Tag Archives: repentance

16 September, Laudato Si’ II, Creation XVII: we look for a change of humanity.

Monkey orchid, Kent.

After discussing statements on the environment and the misuse of Creation by popes over the last fifty years, Pope Francis continues by saying how scientists and other thinkers have contributed to church thinking.

7. Other Churches and Christian communities – and other religions as well – have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing. To give just one striking example, I would mention the statements made by the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, with whom we share the hope of full ecclesial communion.

8. Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation”. He has repeatedly stated this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against creation: “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”. For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.

9. At the same time, Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion”. As Christians, we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet”.

Bartholomew and Francis are close to Blake’s vision:

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower 
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 
And Eternity in an hour.

But Blake is not sentimentalising. He goes on to catalogue some sins against Creation, specifically cruelty against animals. If we saw a Heaven in a Wild Flower we would accept the world as a sacrament of communion, and not act in this way:

A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage.
A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thr’ all its regions.
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State. 
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood.
Each outcry of the hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear.
A Skylark wounded in the wing 
A Cherubim does cease to sing.
The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright.

William Blake, Auguries of Innocence.

Lord open our eyes!

psalm_121_1_2

And here is the link to Sister Johanna’s final reflection on the Psalms:

I am never alone when praying the psalms, and this is not just because I pray them in the liturgy and in community.  Many people pray the psalms privately, and they, too, are not alone.  This is because the psalms, you might say, “refashion” the heart of the person praying. 

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Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, Laudato si', poetry

27 August: a token of respectability

On this day in 1773, James Boswell was conducting Dr Johnson around Scotland en route to the Western Isles. They have come as far as Nairn, some 20 miles East of Inverness, ‘a miserable place’, according to Boswell, but today ‘Scotland’s Highland playground’ according to the Tourist Board.

Here they came upon a Presbyterian response to a modern phenomenon: how to deal with scandalous behaviour among the Christian flock. Boswell and Johnson waited for hours while the minister, Mr Kenneth McAuley, was distributing tokens to parishioners.

Over to Boswell:

In Scotland, there is a great deal of preparation before administering the sacrament. The minister of the parish examines the people as to their fitness, and to those of whom he approves gives little pieces of tin, stamped with the name of the parish as tokens, which they must produce before receiving it. This is a species of priestly power, and sometimes may be abused. I remember a lawsuit brought by a person against his parish minister, for refusing him admission to that sacred ordinance.

(from Life of Johnson, Volume 5 Tour to the Hebrides (1773) by James Boswell)

This does not sound like the ministry of Alistair Maclean!

One might ask, is the Sacrament, the Eucharist, a reward for good behaviour or food for the journey? Can we ever eat and drink worthily? Not by our own efforts! Does the grace of the Sacrament reach in to where we hardly know ourselves, but God knows? Did the use of tokens enhance or debase the Sacrament? Does denying it to anyone serve to bring the sinner to repentance, or lead to split or unity in the church?

Stamped tokens from post Great War Germany, when the currency was greatly debased due to inflation.

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22 April: A Prayer of Saint Anselm

Saint Anselm’s chapel, Canterbury

O Lord our God,
Grant us the grace to desire you with our whole heart;
that desiring, we may seek, and, seeking, find you;
and finding you, may love you;
and loving you, may hate those sins
from which you have redeemed us. Amen

Anselm is remembered by Anglicans and Catholics alike.

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24 February: Three Elements of Penance.

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St David’s Cathedral

We continue with Sister Margaret’s reflections on Penance as lived by Saint Francis.

Penance, as metanoia then, has three main elements:

  • An innermost change of heart under the influence of the Word of God;
  • Changing one’s life in harmony with the change of heart;
  • Bringing forth fruits worthy of penance.

Putting this another way, we then see that penance consists of three key elements:

  • Conversion: a change of mind, a change of heart, a turning from self to God;
  • Repentance: this change of heart, this conversion, reflects itself in a change of life (style, habits formed, etc.)
  • Fruits of Penance: the change of life results in the fruits of penance, in doing penance, in doing good deeds

By way of conclusion … it is important that we realise from the above that for Francis the life of penance begins with God, the initial action comes from God, and then come the visible signs of repentance. This fact is crucial to a true understanding of Franciscan Penance.

This ties up completely with the biblical teaching of penance as metanoia in which conversion (turning from self to God) is the central dynamic of the life of penance. For Francis, and for us, the way of penance is the way of choosing God in response to His invitation, the way in which God, and not ourselves, becomes the very centre of our existence.

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16 February: Shrove Tuesday

I don’t suppose we will be receiving ashes this year to start Lent, too much physical contact there! Lent will feel different, in fact we might feel we’ve had a year of Lent, not just 40 days, so why bother with Ash Wednesday, why bother with Lent at all?

