Tag Archives: prophets

9 February: Nathaniel Finds His Heart, Part I.

from FMSL

A feast of Sister Johanna’s thoughts during these few days. Today and tomorrow she invites us to sit under the fig tree with Nathaniel. Will he become a disciple of Jesus? And let’s ask ourselves as well, will we follow him?

In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, starting with verse thirty-five, John gives us his account of the calling of the disciples.  I was pondering this well-known section of the gospel recently, thinking about what it must have been like to be one of those who were called.  Their life changed completely, from top to bottom, bottom to top, from the outside in and inside out – all in a matter of minutes.  The exact moment of each disciple’s encounter with Jesus, the moment when they realised that following him was the only thing that really mattered, must have been deeply inscribed within their memories.  In quiet times, they must have revisited the mysterious occasion, trying to understand its profound effect and meaning.  

I notice this time that in John’s gospel, the disciples are excited about Jesus in a way that is less evident in the other gospels.  Right from the beginning of their discipleship, they are already talking about Jesus’ identity as saviour.  Two of those called immediately tell others that Jesus is the Messiah.  Andrew, Peter’s brother, is the first to do so (see John 1:40f).  Then Philip makes the same declaration, and tells Nathaniel that they had found ‘him of whom Moses in the Law and the prophets wrote.’  And here I begin to slow down.  

Something about Nathaniel’s response to this news is absorbing my attention, and I want to explore this feeling.  Nathaniel is different.  Seemingly, he is not so ready to jump on this Jesus-bandwagon.  He is cautious.  He points out to Philip that Jesus comes from the lacklustre town of Nazareth.  Before we think how silly Nathaniel is being, let’s stop.  It can be quite a turn-off to discover that a person everybody is making such a fuss about comes from the kind of place where the only exciting thing that ever happens is… is nothing.  The people there are backward.  They have no style.  They all talk with their own uncultured accent.  They’re just losers, we might think.  In our day, such a town would probably not be a safe place to live – there’d be gangs, maybe drugs and weapons.  “From Nazareth?” Nathaniel asks.  “Can anything good come from there?”  I can think of quite a few places about which I’d be inclined to say that.  And that’s where Jesus comes from.  

Then John records the conversation that takes place between Nathaniel and Jesus.  It is an unusual one.  Interpreting it can be difficult.  I ask the Holy Spirit to inspire my imagination and then I let my thoughts play with this scene.  I first imagine Jesus speaking to Nathaniel in the rather jovial tones we often adopt in social situations when we meet a new person.  I hear Jesus now.  He’s saying in a friendly voice to Nathaniel – maybe even clapping him lightly on the back – “Nathaniel!  An Israelite in whom there is no deception!”  They’re smiling.  And they are also sizing each other up.  As I think about these words, I realise that there is a subtext here in Jesus’ introductory remark.  Jesus seems to be telling Nathaniel that he senses his hesitation about him.  But that’s not all.  Jesus’ words are not words of correction.  There is nothing threatening in them.  On the contrary, Jesus’ friendliness suggests that he likes the fact that this Israelite will think for himself and will not deceive him by pretending to be impressed just because everyone else happens to be. 

What does Nathaniel make of this?  I think he’s secretly pleased.  He’s been complimented by Jesus of Nazareth – but in an understated way.  We are usually quick to notice compliments, even understated ones.  Nathaniel is no different.  Probably taking up Jesus’ own joking tone, Nathaniel says to him, “How do you know me?”  When we receive an unexpected compliment, sometimes we try to deflect it with a little joke.  It isn’t that we don’t like praise.  We always do – but it can make us feel momentarily bashful, slightly confused.  We’re apt to cover this awkwardness with some bravado.  “Of course I’m the admirable human being you think I am!  How did you happen to find this out about me?” is what Nathaniel’s playful remark suggests to me.  

Those of you who have read my posts before know that I’m apt to take time to develop these lectio reflections so that we can enter more deeply into the sacred text by prayer.  I think we should stop here for today.  As Jesus and Nathaniel are getting to know each other perhaps we can turn to Jesus in prayer as if meeting him for the first time.  What have we heard about him?  What does he say to us?   Are we playful?  Or serious?  Tomorrow we will return to this reflection. 

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3 January: Where eternity begins.

