People despise religion. They hate it and are afraid that it might be true. In order to heal this we must begin by showing that religion is by no means contrary to reason.
Pensées sur la religion et sur quelques autres sujets, Blaise Pascal.
A reflection for Bastille Day, which celebrates the French Revolution.
Pascal, like many scientists of his 17th Century and through to today, saw no conflict between religious faith and reason.
If religion is true, it challenges us to repent, to live differently, to examine our consciences as to our behaviour, to acknowledge and be grateful for the gifts we receive, and to share them. Then people will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. But others may run a mile rather than repent – today at least!
An excuse for revisiting Raeburn’s portrait of his friend Robert Walker, is this quotation from one of his sermons.
Too many of those who make a profession of religion … indulge themselves in a bitter, censorious disputation, more allied to peevishness than either to virtue or religion … their conversation is gloomy, their countenances and manners forbidding. From such unfortunate examples, it is too often rashly concluded, that the nature of religion itself is harsh, melancholy and severe.*
These days we have perhaps lost much of the gloominess, though covid and climate change do tempt some to adopt that attitude. What seems to persist is the censorious disputation which can become bitter. Let us pray for the grace to see ourselves as we are in relation to others, and to step back from disputation that divides and brings the Church into disrepute.
Perhaps each one of us needs time to be alone with God and nature as Robert is here. Not much skating this winter in Kent, but walking is always available, free of charge, to set the spirit free.
*See The Skating Minister, by Duncan Thomson and Lynne Gladstone-Millar, Edinburgh 2004, p33.
We pray for all those suffering from religious discrimination and persecution; may their own rights and dignity be recognised, which originate from being brothers and sisters in the human family.
We first showed this picture in May 2018. It shows an installation then in Canterbury Cathedral: ‘Suspended’.
The garments hanging above the congregation came from refugees on the Isle of Lesbos or the camps around Calais; clothes they were glad to discard when they were offered a clean change. I hope they found something they liked to wear! Their lives have been suspended between their old homes, destroyed or stolen, and who knows what future.
There the clothes hang, reminding us that these refugees are sisters and brothers of ours, thrown on very hard times, as were others – including perhaps their grandparents – seventy years ago, after the Second World War and the establishment of Israel. Often their religion – Christian, the ‘wrong’ sort of Muslim – has made life very dangerous for them, and they need asylum, begrudged by many of us.
Let us pray for peace, and support those who support the refugees; our sisters and brothers.
By vigorously enjoying this world, we shall turn to God; there’s a thought! The vigour we bring to the task is getting down on our knees to see a flower, or getting dirt under our fingernails, digging, planting, pruning sweeping; taking care of our home, ‘the remainders of Paradise’.
There are many sublime and celestial services which the world doth do. It is a glorious mirror wherein you may see the verity of all religion: enjoy the remainders of Paradise, and talk with the Deity. Apply yourself vigorously to the enjoyment of it, for in it you shall see the face of God, and by enjoying it, be wholly converted to Him.
City dweller Robert MacFarlane wondered if there were any wild places left in the British Isles, and he set out to find them. Often enough early Christian monks and hermits had been there before him; to islands and other inaccessible spots.
But what did he mean by wildness? Early in the book he discusses the idea:
‘Wildness … is an expression of independence from human direction, and wild land can be said to be self-willed land. Land that proceeds according to its own laws and principles, land whose habits — the growth of its trees, the free descent of its streams through its rocks — are of its own devising and own execution. Land that … acts or moves freely without restraint; is unconfined, unrestricted.’*
Town and city dwellers live in human directed lands, concrete, brick and glass, but also most of the British countryside is farmed, drained, controlled. Can we find wilderness, to use the old Biblical world, without travelling to distant places?
We have to look for it nearer to home, in pockets and cracks. There are the weeds that devise and execute their own growth and spread, like traveller’s joy rooted on railway land. Or there are remnants of countryside, like the plum tree that Abel likes to hide behind; it is surely a sucker from a rootstock left behind when the orchard was grubbed up for housing in the 1960s, since its fruit is insignificant and unpalatable. There are overgrown cemeteries, like that in Mile End, full of life that is quite unexpected in London’s East End.
The wild tries to return, perhaps we should salute it and follow its example to revisit the corner of our heart that moves freely, without restraint: that is open to love, growth and renewal.
*Robert MacFarlane, The Wild Places, London, Granta, 2007, p30.
Should young boys, teenagers maybe, be encouraged to join religious communities? Before there was universal education, they might well have had to pick up the basics in their monastery before their higher studies. Here we read about one such brother in the community of Offida, another hilltop town.
