Tag Archives: riches

July 23. Little Flowers of Saint Francis LI: Brother Leo’s Dream

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How Saint Francis set forth unto Brother Leo a fair dream that he had seen

It befell on a time that Saint Francis was grievously sick and Brother Leo did him service; the said Brother Leo, whilst praying close to Saint Francis, was rapt in ecstasy, and borne in spirit to a mighty river, broad and rushing furiously. And as he stood there for to see who crossed over it, he beheld certain brothers enter into the river, with loads upon their backs; the which were straightway thrown down by the force of the stream and were drowned; but certain others went as far as a third of the way over; others, as far as the middle of the stream; some nearly to the other bank; but in the end they all fell down and were drowned.

Seeing this, Brother Leo had exceeding great compassion on them: and meanwhile lo! there came suddenly a great multitude of brothers that had on their backs no load or burden of any kind and the light of holy poverty shone upon them; and they entered into the stream and passed over without any peril; and when he had seen this, Brother Leo came back to himself again. Then Saint Francis perceiving in spirit that Brother Leo had seen a vision, called him unto him and questioned him concerning what he had seen: and whenas Brother Leo had told him all the vision in order, quoth Saint Francis: That which thou hast seen is true. The great river is this world; the brothers that were drowned in the river are they that remained not true to their profession of the gospel life, and chief above all to that of the deepest poverty; but they that without peril passed over are those brothers that neither seek nor possess in this world aught that is earthly or carnal, but being temperate in clothing and in food, are content therewith, following Christ naked upon the cross; and with gladness and right good will do they bear the burden and sweet yoke of Christ and of most holy obedience; wherefore they pass with ease from this temporal life to life eternal.

We are saving Post L (50) of this series until Christmas day, where it belongs.

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29 June, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XLV: The Secrets of Hearts

 

EVEN as our Lord Jesus Christ saith in the Gospel: “I know My little sheep and they know Me,” so the good father St. Francis, like a good shepherd, knew all the merits and virtues of his companions by Divine revelation, and so likewise he knew their imperfections also; whereby he was able to provide for all of them the best remedy; to wit, humbling the proud, exalting the humble, rebuking vice, and praising virtue; as may be read in the wonderful revelations which he had concerning that first family of his.

Among the which we find that once, when St. Francis was with his said family in a Place, discoursing of God, Friar Ruffino was not with them, being in the wood in contemplation; but, while they continued to discourse of God, lo! Friar Ruffino [a noble citizen of Assisi, but a nobler servant of God, a most pure virgin, sublimated by the noble prerogative of Divine contemplation, and adorned before God and man with the flowers of odoriferous conversation] came forth from the wood and passed by at some distance from them.

Thereupon, St. Francis, beholding him, turned to his companions and asked them: “Tell me, which, think ye, is the holiest soul that God hath upon this earth?” Whereto they made answer and said that they believed it was his own. Then St. Francis said unto them: “Most dear friars, I am of myself the most unworthy and the vilest man that God hath in this world; but see ye that Friar Ruffino who is now coming forth from the wood? God hath revealed unto me that his soul is one of the three holiest souls in the world; and of a sooth I tell you that I would not fear to call him St. Ruffino while he is yet alive, inasmuch as his soul is confirmed in grace and sanctified and canonised in heaven by our Lord Jesus Christ;” but St. Francis never spake these words in the presence of the said Friar Ruffino.

judasHow St. Francis knew the imperfections of his friars was clearly seen in like manner in Friar Elias, whom he often rebuked for his pride; and in that Friar Giovanni della Cappella, unto whom he foretold that he would hang himself by the neck; and in that friar whose throat was held fast by the devil what time he was admonished for disobedience; and in many other friars whose secret defects and virtues he knew clearly by revelation of Christ.

The artist of Strasbourg Cathedral shows the Lamb of God releasing the suicide Judas ready to remove him from Hell’s Mouth.

Woodland photograph by Eleanor Billingsley

 

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22 June: Overheard on a journey

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I had been visiting friends a long way from home, and took a train from Western Ontario back towards Montreal and my plane which I almost missed, but that’s another story.

A conference was finishing in one of the towns we passed through, a conference for church ministers. Two, an older man and one as fresh-faced as I was at the time, came and sat behind me. They would be crossing the border back to the US, changing half an hour later to get their plane or connecting train, so I did not hear the whole of their conversation.