Well, as one of the commands accompanying the ashes puts it: Repent and believe the Gospel. We are urged to repent, to turn our lives around. They’ve been pretty well turned around for us these past months, and many of us need no reminding that we are dust, and unto dust we shall return.

We know we are turning to dust, if only because we can spot the difference between today’s photo and one from 20 years ago; or we experience the slowing down, the failing strength, the memory full of holes, the comb full of hair. Honesty reminds us that there are habits we need to turn from, actions we need to turn to for the sake of our sanity and integrity.

And we just cannot do it. The prophet Joel (2. 12-18) may challenge us, ‘Come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning’; it’s the ‘with all your heart’ that’s the sticking point. That sticking point is known as Sin.

Artists from L’Arche Kent

Joel, after running through various ways that the people could turn to God, says that ‘the Lord, jealous on behalf of his land, took pity on his people’. God had issued the call for change, but it was his taking pity on his people that restored their relationship, not their fasting and lamentation. It’s so easy to convince ourselves that we are doing OK, if not actually doing well. But compromises, compromises, compromises: they tarnish our mirrors, deceive our eyes.

Jesus really did live a good life. Let’s use this Lent to follow him more nearly. And enjoy tonight’s pancakes!

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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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8 December: One Good Deed, II.

Yesterday we were reflecting on the story of the rich young man, as told by Matthew (19:16-22). We saw that the young man has just asked Jesus which commandments are necessary for entry into eternal life, as though he is hoping he will not have to pay too high a price. I have read this story many times, but I was surprised, as though for the first time, to realise that Jesus does seem to reduce the price for this young man. He lists only six commandments: ‘You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false witness. Honour your father and mother. You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ This begins to seem like that quintessentially middle-eastern pastime: bartering and haggling. Maybe Jesus is happy to play this game a bit with the young man; maybe he hopes to win him round; perhaps we can imagine Jesus with a little smile here, a sidelong glance as he takes ten commandments and reduces them to six.

Then, astonishingly to me, the young man seems to think he’s got these six covered. I go back and reread the commandments given here and I concede that, ok, the first five of them are straightforward enough: you either have or you haven’t committed the sins they forbid. But the sixth one is, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ I wonder who can possibly boast of keeping this commandment perfectly. Human interactions are so complicated, and riddled with sad opportunities for causing offense. But the young man seems to be saying, “Easy!” to all of them. “Well, am I in?” he silently challenges. And Jesus is never at a loss to understand the unspoken question.

Not so fast, Jesus seems to say. And now we come to the place where Jesus is no longer playing. He becomes absolutely serious here. Let’s take this slowly. ‘If you wish to be perfect…’ he begins. Can there be a touch of irony here on Jesus’ part? Our rich boy thinks he’s perfect already. But Jesus will not reinforce his mistaken view of himself. He gives him a deeper challenge: ‘…go and sell your possessions….’ The man’s blood runs cold for a moment. Jesus probably detects it, and so he both appeals to his generosity and, at the same time, calls his bluff with regard to that love of neighbour he claims to have mastered. He tells the young man, ‘…give the money to the poor.’

I notice for the first time now that it is only money that is gained from selling his material possessions that the young man is told to give away. This would constitute a sort of excess, over and above the money he lives on. Jesus isn’t asking him to make himself destitute. But he is asking him something that involves a life-style change. If he sells his ‘possessions’, it probably means his house and what’s inside it. The young man would probably have thought that if those things go, what would protect him from a life of homelessness? The loss of cherished personal treasures, large and small, that give him a sense of identity, emotional comfort and security – how would he manage without all that? Jesus probably sees him turn pale, and quickly promises him a different kind of security: ‘You will have treasure in heaven,’ he offers. The young man had asked, after all, about attaining eternal life. Here is his ‘how to’ manual. This treasure in heaven, Jesus implies, is so much better than the one he is so scared to lose now. As I ponder these lines, I recall from my own experience that you simply can’t tell how freeing it is to get rid of your possessions by merely looking at it from a safe distance and trying to imagine what it will be like; this state of joyful freedom and openness to God is a gift given by Jesus’ Spirit in our hearts, but it only comes after you have made the renunciation. This is something I’d have wanted to tell the young man, had I been there. But no one else intrudes upon this, by now, intense exchange.

Finally, Jesus issues the ultimate and most privileged invitation of all. He says to the young man: ‘Come! Follow me!’ You will have a life of immense purpose and profound meaning with me. I will give you joy now, and lead you to attain what you have asked for: eternal life. But the rich young man cannot fathom this. He cannot see beyond the cost, and it costs far more than he had expected. And by now he is beyond haggling. He feels the full weight of this exchange with Jesus and it has oppressed his spirits. He turns his back on Jesus and leaves him, a very sad young man indeed.

