 
It cannot be so much as perceived, much less enjoyed. 

'All objects in the omnipresence are the treasures of the soul': that is a policy statement for Christian life on earth. Omnipresence is God's presence; Traherne once again comes close to Saint Francis here. I read him this way: nothing outside the range of the soul can be enjoyed by the soul, indeed if  it is outside the range of the soul, then the soul will be unaware of it. 

But if we reflect, or meditate, as Traherne encouraged us yesterday, we will become aware of more and more connections in creation, and aware that our part in Creation is both infinitesimal and infinite, insignificant and important, passing and eternal.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, Laudato si'

8June: Vita Brevis.

Dunstan worshipping the Risen Lord.

This life is short, and we are not important. Art by Saint Dunstan, philosophising by Tagore.

What a to-do there is over this tiny bit of life! To think of the quantity of land and trade and commerce which go to furnish its commissariat* alone, the amount of space occupied by each individual throughout the world, though one little chair is large enough to hold the whole of him! Yet, after all is over and done, there remains only material for two hours’ thought, some pages of writing!

What a negligible fraction of my few pages would this one lazy day of mine occupy! But then, will not this peaceful day, on the desolate sands by the placid river, leave nevertheless a distinct little gold mark even upon the scroll of my eternal past and eternal future?

Glimpses of Bengal Selected from the Letters of Sir Rabindranath Tagore.

*Commisariat ia a military term for the supplies of food and equipment.

Did Saint Dunstan count it a lazy day when he spent his time engrossed in drawing this picture? It is a peaceful picture, with the saint content to be close to his Lord, touching the hem of his garment. (Luke 8.44) Against the events in history that he was involved with as abbot and archbishop, he chooses to show himself as a stocky, insignificant monk, seeking the grace of God to sustain him in all his works.

May we value the quiet moments that come our way, and find time to put ourselves in the presence of God when they arise … not that He is ever absent when life is hectic.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Easter, PLaces

24 April: Columban Missionary Prayer of creation.

L’Arche entering Canterbury Cathedral, celebrating difference, celebrating unity, celebrating God’s earthly presence. Alleluia!

It’s still Easter, so let’s experience God’s earthly presence in the members of the multitude of humanity!

Loving God,
you created and brought forth humanity
to flower as a multitude of cultures.

Open our eyes and ears to your ways
so that each day 
we can better experience your earthly presence
and praise you.

Help us to grow in wisdom and goodness
witnessing that you sustain
all that exists.

AMEN

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Easter, L'Arche, Mission

23 March: A Columban Missionary prayer.

A daily prayer for missionaries, from USA Columbans.

Lord God, our loving Father,
we humbly pray to you
for our beloved Missionaries,
heralds of the Gospel.

May our prayers reach their hearts
that they may feel our love,
our strength,
our faith.

May their presence in their community
be a reminder
of your presence among us.
AMEN.

A prayer for consciousness: may we be aware of the work of missionaries, and may they be conscious of our continuing prayer and support; may we all be conscious of God-with-us.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, Lent, Mission

10 February: Nathaniel finds his heart, Part II.

Following Jesus in a wet Krakow.

Yesterday we were looking at the first meeting between Jesus and Nathaniel as recorded by the Gospel of John in chapter one, verse forty-three and following.  The two men seemed to be enjoying some friendly banter, initially.  But, as Nathaniel discovers, Jesus’ remarks were more penetrating than he was expecting.  Jesus – from Nazareth, of all places!  

After the ice is broken – and it breaks astonishingly quickly – Jesus drops the playful tone completely.  He comes out with a remark that is so profoundly mysterious that it found entry right into Nathaniel’s deepest centre – his heart.  Jesus says to Nathaniel, “Before Philip came to call you, I saw you under the fig tree.”  

I turn this over in my mind and undertake some research.  I find, unsurprisingly, that this remark has been the subject of deep reflection ever since the early centuries of the Church.  What could Jesus have meant by it?   Some of the fourth and fifth century Fathers of the Church offer the explanation that the fig tree represents the Law. Jesus is saying that he saw Nathaniel under the shadow of the Law, and that he, Jesus, is calling him into his own light.  Maybe this is true.  It is a beautiful thought, but I find myself more drawn to the interpretation St John Chrysostom, writing in the late fourth century, gives to Jesus’ words.  Chrysostom says that Nathaniel asks his question as a mere human being, but that Jesus gives his answer as God.  Chrysostom continues, saying that Jesus, by his words, is telling Nathaniel that he understands him deeply and beholds him as God beholds him – from above, as it were.  When Jesus says, ‘I saw you,’ he means, according to Chrysostom, ‘I understood you through and through, understood the character of your life and person’.  

John Chrysostom’s insight explains Nathaniel’s complete change of heart – to my mind, anyway.  Nathaniel was sceptical about Jesus at first, then he jokes a bit with him, but now he’s caught off-guard by something in Jesus that has moved him.  I ponder Jesus’ words and realise that when one is deeply understood by another human being it is a life-changing experience.  What’s more, Nathaniel has suddenly seen Jesus’ own character and spiritual power, even as he himself has been seen by Jesus.  His defensiveness, hesitation and jocularity all drop away.  With a seriousness as profound as Jesus’ own gravity, Nathaniel now says, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel.”  He is in a totally different place from the one he had been in just moments earlier.  This is Nathaniel’s turning point – and it takes place not only because of what Jesus has said, but because of Jesus himself, because of the spiritual power of his person and presence, and because Nathaniel has been deeply ‘seen’ by this extremely unusual man – from Nazareth. 

