Tag Archives: Psalms

22 August: J is for junctions

 

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I’d rather show you this than a motorway junction! We are at Ashford International station in Kent, where I change trains on my way to work most weeks, and where occasionally we change trains en route to France, Belgium or beyond.

A junction on the motorway  does not give chance to stop and stare, as one can at Ashford International. Where is that woman going, I wonder? My son’s friend from school greets me as he goes about his work on the platform.The sparrows chatter over a few crumbs tossed around one of the benches.

The non-stop Eurostar roars through to Paris, a life-changing trip for some. And those alighting from the inbound Eurostar: will they feel welcome on English soil? I once met a former pupil who had completely changed his name – not even using the same initials – to start a new life here with his young lady, forty miles from where he had lived with a neglectful mother and stepfather. Every day is new!

And always there are the anxious ones who do not trust the departure boards or announcements, sometimes with good reason. They ask the platform staff, is this the right train? They get on board, they ask their fellow passengers, is this the right train? If the guard comes by, they ask, is this the right train? On the train they make for the door as soon as their station is announced, unaware it is five minutes or more away.

My friends, there actually is time to stop and stare, so sit back and relax!

Oh, there’s my train coming in: I’d best make sure I ‘join the correct portion of the train’, or who knows where I’ll be! Safe home!

MMB

 

 

 

 

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22 July: “Day Break into Song”: Mary Magdalene.


sun-clouds-golden

One time I thought it was my brain
That made the songs I sing;
But now I know it is a heart
That loveth every thing.

And while his heart’s blood feeds his brain.
To keep it warm and young
A man can live a hundred years,
And day break into song.

Here, for Mary Magdalene, are two more stanzas from The Song of Love by W.H. Davies.

Which sit well with three verses from Psalm 119 (145-147):

With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord!
 I will keep your statutes.
I call to you; save me,
that I may observe your testimonies.
I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I hope in your words.

Mary rose before dawn – but was there hope in her heart that Easter morning? She did not give in to despair, but rose before dawn to make her way with her women friends to observe the laws and anoint the body of their Beloved.

Their hearts were still full of love and that daybreak her brain caught up with her heart and hope rose within her. ‘Rabboni!’ (John 20:16).

We celebrate that moment in song to this day:

Dic nobis, Maria.
Quid vidisti in via?
Sepulchrum Christi viventis
Et gloriam vidi resurgentis.

Angelicos testes.
Sudarium et vestes.
Surrexit Christus spes mea;
Praecedet suos in Galilaeam.

 
Or
 
Tell us Mary Magdalene, say, what you saw when on your way.
I saw the tomb where Christ had lain; I saw his glory as he rose again;
Napkin and linen clothes, and Angels twain.
Yes, Christ my hope is risen, and he will go before you into Galilee.
MB.

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June 12: Justice, VII: Justice, Gratitude and Religion

open-hands-prayer

The just person does not repay another merely because the other needs it, but because the other has done something good for us. We wish to make a return. There is a deep and soul-enriching reciprocity about justice, then. We are touching something fundamental in the human make-up here. To repay a good deed done to us with a reciprocal good deed is something we need to do in order to be whole. On the other hand, to be constantly on the receiving end of goodness without ever acknowledging it is a kind of solipsistic existence that is not good for us, and in our heart of hearts we know it. Even babies will spontaneously respond to goodness by smiling back at a loving smile, by embracing the one who embraces them with love. We are made to respond to goodness and love by a goodness and love of our own.

In our life with God, we will always be indebted to him. The sheer size of what we’ve been given by God is truly astronomical: he has given us the universe! He has given us life. He has given us himself in his beloved Son. He continues to sustain us in being by his love. We will always be loved more by him than we can possibly love in return. But that does not excuse us from trying. It is religion that allows us to attempt some expression of our gratitude to God. God does not need gratitude in the same way our employee needs his pay, or in the same way our friend needs to be thanked for his acts of kindness to us. God does not need. Full stop. But we need to express it.

shared meal

Gratitude, then, is inseparable from religion and is an aspect of justice. Eucharist is a word that literally means thanksgiving. One of the psalms exclaims, ‘Oh how can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? The cup of salvation I will raise, and I will call on the Lord’s name’ (psalm 115). Through religion, we raise the cup of salvation, we give ourselves to God, who gives himself to us. This reciprocal giving, on such a deep level, is itself a gift – the greatest of gifts.

