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August 31: L’Arche and Care V – So who is helping whom to achieve what?

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I’ve had a ‘portfolio’ of teaching jobs over the last twenty years, since I became unable to work full-time in classrooms, so it was easy enough to ease into the current L’Arche approach to work and leisure activities where people commit to a weekly portfolio of activities that might include candle-making, gardening, brewing beer, swimming and the weekly grocery shop.

That’s when we meet our friends, often enough. Our local metro supermarket can seem very crowded when three or four people stop to chat in the narrow aisles! We’ve also joined an informal leisure gardening group that includes core members, assistants and their families.

Jobs can take a little longer … for example, setting up a core member to saw wood safely, despite physical challenges. (I’m grateful for the training I received in task analysis as a young man!) but then three eight-year-old girls want to join in, so it’s time to set up the other saw bench and provide them, too, with encouragement rather than hands-on help.

So who is helping whom to achieve what?

Dear reader, I’ll let you puzzle that one out.

But working with core members and children makes me stand and stare and chat. Stand and let others work, stare at the problem of how to let them work safely. Chat while the job is done, encouraging, praising, suggesting, sharing the satisfaction of a job done, a skill acquired.

Let us be ready to receive from others. Didn’t Jesus get the idea of foot washing, that James talked about on Tuesday, from a couple of women?

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August 24: An unexpected challenge.

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Towards the end of last school term, my 13 year-old god-daughter Rose set me the question,

What are the challenges facing religious people today?

A challenge in itself. Here is my brief answer. Now what would you add  from your personal experience?

Maurice.

Hello Rose! I’m delighted to help with your RE homework. As you well know,  I’m a 67 year-old married Catholic with four grown-up children and one grandson. I am, of course, also a godfather to you and your younger sister.

I take it that by religious you mean someone who believes in what the Creeds say and attends church: that description fits me. I’m comfortable with that.

For the last 20 plus years I have worked as a tutor to children and young people who don’t attend school, usually because their behaviour has been dangerous to others – bullying and aggression – or else because they have not been learning and have made it difficult for other people to learn – or teach, or because of a particular set of needs, such as autism.

This often brings me to homes that are chaotic, often filthy, usually loving, sometimes neglectful. Parents and other adults may abuse drugs; they may also abuse their children verbally, physically, even sexually.

So I have dilemmas that would be the same for any other professional working with these people. For example:

  • Is it part of my job to get pupils out of bed when they don’t come to lessons (their phones are usually on silent at 9.00 in the morning).
  • Do I quietly help the parents in little ways, such as giving one family the bed Harry had grown out of, or a packet of tea bags – strictly speaking not allowed.
  • What steps do I take if I think my pupil’s dad beat him up? Even if the boy says he walked into the kitchen door?

But there are other challenges that arise because I’m religious:

  • Do I keep quiet about being religious? Or more accurately, how openly do I claim to be a Catholic at work? When working with other Catholics it is a help. Others may need answers to questions like, ‘Is God going to be angry with me because I did so-and-so? Why did Nan die so young (I could only start from telling the boy what he already knew: she smoked too much.)
  • How much confidentiality is appropriate? – the Father Confessor problem! Example: a year 11 pupil gets a job in a chip shop. Strictly illegal, but not hurting anyone else, and she soon realises that she is being exploited and packs it in. A boy in year 9 was working in Scrap Metal; illegal on any number of accounts: age, no gloves, no safety boots, slave wages and more. I did not want him in trouble, nor his mother, so she and I spoke seriously to him and showed him that he could get her into far more trouble that the measly pay was worth. No more needed to be done in that case but I would have had to put friendship on the line if he hadn’t dropped the scrap dealing. Good job, as the police were soon onto his ‘employer’ who went to prison.

I hope this gives you a taste of the challenges I, as a religious person, can face at work.

Your loving Godfather,

Maurice.

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July 29: Deep in this Skin that I Live

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Deep in the skin that I live

Of a thousand tales and a million whispers

Like autumn’s oak on western hills

Olive soaked to save winter’s scourge

Then to glitter in summer’s heat

Deep in the skin that I live

Flows the blood of slavery

And so too the blood of its slave master

Marked by David’s star

And so too the desert’s cross and crescent

Deep in the skin that I live

Throbs the Celtic cross and the cross of George

A thousand generations gone past

A million rejections of enigma’s tale

Led to streams, but stopped from drinking

Deep in the skin that I live

I catch that look again. That curious look, that stupid

smile

Wrapped in subtle nuance. Prepared, well served

That forbidden question: where are you from?