The present moment terminates our sight; 
Clouds thick as those on doomsday, drown the next; 
We penetrate, we prophesy in vain. 
Time is dealt out by particles; and each, 
Ere mingled with the streaming sands of life, 
By fate’s inviolable oath is sworn  
Deep silence, “where eternity begins.” 
By nature’s law, what may be, may be now; 
There’s no prerogative in human hours. 
In human hearts what bolder thought can rise, 
Than man’s presumption on to-morrow’s dawn! 
Where is to-morrow? In another world. 

From Night Thoughts by Edward Young.

Tomorrow is in another world. One man who saw the dawn of the new world was Simeon, who met the Holy Family in Jerusalem’s Temple.

He had received an answer from the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. And he came by the Spirit into the temple. And when his parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he also took him into his arms, and blessed God, and said:

Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to thy word in peace; because my eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: a light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

Luke 2:29-32.

And his father and mother were wondering at those things which were spoken concerning him. And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary his mother: Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed.

Luke 2:34.

It was never going to be all sweetness and sleigh-bells, but there were those who were given a broader vision, including:

Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser; she was far advanced in years, and had lived with her husband seven years from her virginity. And she was a widow until fourscore and four years; who departed not from the temple, by fastings and prayers serving night and day. Now she, at the same hour, coming in, confessed to the Lord; and spoke of him to all that looked for the redemption of Israel.

Luke 2:36-39.

As latter-day gentiles, let us pray that our eyes and hearts may see and recognise Jesus in the child next door and the cold infant in Syria or Belarus, as well as in our own family members.

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10 August: Some people pray …

Frank Solanki is a perennially productive poet with a great sense of humour that does not hide his serious side. I thought I’d share this poem with you. Just click on the link below, and let’s pray that the gift of gratitude be given to us all and received and shared by us all.

The tradition of using the funny side to approach a profound message goes back to the parables of Jesus, in fact to the crazy things the prophets did, like Elijah or Jeremiah.

So click on the link, for here comes Frank!

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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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20 July: Elijah the prophet.

The prophet Elijah has his feastday today, though comparatively few of us observe it. He is counted as an inspiration by Carmelites, for he lived as a hermit on Mount Carmel, where the Order was founded, centuries before it came to Europe.

Elijah does not have a book to his name, as Jeremiah, Isaiah, Amos and others do, but we know of his witness in the Northern Kingdom of Israel from the Books of Kings.

It was on Mount Carmel that Elijah faced down the prophets of Baal and the people of Israel, who were worshipping both the Lord and Baal. More than 400 prophets of Baal danced and sang all day to their god, but nothing happened to their offering. Elijah, having built his altar, added firewood and the sacrifice of a bull’s carcase, drenched it all in water, and the Lord sent fire to consume it all.

Later, when Elijah was close to despair with the wickedness of the people and King Ahab, he ran away, but the Lord sent ravens to feed him and strengthen him. That is the scene shown here in a house sign from Amsterdam.

Elijah faithfully challenged Ahab on God’s behalf, but it did not make for an easy life, as the Books of Kings tell us. Let’s pray for the grace of perseverance in our own lives.

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April 20, Emmaus VIII: Opening the book

farewell-zambia-feb-2017-17

The disciples did not know that it was Jesus walking with them. They told him how sad they were that Jesus had been killed.

They did not understand that Jesus had risen.Then Jesus said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have declared! The Messiah had to suffer these things and then enter into his glory.’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he opened up to them the things the Bible told about himself.

It’s a bit difficult to open up the Bible if you never open the Bible! But I don’t think it’s fair to accuse these two disciples of never opening the Bible, no! Jesus knows that they do read the words in the Bible, but he wants to open their hearts and their minds to understand the Bible in a new way.

Open hearts and open minds lead to open ears and open eyes. Open to read the Bible in what we see and hear around us. Let us listen today to our fellow walkers; can we have a laugh with them? Dennis was laughing and joining in when we saw the ducks on Tuesday and joined in with my quacking at them. That was more fun with two.

It is foolish playing at ducks, perhaps, but the disciples’ foolishness is the way in to their hearts that works for Jesus. I think he wants us in L’Arche to be like the prophets. They often did silly things that made people think about their lives. Some of the things we do may seem silly to other people, but we know they are important.

