Tag Archives: Rome

13 May. What is Theology Saying? L: Signs of the times open pathways for the Gospel

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austinThe signs of the times cannot simply be material events or objective happenings. Such things, of themselves, do not indicate anything. They prompt a suspicion that things are brewing, it does not take very much to be aware of that. Sadly that is where most people stop. Whereas the real signs are human actions, human responses to challenges posed by these events. Only people can create realities pointing somewhere, through their words, gestures and actions. The “signs of the times” are these gestures which allow the Lord to be present. There will always be a connection between events and signs. St. Paul’s journeys depended on the existence of sea-routes, and the communications system established by the Roman Empire. But a study of these phenomena would not suffice to help us understand what was going on. Only people can be signs. Anthony in the Desert, Benedict, Francis, Gandhi, Martin Luther King… were all signs who were intimately involved with what was going on in their own world. Their sign value lay in the pathways they opened up for the Gospel life to move through them, relevantly, into the world.

If we are simply looking for new ways to win people to the church, all we need do is take note of modern resources on offer. Make use of the variety of ideologies at our disposal. But our task is different. A new Church demands freedom from the accretions and accumulations of time. We need to sweep away whatever makes the Word inaccessible. Just as individuals need to be set free from their past, so too do Institutions which are made up of individuals. We will only realise the need for change when we discover people who are not being reached. Recognising the signs of the times means risking letting go of much of the past. If Jesus had taken all the Jewish traditions on board he would have made many more converts, but nothing would have changed and the truth would have remained “safely” locked up.

Mission is not something extraordinary, it does not require the presence of genius; simply ordinary folk prepared to do ordinary things, extraordinarily well. When we rely over much on system and method we end up transmitting ideology, religion or culture, rather than access to Jesus Christ

AMcC

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14 April: Stations for Saint Peter, VIII: the third fall: Get behind me, Satan!

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Scripture references: Matthew 16:13-23, Get behind me; Luke 23:28, John 19:20-22, crowds watching.

Peter recalls when Jesus said that he would be killed, and Peter tried to stop him from going to Jerusalem.

It was a struggle to keep sight of Jesus on the way to Calvary. Not that he could make any speed, weak as he was, and with the soldiers, the crowds watching him go by, the hundreds who seemed to be following him.

I heard he had fallen, even with Simon on hand to help. I saw blood on the stones as I came up behind. Always I was behind him.

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‘Get behind me, Satan!’ he once said. And now it comes to this: what was God thinking of?

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And now it comes to my turn. Lord I am behind you, but not far behind now!

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

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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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22 February. What is Theology Saying? XLVIII: The need for a new world.

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Jesus had said his kingdom was not of this world, he could not establish the kingdom using any kind of force. For the next several centuries there was little chance of Christians being involved in decision-making – they were being constantly persecuted. Then from being objects of persecution they became part of the establishment in Eastern Roman Empire, with the Decree of Constantine [Edict of Milan 313] – Now came the tendency to believe the empire was the kingdom of God. They saw their role as to obey Christian princes; problems only arose when there were clashes between Popes and Emperors.

The Church in Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on The Church in the Modern World, recognised the findings of Teilhard de Chardin but it soon became evident that this document did not solve all the issues – for instance it does not touch on the value of human work in the world – is technology helping or just keeping us busy? What the Bible tells us and tradition has handed on is in symbolic form, and needs interpretation. We do not know the future in the way we know the past. All that we really know is the demand the future makes on the present. We learn not by looking, but by doing, we are not waiting for the next world to come, but we do feel the need for a new world.

For the Bible the world is not just a place but history itself – it is history always moving towards fulfilment of God’s promises. We must be constantly on the move from a comfortable status quo to a universal better future for everyone – no exclusions. It is not action in the world that must go, but our individual and privileged stake in the present: the privilege of being white where black people have to do menial tasks, the fostering of economic development with larger economies crushing the smaller, the exclusion of the poor from places reserved for the privileged – these are the evils in the world that must pass away.

AMcC

We will hear more from Austin in a few weeks’ time. WT.

