Tag Archives: Rome

27 May: Saint Augustine of Canterbury.

There was a time when I felt in two minds about Augustine: Saint Augustine? Saint? Hmm. He was a most reluctant Missionary, delaying his departure from Rome to make his way across Europe in 596-597, and indeed, dilly-dallying on the way. But he did get here and began work with his community. He established the dioceses of Canterbury, Rochester and London, which exist to this day in the Church of England.

And then there was the incident when he remained seated to greet the British bishops who went to visit him. They saw this as grossly insulting. For all that, he founded a Church that has lasted.

Let us pray that we may become the missionaries that Gregory’s successor, Francis, calls us to be, and that, like Augustine, we may co-operate with God’s grace, thriving in our weakness.

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30 November: Oscar Wilde awaits the harvest

On Hearing The Dies Irae Sung In The Sistine Chapel

Nay, Lord, not thus! white lilies in the spring,
Sad olive-groves, or silver-breasted dove,
Teach me more clearly of Thy life and love
Than terrors of red flame and thundering.
The hillside vines dear memories of Thee bring:
A bird at evening flying to its nest
Tells me of One who had no place of rest:
I think it is of Thee the sparrows sing.

Come rather on some autumn afternoon,
When red and brown are burnished on the leaves,
And the fields echo to the gleaner’s song,
Come when the splendid fulness of the moon
Looks down upon the rows of golden sheaves,
And reap Thy harvest: we have waited long.

from “Selected Poems of Oscar Wilde

On this day in 1900, Oscar Wilde died in Paris, an autumn death and apparently a peaceful one, accompanied by a priest and a friend. He had had his share of terrors and thundering, and was ready to be gathered in.

Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest. Matthew 9:37-38.

Let us pray that we might be ready to do for others whatever is asked of us today: perhaps sowing a seed rather than reaping a harvest, or even clearing brambles or nettles to make room for plants being choked of light. And let us trust God to have sent his angels to bring all sinners home.

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27 September: Relics or souvenirs?

I shared these Welsh biscuits (Aberffraw biscuits) with my workmate after returning from Wales. They were traditionally baked in the shape of scallop shells as fare for pilgrims who would take ship at Aberffraw in Anglesey. A local bakery has revived the ancient recipe, adding lemon in this variety. (I did some research and found that St David could have tasted lemons as they had reached Rome in his time!)

There are many resonances to sharing a pilgrim’s biscuit. Both participate in a shared meal, a sort of bread broken between us. There is the journey and the return: like the twelve sent out by Jesus, I came home rejoicing, despite not having leant on him as they did (see Sister Johanna’s post on this topic in Luke’s gospel).

However, my family needed no second invitation when in Wales to obey one command of the Lord, and neither did my workmate in Canterbury:

And into what city soever you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. Luke 10:8.

Including pilgrim’s biscuits, which did not last long enough to become relics!

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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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8 April, Desert XXXVIII: Enforced exile.

Adam, the first exile.

In 1943, Archbishop Spellman, a former colleague of Pius XII at the Vatican Secretariat of State, visited Ethiopia, which with allied help had defeated the Italian invaders who had overrun the country some years before and planted the beginnings of a colony there. People were sent to create a new Roman Empire in this ‘open country’.

Spellman discovered that many colonists were unhappy with their part in Mussolini’s venture. He met a family who had been exiled from their own home when they were taken as colonisers to Africa.

‘The father of this family told me that the grief he suffered in being taken from his home was renewed and redoubled, when he watched the officers drive another family from their home, to make room for him in a strange land’. And now he and his family were returning to an uncertain future.1

Who knows what became of that family, returning to a famished Italy? Their story is not so far from those of so many displaced people today, exiled even if living in a land flowing with milk and honey and all good things. ‘If I forget you Jerusalem … let my right hand wither.’ Yet who can survive, consumed with bitterness?

1 Francis J. Spellman: Action This Day. Letters from the Fighting Fronts. (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1943. p169.

Image from West window, Canterbury, thanks to SJC.

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17 November: The King, 1.