St. Thomas Aquinas, who never seems to overlook anything, ever, points out (S.T., II, II, Q. 106:5) that gratitude isn’t always related to the material size of what we have been given. From our human benefactors, also, we have been given many things, large and small, on many levels, by many people. Yet, as St. Thomas comments, we are ‘sometimes under greater obligation to one who has given little, but with a large heart.’ What a beautiful thought. I think of the gift of a sea-shell given by a child with shining eyes. The gift of a smile from an adult with intellectual disabilities. The gift of trust given by a friend. These gifts are what help to make us human, and to make life liveable. As we study here the virtue of justice, we see that it reminds us to notice that the gift with a heavy weight, with a countable quantity, or with a vast size is not the only thing that make a gift valuable, and that obliges us to respond in kind. The intangible quality of the gift is perhaps what is most valuable to us. The gift of the heart, the gift of love, this is the greatest gift. To return it is one of the greatest of human acts. The virtue of justice helps us to live lives of gratitude, of reverence, of joy and of greatness.

SJC.

Anyone wishing to make a further study may consult:

Josef Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues, University of Notre Dame Press, 1966.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, II.II. Q. 58f.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1803 – 1811.

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21 March: Where she may lay her young.

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As we crossed the cloister at the Baptist College in Manchester, Luther King House, we heard a chuckle from the top of a leafless tree. A pair of magpies were building their nest in a fork of the upper branches. The structure was at an early stage, just a few twigs, but if they decide to finish the nest it will have a dome and provide good shelter for the young ‘pies as they grow quickly into adulthood.

the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God.

Psalm 84:3

It was Mrs T who made the connection that it was Valentine’s Day, the day the birds are said to marry.

There was a blackbird’s nest on top of a short brick pillar along the cloister. That hen bird must have found her place just above head level on this busy, sheltered corridor to be very safe.

In nearby Whitworth Park we saw parakeets who clearly considered themselves wild members of the local fauna. We’re used to them in Kent but did not expect to spot them so far North!

Magpie photo

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3 March: Going through the motions

open-hands-prayerSometimes people make an outward show of action without their heart being in it. They are ‘going through the motions’. But before we dismiss the ‘motions’ in favour of the purity of the inner spirit, it helps to remember that we are bodily people; physical actions can help make our spirit ready. This is certainly true when it come to prayer. Choosing a regular place, posture, and way of beginning and ending our prayer can provide a supportive framework for the building up of our openness to God.

Place: Making a particular room, or seat, or walking route a habitual place for prayer. Of course we can pray anywhere. But through repetition the mind and spirit begins to recognise that in entering this place I am setting myself to pray. Your ‘place’ might be your kitchen table at a quiet time of the day, a bench in a park where you walk your dog, your seat on the train on the way into work, or a corner of a room in your home that you set aside as a meeting point with God.

Greeting: To you O Lord I lift up my soul. [Psalm 25.1]

Words or gestures you use to acknowledge that you have entered God’s presence. This might be the lighting of a candle, the bowing before a cross, or the saying of a particular prayer or a verse from one of the psalms.

Regular usage helps us move more quickly into prayer. We understand we are here for this purpose and for no other.

Posture: A physical way we set our bodies: sitting with hands open and resting on our laps, or, if walking, a slower, measured pace that begins to settle us down.

As these physical settings become familiar, our spirit begins to work in unison, helping us be relaxed, open and attentive.

Ending and moving on: Just as we have greeted God at the beginning of prayer, so we choose a way of closing this time, whilst remaining open to God’s presence and leading as we go about our day. Again this might be a physical action, words of prayer or a combination: blowing out the candle, bowing to a cross, or words from a psalm.