The tragedy of the young man’s situation comes home to me again. But this time, as I see him walk away with his head down, I am suddenly reminded of other stories. First, Zacchaeus comes to mind, the rich tax collector in Luke who climbs a tree to see Jesus in the crowd, and later, invites Jesus to his home, where he throws a huge party for him, after joyfully offering to give huge amounts of his money to anyone he had cheated. The joy of Zacchaeus leaps from the pages. It’s the same with Matthew – another tax collector – called to be one of the Twelve. He throws a big party, too. Or I think of Our Lady, who gives her very body, her whole being, her life, everything: the sublime joy of her Magnificat echoes through the millennia. And her cousin Elizabeth: the unborn baby in her womb leaps for joy at the presence of the young, pregnant Mary. Elizabeth understands in her soul that Mary’s self-gift, and her own, will bring God our Saviour into the world. What greater joy can there be? I recall the overflow of loving emotion in the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet and dries them with her hair. I think of the story of the prodigal son. It ends with a great celebration for the wayward son who returns to his father. The bitter, jealous elder brother excludes himself from the celebration, but the father would welcome him with joy in a moment, if he showed up at the door. Everywhere in the Gospels Jesus gives joy beyond imagining to those who surrender to his love, dedicate themselves to him, and say yes to his invitation to follow him. Only those who resist his grace are left in sorrow, but it is a sorrow of their own devising. They could end it in a moment by returning to the Lord and answering his call.

We must choose then. The deepest kind of joy is easily within our grasp. And maybe in the end, only one good deed is needed. The deed of choosing Jesus over all other things.

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Leaves

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The leaves are almost all down around here. The Victorian poet Alice Meynell also took note of them, investing them with human emotions, asking eternal questions.

“O leaves, so quietly ending now,
   You have heard cuckoos sing.
And I will grow upon my bough
   If only for a Spring,
And fall when the rain is on my brow.

O tell me, tell me ere you die,
   Is it worth the pain?
You bloomed so fair, you waved so high;
   Now that the sad days wane,
Are you repenting where you lie?”

From “Poems” by Alice Meynell

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8 October, Little Flowers LXXX: Dens in the Woods 4.

York Minster

Saint Francis was one day thinking on his death and of the state of his Order when his life was done, and saying: “O Lord God, what will become of Thy poor little family after my death, the which of Thy goodness Thou hast entrusted to me a sinner? who will pray to Thee for them? and other such words. There appeared unto him an Angel sent by God, and comforted him, saying : “I tell thee in the name of God, that the profession of the Order will never fail until the Day of Judgment, and there will be no sinner so great as not to find mercy with God, if with his whole heart he love thine Order, and none shall live long, that of malice persecutes thy Order. Moreover no very wicked person within thy Order, that does not amend his life, will be able to remain long in the Order.

Wherefore grieve not thyself, if in thine Order thou see certain that be not good brothers and do not observe the Rule as they ought, and think not that thereby this order will decline; for always a many shall be found therein that will perfectly observe the Gospel life of Christ and the purity of the Rule; and all such, immediately after the death of the body; and all such shall go into life eternal without passing through Purgatory; some will observe it but not perfectly, and these before they go to Paradise will be in Purgatory, but the time of their purification shall be left by God to thee.
But of him that observes not the Rule at all, take no heed, saith God, for of such He Himself taketh no heed.”

And said these words, the Angel was away, and Saint Francis comforted and consoled.

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29 June: In Peril on the Sea: Peter and his wife.

mallaig.fisherman.statue

This fisherman and his wee daughter stand on the quay at Mallaig, the Scottish port famous as the embarkation point for the Isles of the Hebrides. Many fishermen never came back home from the sea, leaving their families in a precarious way,

The tower beside the statues is modern technology, making the fishermen’s lives safer; good communication of weather problems can persuade the boats to come in in good time.

Peter knew fear on the lake when the waves came right behind the storm and he expected the boat to go down. Jesus walked out across the water, and for a few moments Peter did so too. Like someone learning to ride a bike, he panicked and disaster nearly followed. Some time later it sunk in that Jesus would never abandon him. As his second letter says: (2:9)

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

We hear no more of Peter’s wife after Jesus heals her mother except for one mention in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (9:5):

Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas*?

Did they have children? Did the whole family go to Rome in Nero’s time? Certainly Peter’s wife seems to have spent some time as a missionary with him. In those days there was no GPS, no radar, radio, coastguard stations, or even life jackets; no private suite cabin. But Jesus would never abandon them.

Peter came to repentance the instant he abandoned Jesus; a few weeks later he was sent to feed his sheep.

Leet us not be afraid to live the Gospel of Love, preaching it by the example of our lives, as did Peter and his wife. Lord hear us.

*Meaning Peter.

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