 

At the end of the Church’s year we celebrate Christ’s Kingship, and the Gospel reading is either of the last Judgement or the Passion: Luke’s account of the crucifixion or John’s report of the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, which Sister Johanna will be talking about this week. A challenging reading, as she states from the start.

Introduction

Toward the end of the Gospel of John, Jesus undergoes a question and answer session with Pontius Pilate that ends with Pilate sentencing Jesus to death (see John 18:1 – 19:30). I must confess that I tend to read this dialogue too quickly because it is always painful. But, I recently read John’s account of the Pilate-Jesus dialogue again, this time more slowly and more prayerfully. I found that the text opened up and some new realisations occurred to me.

I would like to share my findings with you in this week’s posts.

  1. Power

In the dialogue between Jesus and Pilate in John’s gospel, an impasse is quickly reached around the central theme of power. Problems around the theme of power were nothing new to Jesus; they had been rumbling along beside nearly every experience of Jesus’ life and they were addressed in many of his teachings. Yet few – if any – of Jesus’ followers were able to grasp Jesus’ teaching on power and powerlessness. Perhaps we cannot blame them; Jesus asks us to absorb a profound paradox here. He would have us lose our life to find it, be great by being truly small, be powerful by being the most powerless servant of all. This seems to go against our instincts, which lead us to seek self-preservation through control and dominance, even if over only a few people. The apostles themselves were forever getting this wrong, arguing often about who was the greatest. To detail the way the theme of power is present in Jesus’ whole life and in his teachings goes far beyond the scope of these posts, but in looking closely at how the two personalities of Jesus and Pontius Pilate are revealed in their dialogue in John’s gospel, I found that one thread in this complex weave-structure can be examined. As we approach the Solemnity of Christ the King next Sunday, I hope these reflections will shed light on the true power of Jesus, our King.

Pontius Pilate is a well-known name to readers of the New Testament, but as a historical figure little is known about him. What is known is very telling, however. He was the Roman Procurator in Judea from about the year 26 to 36. The Procurator’s job combined several offices: governor, judge, tax collector, and commander of a band of soldiers that functioned a bit like a police force. A lot of power was concentrated in the Procurator. Yet, for this reason, the job was an awkward one.

The Procurator was caught in the middle. He needed to garner support from the Jews in order to please his own authorities in the Roman government. At the same time, he needed to be seen to stand for the official line in order to further his own career – a factor that made it more difficult to please the Jewish community in the area he governed. There is historical evidence that he clashed with both sides and pleased no one. Finally, around the year 36, he was deposed as Procurator of Judea and recalled to Rome.

It is tempting to feel a bit sorry for Pilate in the situation that developed with Jesus and the Jews, and to see him as the harassed middle-man caught in a strange and violent drama that he neither caused nor fully understood. There is certainly an element of that in the story. And perhaps Jesus, too, gave him the benefit of that doubt. But we are looking at something much more profound here. We will begin our exploration tomorrow.

SJC.

Not the sort of King that Pilate expected: Shrine of St Thomas, Canterbury.

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13 October: John Henry Newman: Loss and Gain.

young newman

Today in Rome Pope Francis will declare John Henry Cardinal Newman a saint of the Catholic Church, an English saint who was not a martyr but a hard-working priest and theologian. He tended the sick during epidemics in Birmingham as well as founding schools and Oratories and defending the faith through fearless enquiry.

All that and he found time to write novels, including Loss and Gain, The Story of a Convert. In the early pages he has these two contrasting passages about a familiar country walk. Draw your own conclusions!

“When we ourselves were young, we once on a time walked on a hot summer-day from Oxford to Newington—a dull road, as any one who has gone it knows; yet it was new to us; and we protest to you, reader, believe it or not, laugh or not, as you will, to us it seemed on that occasion quite touchingly beautiful; and a soft melancholy came over us, of which the shadows fall even now, when we look back on that dusty, weary journey. And why? because every object which met us was unknown and full of mystery. A tree or two in the distance seemed the beginning of a great wood, or park, stretching endlessly; a hill implied a vale beyond, with that vale’s history; the bye-lanes, with their green hedges, wound and vanished, yet were not lost to the imagination. Such was our first journey; but when we had gone it several times, the mind refused to act, the scene ceased to enchant, stern reality alone remained; and we thought it one of the most tiresome, odious roads we ever had occasion to traverse.” 