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27 January: I am a stranger with thee

chidavidwindow (585x800)Do you remember Sister Johanna writing about praying the Psalms, and how the difficult prayers that we do not agree with have a place in our own prayer life? ‘This is not pretty’, we might say, ‘but I need to tell it to someone.’ Here David wants to guard his mouth, but what comes out is the sort of confusion that springs from deep hurt as we have been touching on these last days. But ‘surely in vain is any man disquieted.’ Easier said than felt or acted upon. But saying it is  a start.

Psalm 38 (39) A canticle of David.

I said: I will take heed to my ways: that I sin not with my tongue. I have set guard to my mouth, when the sinner stood against me.

I was dumb, and was humbled, and kept silence from good things: and my sorrow was renewed.

My heart grew hot within me: and in my meditation a fire shall flame out.

I spoke with my tongue: O Lord, make me know my end. And what is the number of my days: that I may know what is wanting to me.

Behold thou hast made my days measurable: and my substance is as nothing before thee. And indeed all things are vanity: every man living.

Surely man passeth as an image: yea, and he is disquieted in vain. He storeth up: and he knoweth not for whom he shall gather these things.

And now what is my hope? is it not the Lord? and my substance is with thee.

Deliver thou me from all my iniquities: thou hast made me a reproach to the fool.

I was dumb, and I opened not my mouth, because thou hast done it.

Remove thy scourges from me. The strength of thy hand hath made me faint in rebukes:

Thou hast corrected man for iniquity. And thou hast made his soul to waste away like a spider: surely in vain is any man disquieted.

Hear my prayer, O Lord, and my supplication: give ear to my tears. Be not silent: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner as all my fathers were.

O forgive me, that I may be refreshed, before I go hence, and be no more.

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12 December: ‘Lord, make me know your ways.’

monday-12th

Image from stmaryslakeport.com

Today is Monday 12th in the third week of Advent and we also celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

In the first reading from the book of Numbers 24: 2-7, 15-17, the prophet Balaam said that “a star from Jacob takes the leadership, a sceptre arises from Israel”. Jesus is the prophet and Leader of Israelites, whose sceptre is a sceptre of power and authority. This is seen in the Gospel reading from Matthew 21: 23-27. Here Jesus is teaching in the temple with authority but the priests and elders who have closed their minds and hearts come to ask him a question. “And who gave you the authority for acting like this?” Because Jesus is full of wisdom and authority, He also asks them a question which they are not able to answer. They only say, “we do not know”.

So for me today, how do I react to authority? Do I welcome true authority, power and wisdom or do I try to trap them like these elders and priests that want to trap Jesus by asking Him questions, simply because they have closed their minds and hearts to the change and freedom that Christ has come to give us?

My prayer today and always is what the Psalmist said in today’s Psalm 24: ‘Lord, make me know your ways. In your Love and Mercy, remember me. Teach me your wisdom, guide me in the right path and give me humility of heart.’ Our Lady of Guadalupe, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us. Amen!

FMSL

 

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14 November: Another Polish Door of Mercy

mercydoorkrakow

As we entered this Door of Mercy at Krakow Cathedral, we found ourselves processing, or at least moving at a processional speed, pressed in on every side. It seemed that half of Poland was there, visiting the national shrine, site of royal coronations, resting place of saints, Poland’s Westminster Abbey.

Is a royal shrine the place to look for mercy? This Church is a baroque fantasia: silver, gold, marble wherever you turn. Where could I sit quietly to pray, as I can do in Canterbury Cathedral crypt?

Later I noticed this inscription along the external wall below a golden dome:

non nobis2

NON-NOBIS-DOMINE-NON-NOBIS-SED-NOMINI-Tuo.

This comes from Psalm 115:9:

 At the presence of the Lord the earth was moved, at the presence of the God of Jacob:

Who turned the rock into pools of water, and the stony hill into fountains of waters.

Not to us, O Lord, not to us; but to thy name give glory.

 For thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake: lest the gentiles should say: Where is their God?

But our God is in heaven: he hath done all things whatsoever he would.

The idols of the gentiles are silver and gold, the works of the hands of men.

They have mouths and speak not: they have eyes and see not.

They have ears and hear not: they have noses and smell not.