Is it foolish to spend four days walking from Dover to Canterbury? Saint Paul said, ‘We are fools for Christ’s sake.’(1 Corinthians 4:10)

MMB

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April 16: Emmaus IV, We have a sure hope.

 

Rupert Greville contributed today’s reflection on the Emmaus story and tomorrow’s. The swallow returns and so will Jesus.

Bible reading: Luke 24:25-27.

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

Luke 24:25-27.

 

The two travellers had told of what had happened in Jerusalem, that Jesus had been crucified and that his tomb had been found empty.  ‘Did not the messiah have to suffer these things, and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself.

Jesus gave these travellers the best Bible study ever. And he showed how the whole of the scriptures pointed to his coming – and to his suffering and his death. While the travellers knew about the suffering and death, as they’d been in the city,  maybe they didn’t understand so much about the Messiah ‘entering his glory’.

The father had raised him from the dead and set him in the highest place over all of creation, seen and unseen.  So the Messiah of Israel would be the true Lord, not Caesar, and Lord over every world power that would ever come after, whether in Europe, Asia, the Americas or the South Pacific. And he continues to reign today as Lord over all. And if Jesus is Lord, then we have a sure hope for ourselves and the world.

Today our daily bird is the swallow.  (Each day of the pilgrimage there was a bird to look out for.) The swallow spends its winter in South Africa, so if you have swallows nesting in your barn, you’ll see them fly off in September and you won’t see them again for months. Then, amazingly, about this time of year, the same bird flies back to exactly the same place it left 7 months before, to rear its young. So they leave in September, and we wonder, will they come back, and they do.

Jesus promised that he’d return to reign on earth, destroying all evil and bringing healing to the nations, and that his people will share in his eternal rule. If we can trust the swallows to return from South Africa, we can surely trust that Jesus, having entered his glory, will return again to reign.  

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5 April, Palm Sunday

Today we’d put out the flags, as Caernarfon did to welcome us (and thousands more tourists) a few years ago. 2,000 years ago it was palms and cloaks that were actively waved – not just left out in all weathers – as Jesus came to town. But by the following Friday nobody would have wanted the Romans to see the national flags and emblems on their buildings. Jesus had become dangerous to know.

The Plantagenet Kings whose castle commands this view would have looked askance at the scene, and their spies would have filled the castle governor’s ear with more or less factual accounts of the latest prince to arise to rally the Welsh. Pilate would have heard about Jesus before Palm Sunday but the parade of the King of the Jews did not lead to his immediate arrest. Pilate thought he could contain this uprising before it got very far.

By Friday festival fever was worrying a hypersensitive elite who valued the shaky Pax Romana as it applied in Judea, offering them status and privilege and allowing the Temple worship to continue according to the Law. Verses from the Psalms and the Prophets that challenged the idea of sacrifice were dismissed in their turn by the priests of the Temple.

For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Ps 51: 16-17

 

Jesus’s heart was broken, his body too, though not his spirit. His death completed his lifelong passion. It is all of a piece, as the Pieta tells us – the baby we saw Mary cuddling at Christmas is the One she cradles briefly before his burial. (Take a look at St Thomas’s Lady altar.) But today, knowing he is riding into difficult times, he is the King the crowd were waiting for.

Image from Missionaries of Africa
Strasbourg Cathedral

So let’s put out the flags in our hearts, and wave our palms for our King!

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18 November: The King II, Pilate and Jesus Meet.

cobblestones

We are preparing to look at the relationship between Jesus and Pontius Pilate with a view to exploring the theme of power as it emerges in the relevant texts of the Gospel of John (18:1 – 19:22). I would like first to summarise the passage immediately preceding the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus. In John 18: 1-11we are told that Jesus had been arrested in the evening by a cohort from the Roman garrison, and a group of guards sent by the chief priests and Pharisees, all with weapons and torches – essentially, a lynch-mob. Jesus handles the mob with courtesy, cooperation and courage. Nonetheless, they bind him and, no doubt, shove and frog-march him to the palace of Annas, the high priest. Annas, probably realising after a short exchange with Jesus that he was out of his depth and could not possibly win in a dialogue with him, sends Jesus on to the next questioner. This will be Pontius Pilate and Jesus is sent to the Praetorium – his palace.