Perhaps you who are reading this reflection already know the joyful truth that Jesus is the centre of existence, the centre of reality itself.  He is the Beloved of everything that has being, the loving heart of every molecule, every world, every galaxy, every bug and blade of grass and mote of dust.  Maybe you already know that every person is formed for Jesus and that Jesus alone is rest for our restless hearts.  Nathaniel, despite his initial scepticism, comes to understand this wonderful thing, too – as we see it happen in these words from John’s gospel.  For someone like Nathaniel, Jesus does not need to work miracles or do any sensational things.  All Jesus needs to do is show up.  And all Nathaniel needed to do was to be himself with Jesus, to engage with him honestly.  It didn’t take Jesus long to reach Nathaniel at his deepest level.  A short encounter is all Jesus needs.  

“Catena aurea: commentary on the four Gospels, collected out of the works of the Fathers: Volume 6, St. John. Oxford: Parker, 1874. Thomas Aquinas”

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

22 May: Environment Novena – Day IX

The ninth and final day of prayer and readings to provide tangible action to respond to the urgent climate change issues we all face.Go to the full posting.

God is intimately present to each being, without impinging on the autonomy of his creature, and this gives rise to the rightful autonomy of earthly affairs. His divine presence, which ensures the subsistence and growth of each being, “continues the work of creation”.

The Spirit of God has filled the universe with possibilities and therefore, from the very heart of things, something new can always emerge: “Nature is nothing other than a certain kind of art, namely God’s art, impressed upon things, whereby those things are moved to a determinate end. It is as if a shipbuilder were able to give timbers the wherewithal to move themselves to take the form of a ship.”

Pope Francis, Laudato Si’

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Interruptions, Justice and Peace, Laudato si', Mission, Pentecost

13 May: Ascension Day

A cloud hid him from their sight

A homily by Austin McCormack OFM

Historically it was an event within the life of Jesus and the early church and is now a feast-day for Christians, one that links Easter to Pentecost. But it is more than an historical event, it is at the same time an insight into life that we need to understand to better sort out the paradoxical interplay between life and death, presence and absence, love and loss.

The Ascension names and highlights a paradox that lies deep at the centre of life, namely, that we all reach a point in life where we can only give our presence more deeply by going away so that others can receive the full blessing of our spirits.

When Jesus was preparing to leave this earth he kept repeating the words: “It is better for you that I go away! You will be sad now, but your sadness will turn to joy. If I don’t go away you will be unable to receive my spirit. Don’t cling to me, I must ascend.”

Why is it better?

Any parent has heard similar words from their children, unspoken perhaps but there nonetheless. When young people leave home to go to college or to begin life on their own, what they are really saying to their parents is: “Mom and dad, it is better that I go away. You will be sad now, but your sadness will turn to joy. If I don’t go, I will always be your little boy or little girl but I will be unable to give you my life as an adult. So please don’t cling to the child you once had or you will never be able to receive my adulthood. I need to go away now so that our love can come to full bloom.”

To remain present to someone we love we have to sometimes be absent, in ways big and small. The pain in this kind of letting go is often excruciating, as parents know, but to refuse to do that is to truncate life.

The same is true for the mystery of death. For example: I was 22 years old when my mother, died. The pain was searing. Initially we were nearly overwhelmed with a sense of being of losing a vital life-connection (that, ironically, we had mostly taken for granted until then). And our feelings were mainly cold, there’s little that’s warm in death.

But time is a great healer. After a while, and for me this took several years, the coldness disappeared and her death was no longer externally painful. I felt again her presence, and now as a warm, nurturing spirit that was with me all time. The coldness of death turned into a warmth. She had gone away but now could give me love and blessing in new way.

The mystery of love and intimacy contains that paradox: To remain present to someone we love we have to sometimes be absent, in ways big and small. In the paradox of love, we can only fully bless each other when we go away. That is why most of us only “get” the blessing our loved ones were for us after they die.

And this is even true, perhaps particularly so, in cases where our loved ones were difficult characters who struggled for peace or to bless anyone in this life. Death washes clean and releases the spirit and, even in the case of people who struggled to love, we can after their deaths receive their blessing in ways we never could while they were alive. Like Jesus, they could only give us their real presence by going away.

“It is better for you that I go away!”  These are painful words most of the time, from a young child leaving her mother for a day to go to school, to the man leaving his family for a week to go on a business trip, to the young man moving out of his family’s house to begin life on his own, to a loved one saying goodbye in death. Separation hurts, goodbyes bring painful tears, and death of every kind wrenches the heart.

But that is part of the mystery of love. Eventually we all reach a point where what is best for everyone is that we go away so that we can give our spirit. The gift that our lives are can only be fully received after we ascend.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Easter, Mission, Pentecost

18 September: Still here.

Sharp eyes, Kentish or not, will have seen the Tabernacle or Aumbry to our left of the Altar. Jesus is sacramentally present here. We were a little late in the day to be able to linger anywhere in Saint David’s Cathedral; the crowd was beginning to press, but we can sit quietly and ponder these words of Sion Aled Owen in his meditation on The Accidental Pilgrim. Sometimes it’s easier to have heart aflame in a quiet moment than a crowded one.

And here you are
diverted by curiosity from the Coastal Path,
seeking some solace on a vacation rainy day
or on a taster tour from your ship
granted an hour to inherit centuries.
Or coming with heart already aflame
to claim the shrine’s promise.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, PLaces