I wished, and still wish I hadn’t heard any of it at all, but occasionally it comes back to haunt me. My apologies to any reader who thinks I ought to have kept it to myself.

I can well understand that the ministers would not be talking Scripture or Theology or Hospital Visiting at the end of the conference, unless there had been a truly inspirational speaker! Sport, family, holidays, gardening, I could understand. But what I could not help overhearing would have put me off if I had been one of their flock or someone inching towards faith.

The older man was congratulating his colleague on his appointment to a church that he knew, but rather than advising him about the congregation, the town and their strengths and needs, it was a monologue on clerical ambition and how to fulfil it. ‘In five years’ time you should be looking to be in a much larger, more prosperous church’, the younger man was told. Making a name for himself in the local newspaper (this was 40 years ago), driving newer, larger cars, the message seemed to be that the prosperity gospel was to be lived by example.

I could not believe my ears; this man clearly felt he was safe on the train, nobody could hear him. Did he believe that Jesus preferred his gospel to that of Saint Francis, or a poor Baptist preacher, supporting a church in a run down suburb or rural settlement? Was he idealistic as a young man? Where did his zeal go?

Lord, send us priests and holy priests!

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18 April. Stations of the Cross for Peter: XII, Jesus dies.

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Winchester Cathedral, MMB

James, Stephen – and eventually Peter himself – were to die for Jesus. But this was a moment of desolation for his friend, the rock.

Scripture References: Jesus the Carpenter: Luke 2:51-52; Mattheew 13: 53-58; Call of the Fishermen: Mark 1: 16-20; Call of the rich young man: Luke 18: 18-25; Stephen: Acts Ch 6-7; James: Acts 12:1-3.

this looks like the end of a wasted life. He could have carried on as a carpenter, and we could have stayed by the lake, catching fish all our days. Good, honest, useful work: absolutely nothing wrong with that.

But Jesus said there was more to life than earning a good living. Sell everything, he told that rich lad, then come and follow me.

We followed him, at times a long way behind and not knowing where we were going. Look what happened to Stephen and James! Stones and the sword, more blood on the cobbles.

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And yet Stephen saw Heaven opened, and Jesus there, with open arms, waiting. He is waiting for me, now.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom!

Let us pray for all who are facing a crisis in their faith or a relationship at this time, that they may be granted courage for the next step.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom!

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22 March. Before the Cross IX: Fresh, accessible and slightly subversive.

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Bearing of the Cross

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ekjohnson1/25761762410/in/photostream/

My son is now 14, and thinks he’s much too grown-up for Lego. But I’ve really enjoyed these years of revisiting the world of long six-ers and square flat four-ers, finding myself far more creative now with the pieces than I ever was as a child.

This crucifixion scene is an image designed to appeal to the younger Bible student, of course, as much as to adults. The quotation from Peter’s first epistle connects the death of Jesus with our response in dying to sin and living for righteousness (covenant justice, that is, lest we lapse into moralism). It indicates that its production by EK Johnson was an act of faith and this is important to me, as it is with all Christian art.

But shouldn’t a subject as serious as this be treated with more gravitas than Lego can offer? My inner conservative complains that “Lego Jesus” just seems wrong, diminishing his lordship, maybe, or infantilising his mission.

My inner iconoclast replies that this Lego scene represents a gentle mocking of religious art – with all its trappings of patronage and power; pride; ill-gotten wealth and elitism – and not of the cross itself. Wasn’t the cross always meant to serve as a massive lance to the boil of religious pomposity?

I like this image because I believe that the gospel story should be communicated meaningfully by every possible means. Fresh, accessible and slightly subversive, a Lego representation of Jesus connects and engages with today’s culture in ways that renaissance art and stained glass simply cannot.

EK Johnson is clearly keen for us to grasp the solemnity and significance of the event he depicts. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross … by his wounds you have been healed” reads the text. The apostle Peter is alluding to Isaiah the prophet, making sense of Christ’s crucifixion through the lens of the Hebrew scriptures and the promised “suffering servant”. If we find the Lego distracting or overly provocative, this text should leave us in no doubt that this was the most profound, powerful and momentous event in all of human history. It was the day the God of Israel worked his salvation for the world; for our lives.