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3 November: The Pilgrims’ Way

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Join us on a walk in mid September. The road name Pilgrims Way appears in various places around Canterbury. This one, six or seven miles west at Chilham village carries the pilgrims’ scallop shell badge as another reminder of the ancient ways that led to Canterbury and beyond, to Rome or Compostella or even Jerusalem.

Clearly the only way from here is upwards!

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The second picture, taken by the Pilgrims Way just beyond Chilham, shows the first view of Canterbury Cathedral in the distance. The discerning eye – meaning one that knows what to look for – will spot the Bell Harry tower almost dead centre behind the trees that follow the downward slope left to right.

The sight must have put a spring in the pilgrims’ steps, and no doubt they were further encouraged by a long drink in the inn whose wall appears in the first picture. As Chesterton once said, Let a man walk ten miles steadily on a hot summer’s day along a dusty English road, and he will soon discover why beer was invented.

We walked rather less than ten miles on this occasion, but we agree with GKC!

Thank God for hospitality, wherever we find it.

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22 September: Saint Maurice, a book review.

Looking back, I realise that my teacher Miss ‘Killer’ was an ignorant woman. She ridiculed children who had not been baptised with what she considered to be appropriate saints’ names. ‘There’s never been a Saint June!’ she once spat, instead of saying, ‘You could stick with Saint Jane or Saint Joan.’ As for ‘Royston’! ‘What kind of a name is that?’ Life was miserable if you were on the wrong side of her, as a good 75% of us regularly were. I’m glad she did not pick up on the idea that Saint Maurice did not exist; it would have been another stick to beat me with. And I mean beat.

The theory was that since there were no contemporary accounts of Maurice and his companions, they were more likely a group of saints invented to make sense of a mass grave found in Switzerland in 383 AD, said to have been Christian legionaries executed for refusing an immoral order.

Donald O’Reilly in Lost Legion Rediscovered  settles the Question to his and my satisfaction: there was a Christian Theban legion – from the Egyptian Thebes, not the Greek one – and in the late 3rd Century civil war its members were killed in great numbers for disobeying an immoral order, and this happened not only in Switzerland’s town that bears his name but across North West Europe.

O’Reilly’s detective work is well worth reading, giving insight into Roman civil and military life of the time, and into Christian attitudes to military service. Yes, St Maurice did exist, an African in Europe, which is why his town is now the focus for the annual African pilgrimage to the saints of Africa every June.

Here is part of a speech attributed to Maurice by a later writer (p121 of O’Reilly’s book).

Our right hands know how to fight against wicked men and enemies; they do not know how to cut into pieces innocent men and fellow citizens. We remember we took up arms on behalf of citizens rather than against citizens. We have always fought on behalf of justice, on behalf of the safety of the innocent; up to the present time this has been the reward of our dangers. We have fought on behalf of the faith; and how are we to keep our faith towards you – the words are addressed to the emperor – if we do not show forth faith to God?

 

Donald O’Reilly, Lost Legion Rediscovered, Barnsley, Pen and Sword, 2011.

MMB

 

 

 

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29 August: Saint Sabina

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I doubt I’ll find out how an icon of a second century Roman martyr saint came to be displayed in a redundant church in Shropshire, but that’s where we found this image of Saint Sabina. Who was she?

A wealthy woman by all accounts, who was converted by her Syrian slave girl, Serapia. That alone makes me wonder what sort of relationships existed between Roman citizens and their slaves. But it was not a Roman, but a Victorian woman, Mrs Alexander, who wrote All things bright and beautiful, including the lines, ‘The rich man in his castle,/ The poor man at his gate,/ God made them high and lowly / And ordered their estate. 

But that’s not today’s reflection!

Sabina held Serapia dear enough to have her body rescued after she was martyred, and buried in the family tomb. Sabina herself was denounced and executed soon afterwards.

The ancient Basilica of Saint Sabina in Rome is built where her house had stood.

