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.
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.
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!
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Pope Francis, in this final extract from his 2019 Lenten message, tells us that the traditional Lenten disciplines should be teaching us to love creation, not despise it.
Creation urgently needs the revelation of the children of God, who have been made “a new creation”. For “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The path to Easter demands that we renew our faces and hearts as Christians through repentance, conversion and forgiveness, above all by fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
Fasting, that is, learning to change our attitude towards others and all of creation, turning away from the temptation to “devour” everything and being ready to suffer for love, which can fill the emptiness of our hearts. Prayer, which teaches us to abandon idolatry and the self-sufficiency of our ego, and to acknowledge our need of the Lord and his mercy. Almsgiving, whereby we escape from the insanity of hoarding everything for ourselves in the illusory belief that we can secure a future that does not belong to us. And thus to rediscover the joy of God’s plan for creation and for each of us, which is to love him, our brothers and sisters, and the entire world, and to find in this love our true happiness.
Dear brothers and sisters, the “Lenten” period of forty days spent by the Son of God in the desert of creation had the goal of making it once more that garden of communion with God that it was before original sin (Mark 1:12-13; Is 51:3). May our Lent this year be a journey along that same path, bringing the hope of Christ also to creation, so that it may be “set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
Let us not allow this season of grace to pass in vain! Let us ask God to help us set out on a path of true conversion. Let us leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and turn to Jesus’ Pasch. Let us stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them. In this way, by concretely welcoming Christ’s victory over sin and death into our lives, we will also radiate its transforming power to all of creation.
Reading this poem by Saint Robert Southwell, I at once remembered my father’s rosary, with the skull below Christ’s feet. So although Southwell does not directly refer to the crucifixion, this is the image that comes to my mind. How Dad’s fingers have eroded the figure of Christ and the skull! May he pray for us still, as he prayed for his children every day. Reginald Billingsley would have been 100 years old last New Year’s Eve. A ‘hearse’ at Southwell’s time was a frame that held candles over a coffin. Robert Southwell was a Jesuit missionary to his native England, and a martyr at Tyburn, London in 1595.
Upon The Image Of Death
Before my face the picture hangs That daily should put me in mind Of those cold names and bitter pangs That shortly I am like to find; But yet, alas, full little I Do think hereon that I must die.
I often look upon a face Most ugly, grisly, bare, and thin; I often view the hollow place Where eyes and nose had sometimes been; I see the bones across that lie, Yet little think that I must die.
I read the label underneath, That telleth me whereto I must; I see the sentence eke that saith Remember, man, that thou art dust! But yet, alas, but seldom I Do think indeed that I must die.
Continually at my bed’s head A hearse doth hang, which doth me tell That I ere morning may be dead, Though now I feel myself full well ; But yet, alas, for all this, I Have little mind that I must die.
The gown which I do use to wear, The knife wherewith I cut my meat, And eke that old and ancient chair Which is my only usual seat,- All these do tell me I must die, And yet my life amend not I.
My ancestors are turned to clay, And many of my mates are gone; My youngers daily drop away, And can I think to ‘scape alone? No, no, I know that I must die, And yet my life amend not I.
Not Solomon for all his wit, Nor Samson, though he were so strong, No king nor person ever yet Could ‘scape but death laid him along; Wherefore I know that I must die, And yet my life amend not I.
Though all the East did quake to hear Of Alexander’s dreadful name, And all the West did likewise fear To hear of Julius Caesar’s fame, Yet both by death in dust now lie; Who then can ‘scape but he must die?
If none can ‘scape death’s dreadful dart, If rich and poor his beck obey, If strong, if wise, if all do smart, Then I to ‘scape shall have no way. Oh, grant me grace, O God, that I My life may mend, sith I must die.