Lego might not give us everything we want in a crucifixion scene, but it communicates its historical truth simply and clearly. Every age in religious art has provided its own distortions and distractions, however well-intentioned the artist. We inherit notions of the “sublime” from the Romantics, for example, but it’s a misguided ideal, because it lacks humility. There is certainly humility in Lego. Simple blocks and simple figures remove much of the element of human sophistication. And with that gone, we can begin to grasp – and be overwhelmed by – the love of God demonstrated on a hill in West Asia, two thousand years ago.

Rupert Greville.

Photo credit.

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March 13. Jesus and Zacchaeus VII: The Beloved Friend

 

Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham, for the Son of man has come to seek out and save what was lost.

Yesterday, we began to ponder these remarkable words of Jesus. Today, we can continue to turn these words over in our minds – as Zacchaeus must have done late that night when everyone else had fallen asleep. How healing Jesus’ words are.

There is no hesitation on Jesus’ part in accepting Zacchaeus’s promise. No cynical words, such as, “Ha. We’ll see how long this lasts. You’ve been a liar and a thief most of your life and now you expect us to believe that you will keep these promises?” Not a word was spoken to that effect. Such remarks would have immediately condemned Zacchaeus to failure, imprisoned him in his past. But that is emphatically not the way Jesus treats anyone: certainly not Zacchaeus, and not us. Instead, Jesus reinforces Zacchaeus’s good resolution by believing in it and in him. How creative and life-giving Jesus’ belief in Zacchaeus is for him.

Jesus also regards Zacchaeus’s promise as sufficient. There is no lecture from Jesus along the lines of, “Right, my good man. Is that all you mean to do? Repaying those you ruined four times the amount you stole is not as generous as it sounds! Those people need at least that much in order to start all over again. And as for giving half your property to the poor, you will barely even feel the loss, you have so much property as it is.” Jesus does not say anything of the sort here, nor does he ever do so. Jesus is friendship, love and forgiveness. So great is his mercy and love that he immediately accepts our good resolutions wholeheartedly and envisions them not as unfulfilled promises but as actual achievements, meriting praise. Today salvation has come to this house, he says. It has already happened. This is what friendship with Jesus means.

Jesus’ friendship gives us the grace of a conversion that almost seems to reach back in time and not merely forward. Jesus can give us a new heart, and new inner desires for goodness, along with the determination to act on these desires – as we see in Zacchaeus’s resolutions. Jesus’ forgiveness is one with his friendship, which means we enter into a continuous inner relationship with him who is goodness. He can therefore fill our present with potential for good – because we are with him. This can enable us to fulfil our potential for goodness by drawing on an inner store of grace and wisdom, which have their source in Jesus.

Zacchaeus had been an unhappy, wounded, even tragic person. He had managed to surround himself with the comforts of wealth, but he did so to the detriment of his emotional life and his need for human relationships. Jesus, simply by being Jesus, swept away the tragedy like fallen leaves in the autumn; Jesus awakened Zacchaeus both to his own human longings and to his deepest human potential. In awakening these longings, Jesus also immediately offered himself as the fulfillment of Zacchaeus’s longings, and as the power behind all his potential. This shows us what we may hope for from Jesus, our beloved Friend.

good shepherd mada3

Perhaps we are tentatively groping toward something, and we do not know what it is. Maybe we are metaphorically on that tree branch, just watching, as Zacchaeus was. Maybe we see Jesus turning to us. Maybe we are very clear only about one thing: that we are lost. Zacchaeus’s story tells us that we can be confident that Jesus will befriend us, too, and offer us as much healing forgiveness, with as much joy as he gave to Zacchaeus. He will also ask something of us: to allow him, and his dearest companions, into our home. Today.

SJC

 

 

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12 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus VI: Healing Friendship Offered to All

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But wait, what’s going on? There is some restlessness in the crowd now. The people seem dismayed. The ones nearest Jesus’ group have sent the perplexing message around: Jesus has gone to stay at a sinner’s house! How shocking! It can’t be true! Now the crowd is straining to see what is happening. Zacchaeus is too short to be seen clearly, but it’s clear enough that Jesus is smiling, and some of his closest companions are looking happy. One is even wiping his eyes. They see them preparing to leave together, and yes, they see that Zacchaeus is the centre of attention. Naturally. But look – yes, Zacchaeus is actually being embraced by some of Jesus’ friends. They seem to be speaking to Zacchaeus with expressions of relief and gratitude. Relief? Gratitude?? Because of Zacchaeus?? And Jesus and his friends are all heading in the direction of Zacchaeus’s house. The atmosphere in the crowd quickly becomes more hostile, and angry people are beginning to surround Jesus and his newly enlarged group. They don’t understand. That villainous chief tax collector, whom they all despised and had relegated to the outermost edges of their lives, is suddenly in the inner circle of this holy man’s friends. What is this?