Serapia shows us how anyone can be a herald of the Gospel; Sabina invites us to humbly pay attention to everyone around us, to respect those who serve us. A bus driver, postman or woman, a supermarket worker or nurse; none of these is our slave but our sister or brother in Christ rendering us service. That much Sabina saw; an early step on the road to abolition. The two ideas of equality and slavery are irreconcilable, unless everyone is equally precious and everyone is also a willing slave towards their neighbours.

For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.

Philippians 2:5-8

 

Photo from St Batholomew, Richard’s Castle.

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27 June: Water: in their element.

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This blog is not meant to be the holiday snaps of any of the contributors, but these fit well with this week’s feast of John the Baptist. And contrast them with the rather solemn fountain at Saint Peter’s in Rome that illustrated the Infallibility posts from Friar Austin!

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The tulips give the location away: this surprising fountain is in Amsterdam and was enjoyed by young and old. Especially young? I hope their phones were waterproof.

The waters of Baptism, of course, are free for anyone to request and receive. And they give freedom to have fun for Eternity! Religion need not be buttoned up and strait-laced, enjoy being fully alive! If you can’t find a fountain, find a friendly puddle, Splash, splash, splash, as Abel would say!

 

 

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4 May: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXI; the immeasurable treasure of most holy poverty.

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We continue from yesterday’s episode: Saint Francis abandons France for Rome. These Franciscans were in Kent, on pilgrimage to Canterbury.

Saint Francis said : My comrade, let us go to Saint Peter and Saint Paul and pray them to teach us and help us to possess the immeasurable treasure of most holy poverty ; for it is a treasure so high excelling and so divine that we be not worthy to lay it up in our vile vessels; since this is that celestial virtue whereby all earthly things and fleeting are trodden under foot, and whereby all hindrances are lifted from the soul, so that freely she may join herself to God eternal. And this is the virtue that makes the soul, still tied to earth, hold converse with the angels in heaven, and this it is that hung with Christ upon the cross, with Christ was buried, with Christ rose up again, with Christ ascended into heaven; the which also in this life grants to the souls that love it an easier flight to heaven ; in that it guards the arms of true humility and love. Wherefore let us pray the most holy apostles of Christ, the which were perfect lovers of this gospel pearl, that they may beg for us this grace from our Lord Jesu Christ, that of His most holy mercy He may make us worthy to become true lovers, followers, and humble disciples, of the most precious, most lovable, and gospel poverty.” 

With such converse they so fared until they came unto Rome, and went into the church of Saint Peter; and Saint Francis set himself to pray in one corner of the church, and Brother Masseo in another; and as he continued a long time in prayer with much weeping and devotion, there appeared unto Saint Francis the most holy apostles Peter and Paul in great splendour, and said “Because thou hast asked and desired to observe that which Christ and His holy apostles observed, the Lord Jesu Christ hath sent us unto thee to announce that thy prayer is heard, and that God has granted to thee and to thy followers in uttermost perfection the treasure of most holy poverty. And further we tell thee that whoso after thy pattern shall perfectly follow this desire, he is assured of the blessedness of life eternal: and blessed shalt thou and all thy followers be ”; and with these words they were away, leaving Saint Francis filled with consolation. And rising from prayer, he returned to his companion and asked him if God had revealed naught unto him; and he answered, “Naught.” Then Saint Francis told him how the holy apostles had appeared to him, and what they had revealed. Whereat they both being filled with joy resolved to return unto the valley of Spoleto, and leave their journeying into France.

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21 March: Stations of the Cross, IV: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his Cross.

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FOURTH STATION
SIMON OF CYRENE HELPS JESUS TO CARRY HIS CROSS

Our witness is a woman from Lebanon, who asked Jesus to cure her little daughter. Her story is told by Saint Mark, in Chapter 7, vv 24-30


I know this man. Jesus knew I was a foreigner when I asked him to cure my little girl. He teased me, but he helped me, he sent me away happy.

The soldiers didn’t tease him. They bullied him. They bully that Libyan man Simon too,
and make him help Jesus to carry his cross.


Prayer :

Lord, forgive us when we bully each other. Help us to see when we are being unfair. Help us to carry each others loads.

We pray for the people of Libya, suffering on the sad road of civil war.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Chichester Cathedral

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