They have hands and feel not: they have feet and walk not: neither shall they cry out through their throat.

Let them that make them become like unto them: and all such as trust in them.

Puzzle this out: Glorify your name for the sake of your mercy – or for Israel to earn the respect of the gentiles? Would we not be better channels of mercy if we were humbler than that?

mercy.carving. (328x640)And Yet.

Saint Jadwiga, a young Queen of Poland buried within  this church, was called the spiritual mother of the poor, weak and ill: where she has passed is therefore a Door of Mercy. We can learn mercy from her, getting alongside the poor, weak and ill.  And that is half an answer to the conundrum; do what we can, where we are. And ‘non nobis, Domine’ indeed!

MMB.

 

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13 November: In and Out of the Door of Mercy.

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Although NAIB has an Anglican door of mercy just outside her front door, I never expected to pass through one myself, but we entered two of them in Poland, the first at the Sanctuary of the Holy Family in Zakopane. A beautifully carved wooden frame had been constructed around the West door of the Church: you’ll have noticed that we have been using their version of the Mercy Icon when our reflections touch on the Year of Mercy. Look carefully and you’ll see it on the left of the frame.

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Where should a Door of Mercy lead? This one opened onto a crucifix just inside the door, a manned confessional, then a beautiful interior, with the birds of the air upon the ceiling and scenes from local history in murals above the nave. Here, next to the altar, was the font with John baptising his cousin and Our Lord. Here was the Blessed Sacrament exposed, half a dozen faithful keeping watch.

 How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of Hosts. Psalm 84:3

mercy.carving. (328x640)But where should a Door of Mercy lead? It leads us – not just the Old Testament High Priest – into the sanctuary, but also out of it.

We have [hope] as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm, and which entereth in even within the veil; where the forerunner Jesus is entered for us, made a high priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech. (Hebrews 6:19-20).

We have hope and entering a door of mercy is a sign of that hope but as we exit the door we are called to be instruments of mercy, not passive recipients of it. We are called to forgive seventy times seven (some people I know can almost be that annoying!) and to have compassion on our fellow servants; to feel for them and to build them up. (Matthew 18). So now, as the Year of Mercy ends, go out through your local door of mercy and get at it! (Your door of mercy is the one you have the key to and where your letters and visitors arrive; your front door.)

MMB

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November 8: Saint Winifride and the Crutches.

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Plowden Church, Shropshire: Saint Winifride with her Holy Well and pilgrims’ crutches.
  • ‘… Why then, do you want a photograph of our Saint Winifride?’
  • ‘Because she has her crutches. I wanted to show them as part of a blog about sacrifice.’
  • ‘I’m still not following you.’

I was at an unfamiliar church in the Border country, Saint Walburga’s in Plowden, discussing the theology of sacrifice and of art with a new acquaintance. Such encounters help to clarify the mind:

  • ‘I was also thinking of Saint Omer, where the tomb of Saint Erkembolde[1] is covered with children’s shoes. He was a missionary who tramped around Northern France and so became patron for people with foot problems. They leave a token of their child as a sign of their prayer. And so with the crutches and Winifride. I wanted to get away from the image of Abraham raising the knife to Isaac, and look at sacrifice in the everyday.’
  • ‘Now you are making sense. I like the idea of the everyday sacrifices.’

The crutches at Saint Winifride’s well represent real, if not everyday events: not everyone is cured at Holywell; nor was everyone cured at Bethesda (John 5). But the crutches represent realities: each of us will need crutches, physical or mental, from time to time; each will need help to walk in the way of the Lord (Psalm 116). For the one who offered a crutch at Holywell it maybe represented a concrete prayer of thanksgiving; for us today it is a sign of everyday needs, physical and spiritual, that we can admit to and offer to the Lord.

For thou hast delivered my soul from death,
mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.
I will walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.

Ps 116: 8-9.

Winifride, of course, was one of those remarkable women leaders of the Church in these Islands in the allegedly ‘Dark Ages’, like Walburga herself, and Eanswythe of Folkestone.[1]

[1] See Blog posts for 22 April 2016, 4 July 2016, 7 July 2016.

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