Am I a stone and not a sheep
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy Cross,
To number drop by drop Thy Blood's slow loss,
And yet not weep?
Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;
Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon,--
I, only I.
Yet give not o'er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.
This post card was sent home by a man who himself never came home from the Great War. Ironically, it was produced in Munich, sent home to Manchester from Poperinghe in Belgium, and saved by the recipient and her descendants.
Christina Rossetti puts herself with Mary, Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene and other women who stood weeping, next to the Cross, owning a lack of tears on her own part. Poetic licence, I feel. Her heart in this poem is full of sorrow and self-accusation, but she is also repentant, asking God to strike her stony heart, as he commanded Moses to strike to rock in the desert:
“Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” (Exodus 17:1-7).
If the Lord makes our hearts run with tears, whether physical or inner tears, will we give the people living water to drink?
What is Lent all about? One answer is that it is about being conscious of our relationships with God and our neighbours. This is well expressed in the following prayer from Lenten Vespers in the Byzantine Rite:
While fasting with the body, brothers and sisters,
let us also fast in spirit.
Let us loosen every bond of iniquity;
let us undo the knots of every contact made by violence;
let us tear up all unjust agreements;
let us give bread to the hungry
and welcome to our house the poor who have no roof to cover them,
that we may receive mercy from Christ our God.
From The Lenten cookbook by Scott Hahn and David Geisser p31. Reviewed here on 12 February.
The churches are an important part of Canterbury’s work to get people off the streets. Being allowed to camp in the churchyard at Saint Mildred’s is perhaps as much help as these particular people can accept at this time.
It’s not yet Lent, but not too early to share an excellent resource for teaching or personal reflection.
The Global Sisters Report offers, free of charge, six Lenten reflections designed for the secondary school, drawing on the Sunday Gospels and sisters’ experience of ministry in many parts of the world. Teachers or catechists may find these resources valuable and interesting, but other readers will discover aspects of the Good News we were unaware of. Excellent starting points for reflection.
I have been extremely ill of an asthma and dropsy, but received, by the mercy of GOD, sudden and unexpected relief last Thursday, by the discharge of twenty pints of water[11 litres]. Whether I shall continue free, or shall fill again, cannot be told. Pray for me.
Death, my dear, is very dreadful; let us think nothing worth our care but how to prepare for it: what we know amiss in ourselves let us make haste to amend, and put our trust in the mercy of GOD, and the intercession of our Saviour.
I am, dear Madam,
Your most humble servant,
Life of Johnson, Volume 4 1780-1784″ by James Boswell.
Lucy Porter was Johnson’s stepdaughter; he had married her widowed mother but she had died after just a few years. Although he lived and worked in London – the man who is tired of London is tired of life is his saying – he kept in touch with family and friends in Lichfield, his home town, including Lucy. At the time of writing he was an old man and sick; dropsy is now called oedema, a swelling of soft tissue especially in the legs, and may be an indication of heart failure – so carrying 11 kilos of extra weight in fluid was not good. Johnson does not say how his relief was brought about.
But his heartfelt love for his stepdaughter shines through, as well as his apprehension of death and judgement.
Original photo of Nablus (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): Dr. Michael Loadenthal
Day 6 They saw the child with Mary his mother, and they knelt down and paid him homage Matthew 2:11
Psalm 84–How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
Mt 28:16-20–When they saw him, they worshipped him.
When the Magi from their far-away countries arrived at Bethlehem and saw the child with his mother, they worshipped him. In the presence of this revelation of God among us, eyes were cast down and knees bent. Similarly, when the disciples saw the risen Christ on the mountain in Galilee, they were amazed and troubled. Yet they worshipped him.
Do we see? Are we amazed? Are we truly worshipping? How many times do we remain blind to God’s presence? How can we worship in truth if we do not really see first? In our narrow vision, too often we see only our tangled disagreements, forgetting that God’s saving grace is to all, and that we share in the one Spirit who draws us into unity. Often in our pride we follow human laws and traditions, disregarding the love we are called to share as one people justified by Christ’s blood.
As communities enlivened by the Holy Spirit, we are called to walk together towards the Christ-Child, offering homage as one people. The Spirit of compassion guides us to each other and only by following this guide will we be able to “worship in spirit and truth”.
in your mercy, remove the scales from our eyes
and lead us to repent and to worship you.
In the midst of our sorrow and despite the depth of our sin,
give us the capacity to love you with all our hearts.
As we journey together with one heart and mind,
may we glorify you in the Spirit’s fellowship,
and witness to those around us.Amen.
Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in Heav'n we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.
Charles Wesley, 1747
Global: What are you doing as part of your own pattern of worship to pray for the worldwide church?
Local: Within your worship as a local Christian community what are the barriers you face to greater unity and how might they be overcome?
Personal: Can you remember a time when you were able to worship “in spirit and in truth”? What was it like?
Personal: Find and join an online service from a church of a different tradition. Join in this act of worship and reflect on what riches God has shown you through this different experience of worship together.
John was baptising in the desert of Judea, not in a town centre park, but it was a public event. Crowds of people had come along, some to repent, and to mark their change of direction by approaching the Baptist for immersion in the river, others to enjoy the spectacle of serious fellow citizens emerging from the water out of breath, dripping wet and undignified.
Having attended a few baptisms in my lifetime, I’d say that some things have changed, but the curious observers are still around, often wielding the cameras on their phones. I can’t help feeling that had those devices been around 2000 years ago, many people would have been too busy peering into them to notice the voice from Heaven – or was it a rumble of thunder? My son just showed me a picture of football spectators so busy looking through their phones that they missed the ball going into the corner of the net. Just one teenager is jumping up, arms outstretched, sheer joy on his face.
Last time we were at an event in our local park was the Lady Mayoress’s Carol Service, on the terrace just above the river. Smiles on many faces as far as we could see in the dark. There was even a terrier who tried to join in the singing; he certainly put a smile on Santa’s face! People soon stopped snapping on their phones and joined in the singing.
In the following days, Santa’s two year old grandson kept asking, Grandad, Santa Claus AGAIN! He kept a couple of appointments with the Saint before Christmas, then told the family on Boxing Day, Grandad Santa Claus no more. Santa was not a lasting name for Grandad, but Grandad was a new and lasting name for Will Turnstone.
John the Baptist announced a new name for Jesus, one we still use day by day in the liturgy: the Lamb of God. It is a powerful name: ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.