But now, Zacchaeus is ready. He hears the bewildered comments and knows that it is up to him to do something, to act, to explain. Jesus is now his friend, and he is Jesus’ friend, and Zacchaeus has already decided on the changes he will make in his life. He declares his promise to Jesus with conviction – and it feels so wonderful, so free to declaim the words, Look, sir, I am going to give half my property to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody I will pay him back four times the amount.’ The bystanders have fallen silent.

Zacchaeus pauses, panting a bit. He knows Jesus understands the full import of his declaration: it means that now I am a new man. I have a new identity; I am the friend of Jesus, because Jesus has befriended me. Jesus did this completely out of the blue, not as a reward for any good deeds of mine for I had no good deeds. He offered his friendship because he is friendship, he is love. Jesus saw through my facade, my fake bravado, saw beyond the unscrupulous tax collector, the cheat, the bully – he saw through all that, he saw the hurt, frightened child. And now he sees my human potential and his friendship has healed me. Jesus confirms this in his words:

Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham, for the Son of man has come to seek out and save what was lost.’

These words of Jesus are directed to Zacchaeus, primarily, but they are also words for the angry bystanders. They, too, need healing from their wound of self-righteousness, from their various facades of self-sufficiency and bravado. Jesus is here re-teaching the crowd the message that he repeats so often during his minstry: he has not come for those who suppose themselves to be righteous, capable and therefore deserving of God’s blessings. He has come for the lost, the rejected; he has come for the wounded – physically and emotionally. That refers to Zacchaeus, and Zacchaeus knows it. That also refers to the crowd standing around Jesus in Jericho – and they are a bit slower to grasp the point.

If we are honest, we know that this refers to us, also. We need to be needed by Jesus. And we are. Jesus longs to be in a relationship of deepest friendship with us. His relationship with Zacchaeus can give hope to all who realize that they are precisely in Zacchaeus’s position.

SJC

(MAfr African Pilgrimage, St Maurice)

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9 March. Jesus and Zacchaeus III: Personal History

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We all have a history, including Zacchaeus. We do not know what his history was, but it is probable that this friendless man had an unhappy one. Why choose a profession that guarantees the hatred of one’s fellow-man otherwise? Perhaps he was tossed out of the home at a young age by an abusive parent, or perhaps he ran away from a situation of poverty and violence, had to fend for himself, become street-wise, learn to manipulate situations to his advantage. Whatever happened, he became, for reasons we will never know, a rich man, but also a dishonest man in a despised profession. No doubt he was intelligent and competent – too competent, maybe, at getting money – but wealth and the power to ruin people does not attract friends. Sycophants, maybe, but not friends. And not even these were with him that day. He was alone, unsupported. No wife, no servant. No colleague. No one.

Let’s fill in some other details about this man. Working backwards from what the text tells us, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine Zacchaeus as a wiry little boy, able to run fast and scale obstacles easily as he escaped from the angry adults who wanted to thrash him for some misdemeanour – or none. I think he knew what hunger meant as a child, and although he survived by his wits, perhaps his nutrition was dubious, and bodily growth was affected. Now he is a well-to-do adult, but Zacchaeus is a small man. He is abundantly energetic, though, and is both crafty and agile enough to solve his current difficulty without reference to anyone else (it is the story of his life): he cannot see Jesus because he is too short and the crowd is too big and unyielding. Fine. He dashes ahead and swings easily into a sycamore tree, as the text tells us – a tree well furnished with thick branches radiating from a central crown. Here is a resourceful person with few inhibitions. Here is someone determined never to allow his desires to be thwarted. Here is a man who has never cared what people thought of him as he ruthlessly made his fortune – why start now? He climbs higher on the sturdy branches. Yes, excellent view, he thinks smugly. He can see Jesus perfectly now.