“”People call this country ugly, and perhaps it is; but whether I am used to it or no, I always am pleased with it. The lights are always new; and thus the landscape, if it deserves the name, is always presented in a new dress. I have known Shotover there take the most opposite hues, sometimes purple, sometimes a bright saffron or tawny orange.” Here he stopped. 

Loss and Gain is available on Kindle

Start reading it for free: http://amzn.eu/7WLLVaT  

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18 September: Y is for York

IMGP4743

York Minster, as the Cathedral is known, was built over the remains of the Roman Garrison. It was here in the year 306 than Constantine was proclaimed Emperor. This late 20th Century statue shows the Emperor dressed for battle, gazing at his broken sword.

The hilt or handle of the sword forms a cross with the blade. In hoc signo vinces – in this sign you will conquer – were the words that accompanied Constantine’s vision of a cross in the sky before the decisive victory that took him from contender for the throne to acknowledged Emperor of Rome.

Constantine, seventeen centuries on, seems to us more of an action man than a contemplative, but if his adoption of Christianity as the religion of the Empire was politically expedient, it must also have spoken to his heart. We can follow his gaze and, looking at the broken sword, ask ourselves under what sign, what banner do we strive? Which Kingdom do we serve? What are we aiming for? And how would we recognise victory? Are we like the man in the background, too busy on our phones to stop and stare? Let’s look at the broken sword and say:

We adore Thee O Christ and we praise  Thee, because by thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world. Amen.

MMB.

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13 August, V is for Verulam: hospitality and its unlikely consequences

Verulam is the other, old name for Saint Alban’s, a city about 30 km to the north of London. Its Cathedral was founded as an abbey in Norman times, and owes its survival to eventually become a cathedral to the people of the town who bought the building in 1553, following the dissolution of the monasteries.

Verulam, or Verulamium had been a Roman city, with baths, theatres, a market and barracks. Alban lived there in the time of Emperor Diocletian, the great persecutor of Christians. He himself was not a Christian but his lodger Amphibalus was a Christian priest. Alban saw how he lived and prayed and was moving towards his own conversion when the authorities came to arrest his guest. By swapping clothes with Alban, Amphibalus escaped.

Alban, though, was arrested and brought before the magistrate who urged him to sacrifice to the Roman gods by burning a few grains of incense, but he refused and declared to the magistrate that he was a Christian, even though he had not been baptised. He was executed in Amphibalus’ place, the first known martyr of England.

Not so long ago I was talking to a parish priest who said that he had been in his parish for years and not been invited to a meal with a family – then two came for the same evening! We don’t need to fear the treatment Saint Alban received if we invite a priest to our homes, so go ahead and ask them round. Just don’t serve them meat on a Friday!

Przemyslaw Sakrajda—Martyrdom of St Alban, window in St Alban’s Cathedral.

 

 

 

 

 

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10 August, Saint Lawrence the Deacon

lawrence

Banner of St Lawrence with his barbecue, St Lawrence, Ludlow, Shropshire.

Two years ago in June we recounted how Pope Benedict XVI  praised today’s saint, Lawrence the Deacon of Pope Sixtus II, as a champion of the poor people of Rome. The story was that when the government called him to bring the Church’s treasure before the authorities he turned up with crowds of poor people instead of the gold, silver and jewels they had hoped to confiscate. (In Valencia they tell that he managed to smuggle the Holy Grail, the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper, to fellow deacon Saint Vincent who brought it to Spain; but that is much less important, even if it is true.)

Part of Lawrence’s mission was to feed the poor, and Pope Benedict was speaking at a dinner he held for poor people of Rome, restoring a link with his diocese as well as blowing away a protocol that said the pope should not be seen eating.

When David, our parish deacon in Canterbury, marked his 25 years of ministry, the children of the parish gave him a card with pictures from the life and death of Saint Lawrence.

Thankfully, Deacon David is still with us and has not been barbecued to death like his illustrious predecessor. We thank God for his ministry!

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