I once took a message to a local convent, where the door was answered by a little old sister, walking with two sticks, bent almost double, who had a chat with me before finding the sister I was sent to. ‘You must know about this convent, Will – she’d found out my name as a matter of course – your friend Sister Clare may be a teacher, but most of us look after old people’. I had the impression that she was looking after as much as being looked after. I felt looked after by her in those few minutes’ conversation!
Sister Carol Zinn, the executive director of the American Leadership Conference of Women Religious, says that healthy aging is “whatever is holy and healthy for human beings: to be in relationships, have a meaningful prayer life and a way of being of service to other people. These are a given in religious life, but I really think that they are a given in a happy, holy human life.”
This article from the National Catholic Reporterby Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans explores aging in community and healthy, mature ‘letting go’ of work, property and other things, but not letting go of mission. What is holy and healthy for Will T as he moves deeper into Autumn and deeper into retirement, I wonder? Do read this excellent reflection from the Global Sisters Report.
Pope Francis describes how God and Creation, creation and humanity, and humanity and God are all intimately connected, and a breakdown in one relationship jeopardises the other two. We humans, of course, also undermine what should be loving relationships with each other. Is there one good person on God’s Earth?
70. In the story of Cain and Abel, we see how envy led Cain to commit the ultimate injustice against his brother, which in turn ruptured the relationship between Cain and God, and between Cain and the earth from which he was banished. This is seen clearly in the dramatic exchange between God and Cain. God asks: “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain answers that he does not know, and God persists: “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground” (Genesis 4:9-11). Disregard for a proper relationship with my neighbour, for whose care and custody I am responsible, ruins my relationship with my own self, with others, with God and with the earth. When all these relationships are neglected, when justice no longer dwells in the land, the Bible tells us that life itself is endangered. We see this in the story of Noah, where God threatens to do away with humanity because of its constant failure to fulfil the requirements of justice and peace: “I have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them” (Genesis 6:13). These ancient stories, bear witness to a conviction which we today share, that everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others.
71. Although “the wickedness of man was great in the earth” (Genesis 6:5) and the Lord “was sorry that he had made man on the earth” (Genesis 6:6), nonetheless, through Noah, who remained innocent and just, God decided to open a path of salvation. In this way he gave humanity the chance of a new beginning. All it takes is one good person to restore hope! The biblical tradition clearly shows that this renewal entails recovering and respecting the rhythms inscribed in nature by the hand of the Creator. We see this, for example, in the law of the Sabbath. On the seventh day, God rested from all his work. He commanded Israel to set aside each seventh day as a day of rest, a Sabbath, (cf. Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 16:23; 20:10). Similarly, every seven years, a sabbatical year was set aside for Israel, a complete rest for the land (cf. Leviticus 25:1-4), when sowing was forbidden and one reaped only what was necessary to live on and to feed one’s household (cf. Leviticus 25:4-6). Finally, after seven weeks of years, which is to say forty-nine years, the Jubilee was celebrated as a year of general forgiveness and “liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants” (cf. Leviticus 25:10). This law came about as an attempt to ensure balance and fairness in their relationships with others and with the land on which they lived and worked. “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very border, neither shall you gather the gleanings after the harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner” (Leviticus 19:9-10).
72. The Psalms frequently exhort us to praise God the Creator, “who spread out the earth on the waters, for his steadfast love endures for ever” (Psalm 136:6). They also invite other creatures to join us in this praise: “Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created” (Psalm 148:3-5). We do not only exist by God’s mighty power; we also live with him and beside him. This is why we adore him.
There has been an intimacy about our walks in the countryside during this virus time: Mrs Turnstone, our daughter and I have trodden paths, lanes and byways, often along the Pilgrims’ Way that crosses Kent, making for Canterbury and then down to Dover for Rome or Compostella. Sister Margaret offers us the insight that the way of penance is the way of intimacy with God.