And what is happening with Jesus? What is Zacchaeus apt to be seeing? St Luke tells us in the immediately preceding passage that Jesus, on entering Jericho, had healed a blind man, and that ‘all who saw it gave praise to God.’ The formerly blind man then followed Jesus, we are told. He was probably now part of Jesus’ joyful entourage walking down the main road of Jericho. I expect this group might have included many of the people who had known the blind man all his life and had now witnessed his healing. They would have joined Jesus’ group, already consisting of the Twelve, without whom he rarely went anywhere. The gospels also report that there were women among Jesus’ constant supporters and followers, and I image that some of them would have been there now, too. Chances are, the collection of people coming down the road with Jesus was a large one.

As we have seen in our gospel passage, Jesus already seems to know Zacchaeus’ name when he starts the conversation with him. No one introduces them. We do not need to assume that this is a demonstration of Jesus’ divine omniscience. Zacchaeus was infamous. The apostle Matthew, reformed tax collector himself, probably knew him, even if Jesus didn’t. He would probably have warned Jesus about Zacchaeus as he approached the town: “Rich man, but the very devil for getting tax money from people – and then some. Ruthless,” Jesus might have been told. He was probably also told that Zacchaeus lived a big house. I can see Jesus listening quietly to such information, and forming his own plans. Jesus had nothing to fear from notorious individuals.

SJC

Favella image from CD.

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8 March. Zacchaeus and Jesus II: The Chief Tax Collector.

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There is seemingly an unimportant phrase at the end of the first sentence of the gospel passage from Luke (19:1-10) given in yesterday’s posting. If you missed it, I recommend scrolling back to it. There are a few words in the beginning that are very easy simply to skim over. The text tells us that Jesus was going through Jericho when ‘…suddenly a man whose name was Zacchaeus made his appearance.’ It’s the words ‘made his appearance’, that are so telling, I believe. They are an English interpretation of the original Greek text, rather than a literal translation of the Greek words, but I believe the translators of the New Jerusalem Bible are using the phrase in order to introduce the reader subtly to the theme of suffering in Zacchaeus’s life. There is a sub-text in these words. Usually when we say So and So “made his appearance” we are smirking. We are putting a negative spin on the words because we are talking about someone who is not very likeable, someone whose actions may have harmed us or a person we love, someone who never enters a public scene without having some ulterior motive. The phrase implies, “Oh no. What’s he doing here?” On this particular occasion a crowd has gathered in order to see Jesus, who was known to be a holy man and a healer. This is an occasion in which a dishonest person and a swindler would not be expected even to be interested.

And, yet, Zacchaeus – a chief tax collector, as the Greek text tells us – was there. Tax collectors were notorious in Jesus’ day for being dishonest, callous, thieving characters, who took more money than they had a right to, in order to line their own pockets. These were Jews who were employed by Rome, the occupying power, and who were therefore considered by devout Jews to be apostates from their own faith, and loyal to ‘the enemy.’ Zacchaeus was no different. If anything, he would have been considered to be worse than many tax collectors, an ‘arch-enemy’, because as chief tax collector, he was in charge of a whole district, and doubtless was responsible for ensuring that those under him did not become too lenient toward those owing tax money. And this man ‘makes his appearance’ – here, of all places.

The people in the crowd probably glance at Zacchaeus warily, then exchange looks with one another. Maybe the only thing that prevents some of the men in the crowd from confronting Zacchaeus is the thought that this, after all, is an event in which a holy man will be present. It would not do to have a brawl. In any case, Zacchaeus had power to ruin anyone who made his life difficult. So, the people in the crowd try to act as though Zacchaeus isn’t there.

That Zacchaeus was ‘blanked’ by the people, that all were complicit in an act of passive aggression against him can be inferred from the text, where it says, He kept trying to see who Jesus was, but he was short and could not see him for the crowd. In other words, the crowd closed ranks against Zacchaeus. They would not let him through. He was a well-known figure not only in Jericho, but in the district. In this setting, had he been a public person of some other profession, with a reputation for kindness and philanthropy, surely he would have been allowed to pass through. A little murmur of recognition would have gone through the crowd, and Zacchaeus would have found a pathway opening up for him, making it possible for him to move forward. But nothing of the kind happens. He is ostracised.

SJC

 

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7 March. Jean Vanier speaks to the ‘Flame’ conference.

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Jean Vanier recently spoke by video link to young people gather in London for a ‘Flame’ conference. This link leads to the text of his speech at ICN.

https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/36658

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