It appears from this distance in time that some of the brothers had forgotten what it was to be young, and their grumbling had the predictable effect of driving the lad crazy. Until Brother Conrad came along and encouraged young man to be studious of all virtue. We must not force young people back into a corner whence they have to fight to get out, but let us try to maintain the ‘fervour of charity’, and help them to find another way.
And let’s admit that it can be a good thing to be disturbed out of our complacency.
Brother Conrad of Offida, having come on a time as a guest to the House of Offida, the brothers prayed him, for the love of God and of charity, to admonish a young brother that was in that place, the which bore himself in a manner so childish and unruly and ungovernable, that he disturbed both old and young of the community in the divine office, and for the other observances of the rule cared little or naught.
Wherefore Brother Conrad, in pity for the youth and at the prayers of the brothers, called the said brother aside and in fervour of charity spake unto him words of admonition so effective and devout, that by the working of the divine grace he suddenly changed in his behaviour from a boy to an old man, and became so obedient, and gentle, and careful, and devout, and thereafter so peaceful and serviceable, and so studious of all virtue, that, as at the and first all the community had been disturbed by him, so were they all content with him and comforted, and loved him exceeding well.
The Feast of Saint Thomas of Canterbury falls on 29 December, which this year falls on a Sunday, so is transferred to today. This post is taken from the Newsletter of St Thomas’ Canterbury Parish, 17th November 2019. Canon Anthony Charlton writes:
This week I received from Archbishop John Wilson the Decree designating and approving St Thomas of Canterbury Church as a Diocesan Shrine. I thought it would be important for you all to see and read the Decree:
“St Thomas’ Canterbury, opened on 13 April 1875, holds the relic of St Thomas Becket. The relic consisting of a fragment of his vestment and two pieces of bone acquired from Gubbio in Umbria, Italy. Another relic was presented to the parish during a pilgrimage in 1953. Father Thomas Becquet made the presentation of the relic: a piece of the finger bone of St Thomas of Becket. The relic originated in the Cistercian monastery of Pontigny, where St Thomas stayed during his years of exile, and reached Chevotogne via the Bishop of Tournai.
(source: Michael Goodstadt)
Consequently, St Thomas of Canterbury Church has been a pilgrimage Church, as well as a parish Church from its early beginnings. As early as 1889, The Guild of Our Lady of Ransom was organizing pilgrimages to Canterbury from London, which began with early Mass at St Ethelreda’s, Ely Place and then journeyed (with Devotions on the way) by special train on the London, Chatham and Dover Railway. These pilgrimages have continued with the Knights of St Columba organizing the “Penitential Mile” from St Dunstan’s to St Thomas and the Guild of Ransom organizing its pilgrimage on a day in July, among several individual and small group pilgrimages.
WHEREFORE, having carefully considered the law and the facts and having carefully studied the Statues of St Thomas of Canterbury Church, I hereby approve, by means of this Decree, its Statutes in accordance with the norms of Canon 1231 §§1,2.
FURTHERMORE, for the good of souls, I, the undersigned Archbishop of Southwark, do hereby, by means of this Decree, designate and approve St Thomas of Canterbury Church as an Archdiocesan Shrine, in accordance with canon 1230. At this Shrine, the means of salvation are to be supplied more abundantly to the faithful by the diligent proclamation of the word of God, the suitable promotion of liturgical life especially through the celebration of the Eucharist and of penance, and the cultivation of approved forms of popular piety.”
+ John Wilson Archbishop of Southwark
Given on this sixteenth day November 2019 On the Feast of Saint Edmund of Abingdon, Archbishop of Canterbury.
Diwali is celebrated in these cold Islands, far from India where it originated. People from the Subcontinent also ended up in Trinidad and Tobago across the Atlantic where this reflection comes from. Follow the link to an interesting Independent Catholic News article by Leela Ramdeen, who grew up a Hindu father and Catholic mother.
Another example of Mission is the Irish Chaplaincy. Here Eddie shares some thoughts on the prison ministry side of that work. Enough to read his article to know how important it is.
I awoke in my cell having had an interesting dream in which I was in a kind of social club with my guitar (the one mentioned in the last blog) playing ‘Country roads’ with lots of people singing along.
It’s one of the songs I’d sung at a prison event a couple of days before, after one of the guys said he liked American country songs and sang a couple himself. He had a really good voice and wasn’t at all shy. None of the others, though, seemed too interested in singing and were happy to sit and chat with one another and with those of us from the Irish Chaplaincy, away from their cells for a blessed couple of hours.
I should explain that the cell I was in was at a monastery where I go regularly to spend 24 hours in silence, and I was particularly curious on that occasion why the monastic tradition gives the same name to the room of the monk as that used in prisons for the place of confinement. It was an interesting link to our Traveller event at Wormwood Scrubs, so too the dream.