The way of penance, the life of penance, is a call to a life of intimacy and union with God. The way of penance began for Francis, as we have seen, with an experience of God that radically changed his whole life. Because of this he was able to take up daily this life of penance, this daily turning away from himself to His God. It was through this way, the way of penance, that Francis found union with God.
Sister Margaret’s continuing reflection on Penance.
Penance affects the whole person and reflects itself in the lives of all men and women who profess to live a life of penance – reflects itself in their relationship with God, with themselves and with others.
We can say that penance (penitence, repentance) is the total and continuous giving of self to God in a life of love. When we understand it in this sense then the Lenten Preface does make sense. Lent is a joyful season, a season to be celebrated, not suffered, for it encourages us once more to turn continuously from ourselves to our God. This in turn means that we are more able to turn in love towards our brothers and sisters.
Stuart Perkins has shared a story in his blog, Storyshucker. It’s about what I’ve been calling relics in a few articles in the Mirror over the years. Here is a link to Alexandria Living Magazine where it was published. Thank you Stuart!
In this odd era Mrs Turnstone is threatening an unsentimental bonfire of the relics, keepsakes, mathoms around the house. But she likes the fish too much!
Here is Thomas Merton in January 1966, writing from his snow-bound hermitage.* A challenge to us all to root our mission in our poverty; having first accepted that innate poverty as the norm.
In all these things I see one central option for me: to let go of all that seems to suggest getting somewhere, being someone, having a name and a voice, following a policy and directing people in ‘my’ ways. What matters is to love, to be in one place in silence, if necessary in suffering, sickness, tribulation, and not try to be anybody outwardly.
Yet daily we are encouraged to ‘get somewhere’ to be someone outwardly. Love can get pushed to the margins. We can get tied to policies, mission statements, and so on. Let go!
Tomorrow we celebrate the uprooting of the Holy Family to go into suffering and tribulation. Merton had to let go in a different fashion to the man we hardly know: Joseph the carpenter.
Learning to Love, Journals Vol 6, Ed Christine M. Bochan, HarperCollins San Francisco 1999 p15
L’Arche is a worldwide federation of people, with and without learning disabilities, working together for a world where all belong.
This photo was taken in Canterbury Cathedral when L’Arche Kent was celebrating 40 years of life, and L’Arche itself was marking its half century. Making enough space for everyone is vital and the process is on-going. A world where all belong is a challenge: L’Arche lives that challenge, and in doing so witnesses that it is possible.
To remain faithful to the mission the structures of each community, and the federations which link them, are reviewed regularly to give a new mandate for community life. Here are some points from L’Arche UK’s new mandate.
L’ARCHE UK MANDATE July 2019 – July 2025
Partners in Mission, building a more human society
1. Building unity around our Mission
The greatest insight that L’Arche has to offer arises from our emphasis on community and mutually transforming relationships. Therefore we will:
Create and celebrate new ways to live out our Mission in response to a 21st century call for L’Arche in the UK.
Partner other organisations to impact on the social and political concerns of wider society and be a beacon for the learning disability sector.
Deepen our connection to our founding Christian tradition and live out the spirituality of L’Arche more confidently. This spirituality embraces people of all faiths and none and all who are aligned with our Mission.
Vigorously pursue the four dimensions of community, spirituality, service and outreach through our service to society and through service provision.
2. Partners in the Mission
People with and without learning disabilities are together partners in the Mission. A vital
element in this partnership on the national level is the National Speaking Council. Therefore we will:
Strengthen the purpose and voice of the National Speaking Council with proper
Offer people with learning disabilities opportunities to impact more powerfully on our society through employment and quality day services.
Become experts in accessible communication, both locally within our communities and nationally.
Ensure that people with and without learning disabilities engage in outreach together.
3. Resourcing the Mission
We need to be well resourced for the journey. Therefore we will:
Agree and implement a model of effective governance that truly serves our Mission by ensuring business and financial viability.
Work towards greater Mission sustainability by increasing our fundraising capability and reviewing our financial management.
Develop our culture so that all our communities are competent and effective in the four dimensions.
Jesus was not just a good man who founded a great religion. He is the Son of God, sent on a mission to transform the world by changing individual lives. Imagine for a moment what your life would be like if this wonderful life hadn’t appeared.
For two thousand years, followers of the loving Christ have carried his compassion and care to peoples everywhere. Nations have been won through his love. The majority of hospitals and other ministries of compassion around the globe have been launched in his name. Where there has been devastation through natural disasters, wars, or famine, people filled with God’s love have run to alleviate human suffering via the Red Cross, World Vision, and thousands of other agencies. Where would our world be without the love of Christ as expressed through his people?
What is our relationship with our world – with government, foreign policy, political parties..? Christianity is concerned not only with religion but with all human relationships between persons and groups – large or small. It is as much concerned with war, peace, poverty and race issues as it is with holy living [preacher stick to your pulpit]. It is concerned because these are the relationships that shape our lives; our way of living together and accepting our common destiny.
In Apostolic times the writers believed that history had more or less come to an end with Christ, and the Second Coming was imminent. This was no time to worry about politics and economics. They were to preach about the world that was on its way. They knew that Jesus had resisted all attempts to align him with the Zealots, who wanted to establish God’s kingdom through war and aggression. Jesus had said his kingdom was not of this world, he could not establish the kingdom using any kind of force.
Other than in instances of dogmatically defined doctrine, the individual conscience holds sway.
Like all Christians, Catholics see the Ten Commandments found in the Hebrew Scriptures as the basic groundwork for moral action, which together with the life of Jesus provide a deep and abiding understanding for how to act with love and justice in the world. The Gospel of Matthew relates that upon being asked which commandment was most important, Jesus replied that all of the law is contained in the commandments to love God and love your neighbour (Matthew 22:36-40).
Catholics see this as going beyond the injunctions of moral law by drawing believers into a relationship with others as well as with God, and it is the foundation of the Church’s teaching on issues of social justice.
From the earliest days of the Church, Catholics have performed works of mercy to help those who most need it, but the Church’s current involvement in social justice issues really took form in 1891 with the promulgation of the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum. In it, Pope Leo XIII called for workers to be treated with dignity and respect, protected by the state from exploitation, and allowed to form unions.
It touched off a flowering of social encyclicals that have become central to the Church’s work in the world. Catholic social teaching focuses on the dignity of the person as the linchpin for all discussions of ethics, politics, and justice. It is central to Catholic calls for the fair treatment of workers, for political systems that recognize individual rights, for responsible scientific research, for an end to attacks on human life in the form of abortion and the death penalty, and many other teachings as well.
What is Christian morality? In terms of content there is no Christian morality distinct from human morality. The Ten Commandments of the Old Testament and the precepts of the New Testament are simply human demands. But there is something different about Christian morality – just as people in Old Testament and New Testament times saw these human demands in the context of covenant with God and solidarity with Christ, faith today obliges us to see the demands of being fully alive as a response to the call of God.
What difference does Faith make? It puts before us the attractiveness of Christ’s life – one that bears fruit in Resurrection, and promises the same Spirit, the same energy to anyone interested. Sensitivity to his values lifts lives above the minimum of good manners – turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, foregoing legitimate rights for wider benefit. Belonging to a community of faith also makes demands – sharing a Sacramental life, which is not the case for non-believers.
Important as these differences are, the basic moral demand is to become what we are potentially – fully human: “God is praised when we are fully alive…” – Irenaeus. And we don’t grow alone. Our roots are in the earth, and life and health and growth emerge from our relationships – we are what our relationships let us be. A moral life is to be in a right relationship to all of these. Our love for God is only known via the test of service – “unless you did it to these…”!
Sin turns self into God – and pride, lust, avarice, abuse and aggression are the certain fruits. Sin is not a problem, problems can be solved, sin is an ever present mysterious reality, in the world, the Church and individuals. It is a reality to be concerned about, but not to be afraid of: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more” – Romans 5.20. Jesus is the forgiveness of sin, but unless we are convinced of our sinfulness, how do we recognise our need for him, or rejoice in what he makes possible?