Pilate does not meet with Jesus until he meets Jesus’ captors – a rather unsatisfying encounter, I suspect, as far as Pilate is concerned. Jews were not allowed to go into the inner court of the Praetorium on pain of incurring ritual impurity, so Pilate must meet Jesus’ captors outside – a concession which must have rankled. But he complies, and questions them about the reasons for Jesus’ arrest. According to the text, they claim at this point simply that Jesus is a criminal and deserves death, and that they are not allowed by their religion to pass the death sentence. They do not specify what Jesus has done to deserve it (see Jn. 18:28-32). Pilate, none the wiser for this exchange, must now question Jesus about the reasons for his arrest.

Pilate leaves them, returns to the inner court of the Praetorium, summons Jesus and begins a highly revealing exchange with him. We see here two men who could not possibly have been more different. Pilate, with an abruptness suggesting that he is an important, busy man, asks Jesus the only question that could have any real interest to him, or any bearing on his judgement of Jesus: ‘Are you the king of the Jews?

Immediately, we see that the issue for Pilate is power, but he must hope that Jesus’ power is a trumped up affair, threatening to no one. He had probably encountered mad prophets before – they were not unusual in the Judea of Pilate’s day. So, Pilate’s question would, Pilate hopes, set such a prophet up to expose himself as a rant-and-rave religious fanatic. A wild-eyed diatribe on Jesus’ part would be most useful to Pilate and enable him quickly to dismiss Jesus as long-winded but essentially harmless; then Pilate would be free to move on to the more important business of the day. It is easy to imagine the slightly mocking tone of voice in which Pilate asked his question, much as one might use to a rather ill-behaved child, perhaps, or to someone whom one has already mentally pigeon-holed as not worth taking seriously. Pilate feels secure, powerful at this stage. Accordingly, his treatment of Jesus belittles him. We will examine Jesus’ response to this tomorrow.

Pilate went out to the street to meet the Jewish leaders.

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12 October, Month of Mission: A worthless servant in Algeria.

taize algeria

Another visit to Algeria and a taste of a prophetic mission.

My name is Vincent Somboro. I am a Malian, a dogon from the Diocese of Mopti, right in the centre of West Africa, and I am preparing to be a Missionary of Africa. After studying Philosophy for 3 years in Burkina Faso, then completing my novitiate year in Zambia, I was appointed to a community of Missionaries of Africa in Ghardaia, Algeria, for a two year lived-experience of Mission. I have been here for one year now. Algeria is a Muslim country and religion is absolutely central to its daily life. I count myself very lucky to be working amongst a people for whom God and religion are still so important. As Christians here, our life is one of discreet dialogue. It can happen that I talk with certain people about religion, but this would only be with people who want to convert me to Islam. I build my life as a Christian on Our Lord’s words, “whatever you do to one of these little ones, you do to me!” and still I remain “a worthless servant who is only doing his duty.”

I live this life in different places. In a library; in a centre for handicapped children; in meeting migrants and anyone else the Lord puts in my path. In the library: as well as being the librarian in charge of books, I give extra help to both children and adults who are learning English or French. It is really the only place where I can meet Algerians: coming into contact with Algerian society in a more informal way.

Once a week I play sports with the children in a centre for the handicapped. This simple interaction, being with the children, with no agenda other than being there with them, brings me great pleasure.

Being a Malian, an African, is also a great advantage when it comes to contact with migrants. Meeting migrants affords me a marvellous opportunity to serve my African brothers and sisters. This is a challenge which preoccupies me greatly, and it is doubly useful: in the context of Algeria, I am able to be both a missionary and a prophet.

I am a missionary because the migrants really feel at home when they come to our house. A confrere and I, between us, speak Moore, Hausa and Bambara. This covers most of West Africa. As fellow Africans, we are living the same reality in Algeria as they are.

I am a prophet because, as an African, I yearn for our home countries to come up with structures to help our young people, helping them struggle against famine and war, and against the desire driving our youth to get to Europe no matter the cost. I feel troubled and challenged when I see young people crossing deserts to get to Algeria, hoping to cross the seas to Italy and Spain. I see the religious and cultural divides, the injustice and the racism that they encounter. I thank God for my experience here.

Vincent Somboro.

From the White Fathers Magazine, February 2017.

Taizé celebration in Tlemcen

https://www.missionariesofafrica.org.uk/

 

 

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