That cold reluctant handshake,

The sudden silence. Distance. No reply

Deep in the skin that I live

Stranger in my fatherland

Alien in my mother’s house

You can run a bit fast, jump a bit high:

Spring rains and washes all away

Deep in the skin that I live

Curled within, locked in, stained outside

The silent scream heard only by silence

Strolls had with pain and frustration

Cards played with insomnia in vain

Tick, and tock, and tick

Let the clock, clock into day

Deep in this skin that I live

A skin that dares dream of tomorrow

And when tomorrow comes

This skin only hopes cynicism never fathers

mendacity.

VE

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July 26: Hijab.

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Black Coif and White Wimple

Hijab let only her face,

She had black coif and white wimple

Burka let only her eyes,

She had black veil on holy habit

eyes sustained beauty,

eyes of inner strength

their eyes their diaries

Her hand was freed for gaze,

henna tattooed fingers

stroking her puppy

counting her beads

She had forefinger freed to see,

Tapping and rolling each bead

She gazed on her, startled.

In turn her stare was

a delicate glance

blinking, they both

smiled.

VE.

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Souvenir of a very special meal.

Dear Readers,
At this time of the end of Ramadan and Corpus Christi, and in view of the atrocities that have been committed recently in England and elsewhere, I offer this story from South Africa. Maurice.

Missionaries of Africa - SAP Province

pere-jacques-hamelBy Christophe Boyer, M.Afr

End of April 2017, I was back from holidays in France where the islamo-christian dialogue has improved a lot since the martyrdom of Father Jacques Hamel during mass in a church. Of their own initiative Muslims have come to Church to show their opposition to violence and intolerance.

Toni RowlandI was wondering what could be done here in South Africa. One day I received a phone call from Toni Rowland who is in charge of the family apostolate at the South African Catholic Bishops Conference. She asked me to advise her about a Muslim invitation since I am a contact person for islamo-christian relations at the SACBC. I was lifted up by this answer to my question.

We went together to meet Ayhan Cetin the CEO of the Turquoise Harmony Institute. He told us that this year the Institute invites people motivated to inter religious…

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

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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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June 10: Justice VI: Justice, Gratitude and Religion

samaritanwoman

Abbey of Saint Maurice, Switzerland.

We have not yet talked about justice expressed toward God, but we need to. It is of crucial importance. The Catechism’s definition of justice mentions God as the principal recipient of our justice. Why should that be so? God does not need anything from us! Isn’t justice about responding to need?

Yes, justice is about responding to need, and about paying our debts. But justice is not primarily a virtue by which we learn to add up the numbers and pay the bill. On a more fundamental level, justice is the virtue by which we become increasingly sensitive to our indebtedness. The distinction is subtle, but important. There can be a grudging quality that goes with paying a bill, as we know when we see our hard-earned money vanishing so quickly.

But, a grudge does not belong in the virtue of justice as it relates to God. In being sensitive to indebtedness, we realize how much we have been given by God. In him we have received something far beyond what we have strictly deserved – the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field, the very kingdom of heaven, as Jesus expresses it.

Even if we do not acknowledge God as our loving Father, and the creator of the universe, it is hard to avoid admitting that we have been given gifts in our lifetime that are of vital importance to us, that have helped us to become ourselves. This gives us a recognition, simply put, that someone has loved us, and has shown it, and our life has changed for the better because of it. When that Someone is acknowledged as God, then we need a way that allows us to make some sort of response. Tomorrow, we shall reflect on this.

SJC

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From 24 April: Spring Talks at the Franciscan International Study Centre.

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Friar Austin’s Spring and Summer talks on Jesus beyond Dogma begin on Monday 24th April at 7.00 p.m. at the Franciscan International Study Centre, Giles Lane, Canterbury.

All are welcome to attend and join in the discussion!

There is ample parking at the Centre.

WT.

Mosaic at the Abbey of St Maurice, Valais, Switzerland.

 

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Talks at the Franciscan International Study Centre: Jesus beyond Dogma.

 

 

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Starting on Monday 24 April, at 7.00 p.m., for ten weeks until 24 June, Friar Austin McCormack will be speaking and sharing on ‘Jesus – beyond Dogma’. Everyone is welcome to attend as many of these evenings as you can.

Maurice Billingsley.

Dalit Madonna from Methodist Modern Art Collection

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