Our event at Scrubs was surprisingly relaxed, especially considering that it was one of the hottest days of the year, when the tiny, airless cells must be like infernos. We were in the multi-faith room, with doors wide open (exceptionally) and fans whirring, and the space was laid out café style, with tables and easy chairs. There was a lot of pleasant conversation, a little bit of singing (not too much, and that was fine). And then there was the food: a feast of bacon and cabbage and potatoes, with lots left over for the guys to take back to their mates who hadn’t been able to attend (or to eat again themselves in their cells!). And after the meal there was chocolate and other treats that Breda and Ellena had brought. Several of the prisons staff came along, for they also enjoy and value our events, and it’s probably a bit of light relief for them too from the major challenges in running a prison today. Sarah the governor was there, with several of her senior staff, plus Zahid the head of Chaplaincy and Fr. Chima the RC chaplain. They’re all good people doing a good job, and I was a little sad to read in the news the following day that Wormwood Scrubs is on a list of 16 prisons judged by the MOJ to be of ‘serious concern’ (the Irish Chaplaincy has a presence in a few of those on the list). Years of under-investment and over-crowding have taken their toll; and when availability to drugs is thrown into the mix and prisoners locked in their cells for large parts of the day then there are some very dangerous and volatile situations created.
Following the food there was a group photo outside with everybody in great spirits, and then there was time to help people with a questionnaire about our ‘Travelling Forward Resettlement Project’. I was struck that in answer to the question about previous education most of the guys ticked ‘1’ (the lowest score), whilst for the questions about interest in training and in being helped to get a post-release job most ticked ‘5’ (the highest). And the majority of the guys needed somebody to write down the answers for them.
I don’t know what these men have done to end up in prison, and I don’t need to know. I simply enjoy the time with them; to share a meal together and a bit of craic. And they’re so appreciative of these events. For Travellers (people who are used to moving around and being out of doors) being confined to a small cell for prolonged periods must be a particular hardship.
As time was called on the gathering (the two hours having flown by) there were multiple handshakes and ‘thank you’ was said repeatedly. And then it was back to the cell. In my monastic cell, from which I could hear the gentle sound of rain through the open window and look out at the woods surrounding the monastery (and from which I could leave whenever I wished), I thought of those guys.
Irish Chaplaincy is funded in part by the Government of Ireland (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Emigrant Support Programme), and by the support of many generous trusts, businesses and Friends.
Irish Chaplaincy is an independent Charitable Incorporated Organisation operating throughout England and Wales.
Laying foundations for an orphanage building in Rwanda.
This post is adapted from the Missionaries of Africa site in the USA, but it is not about them; no it tells of brave Rwandan women seeing a need and working to fill it. Fr Denis P. Pringle introduces them.
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure is this: to care for widows and orphans in their distress . . . .”
James 1: 27
These days, a lot of people seem to be discussing what it means to be “religious” — to have a belief in God that is demonstrated through words and actions. Even those of us who consider ourselves “spiritual, but not religious” search for ways to express our relationship with that which is sacred. Two thousand years ago, things weren’t much different among the first Christians. One of the first followers of Jesus, St. James, wrote a letter in which he offers guidance on what “true religion” is. He felt that few things are more important than caring for those who are less fortunate than ourselves — particularly widows and orphans. That is still the case today.
In societies where there are no government support services for the poor — widows and orphans are among those most urgently in need. Many live without basic necessities such as food, water, medical care and adequate housing.
Recently, one of our missionaries, Fr. Simplice Traore, wrote to ask if there is some way we can help the widows and orphans in Kigali, Rwanda, where he lives and works.
“During the Rwandan genocide in 1994,” Fr. Simplice writes, “a young woman began reaching out to women whose husbands had been killed and little children whose parents had been murdered during that tragic time. This young woman became like a mother to the orphans that she gathered. As time went by, the number of orphans increased tremendously — especially since she was taking good care of them. Unfortunately, though, she did not have the resources needed to continue her work. She was all alone. That was 25 years ago.”
“Since then, more than 100 other women have joined her and they are now officially a congregation of religious Sisters dedicated to serving poor widows and orphans. What a gift these Sisters are!”
“As I write this letter to you, the Sisters are working hard to construct a building where orphan children can live. The need for housing for orphans is critical in this community.
Unfortunately, the Sisters — themselves having little income — do not have the funds to pay any construction costs. They have been able to acquire a piece of land where a building will be constructed and local people are even willing to help with the labour — but still no one has money to pay for the building.
To learn more about the Missionaries of Africa, here are a couple of addresses: