Tag Archives: sacrifice

11 November: Deliver me from men of blood, O God.

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Good Pope John XXIII 

Remembrance Day, and there are wars still on God’s earth.

During most of the Second World War, Archbishop Angelo Roncalli,  the future Pope John XXIII was the pope’s representative in Istanbul, serving the Church in Turkey and Greece from a city where representatives of both sides could meet in secret. He had many diplomatic contacts and helped save many Jewish people from the death camps. He deplored the conflict and the currents of thought that engendered it and fed off it.

In his Journal of a Soul1 he reflects: 

The world is poisoned with morbid nationalism, built up on the basis of race and blood, in contradiction to the Gospel. In this matter especially, which is of burning topical interest, ‘deliver me from men of blood, O God.’ … Jesus our Saviour died for all nations, without distinction of race or blood, and became the first brother of the new human family, built on him and his Gospel…

The Holy Church which I represent is the mother of nations, all nations. Everyone with whom I come into contact must admire in the Pope’s representative that respect for the nationality of others, expressed with graciousness and mild judgements, which inspires universal trust. Great caution then, respectful silence, and courtesy on all occasions. It will be wise for me to insist on this line of conduct being followed by all my entourage, at home and outside. We are all more or less tainted with nationalism. The Apostolic Delegate must be, and must be seen to be, free from this contagion. May God help me.

May God help us to show respect and courtesy to all those we meet, and encourage others to do likewise. May he give us the peace the world cannot give!

1 John Paul XXIII (1965), Journal of a Soul, London Geoffrey Chapman.

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September 12. Before the Cross XXIII: above the Altar

st.thomas.reliquary2.Let us read this small crucifix is in the Martyrs’ Chapel at Saint Thomas’ Church, Canterbury. Christ wears an alb – the cord or cincture around his waist makes this clear. Alb, of course, means white, the colour of the baptismal garment, the colour worn by the saints in Heaven in Saint John’s Book of Revelation, the colour worn by the priest at Mass. So this is a Eucharistic Cross. Christ is shown as a priest and a king. his crown a royal one, no longer one of thorns. His hands are raised to heaven, even as they are nailed to the cross, in a gesture familiar from the Mass. his face, like his body, is serene: he looks down to us even as he offers our prayers with his sacrifice to the Father.

But there is another dimension to this particular cross. Do not be completely distracted by it if you visit our church, but beneath the crucifix is a reliquary with Relics of Saint Thomas of Canterbury.

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There are two relics in the reliquary above the altar. That on the right contains a small piece of Saint Thomas’ vestment in which he was buried, and the one on the left one of the Saint’s  finger bones. The bone was brought to Canterbury on 20th December 1953 by Dom Thomas Becquet, a collateral descendant of Saint Thomas and Prior of the Abbey of Chevetogne, Belgium. It is thought that these small relics were removed from Canterbury in 1220 by Cardinals from Rome who came to witness the translation of Thomas’ remains to the new shrine in the Cathedral.

So the statue of Christ can be seen as offering the martyrs’ blood to God with his own: not  just Thomas but three Reformation Martyrs with local connections, Saints Thomas More, John Fisher and John Stone. Nearby is a relic from halfway across the world: a vestment worn by Saint Oscar Romero. In an exchange of gifts, this came to Canterbury for another bone of Saint Thomas sent to the Cathedral of San Salvador. The man who brought about this link between two cities with martyred Archbishops was Fr John Metcalfe, a local priest working in El Salvador. We are all one family.

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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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April 30: Saint George for England – and Ethiopia!

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haile sellasse.jpgThe Emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Sellasse, as the effort began to wrest control of his country back from the Italian invaders during World War II, called on the servicemen of Ethiopia and Britain to follow the selfless example of their shared patron, Saint George.

My friend George was one of those servicemen, not in any glamorous role, but as a merchant seaman, bringing home food and supplies, always in danger from U-boats.  George was a miner and could have stayed at home, but he believed that Britain’s part in the war was right and put his life on the line.

He returned to the mines after the war, but did not leave his sense of what is right behind. It was not right, he said, that landowners received more per ton of coal dug from beneath their estates than the men did who cut and carried it, and were often injured in the process. So he overcame a stammer to be able to speak for his colleagues.

Like many another, he developed an industrial disease which affected his breathing. In his forced retirement he turned to the Catholic church and to working almost full-time with L:Arche Kent. He greatly encouraged the middle aged men who joined from the big hospitals around Kent; his working class background and his long experience of male comradeship was a great gift to Bill, John and David and to the whole community. He still valued an honest day’s work, and so did the men.

Another Saint George, one who’ll never make it to the altars, but he is there beside us in L’Arche Kent, along with Bill, John, David and all our old friends.

Saint George has been transferred this year as his usual feast day fell in Easter week.

Our late friend David Powell wrote here about his experience of mining.

 

 

MMB.

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April 6: Before the Cross XXII: Greater love hath no man.

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This image has always troubled me, since the day I first found a copy in a second-hand picture frame. This window is at Hythe in Kent, remembering a nineteen year old officer of the Royal Lancaster Regiment, Robert Aubrey Hildyard, seen dying at the foot of the Cross, his right hand on Christ’s feet, the feet Mary anointed with precious oil. At the foot of the cross lies Robert’s helmet, and a scroll reading, ‘Greater love hath no man’. We can all complete Jesus’ words: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ (John 15:13).

soldier.crucifx.hythe.detailRobert looks peaceful, asleep, while once again we behold a risen Christ: alive, with good muscle tone; his wounds not bleeding. Robert’s rifle and bayonet and an artillery piece are behind the two figures; there is a hill of mud in the background and angels in attendance above.

Surely this comforted the parents of Robert Hildyard, and no doubt others who lost loved ones, but it makes me uneasy. It seems to associate Christ with the war. Yet no less a poet than Hopkins wrote of a soldier or sailor (a tar):

Yes. Why do we áll, seeing of a soldier, bless him? bless
Our redcoats, our tars? Both these being, the greater part,
But frail clay, nay but foul clay. Here it is: the heart,
Since, proud, it calls the calling manly, gives a guess
That, hopes that, makesbelieve, the men must be no less;
It fancies, feigns, deems, dears the artist after his art;
And fain will find as sterling all as all is smart,
And scarlet wear the spirit of wár thére express.

Hopkins recognises that the men are no plaster saints, but if a man wears a brave uniform we – and he – hope, we and he want to believe him as bravehearted as he is smartly dressed. But no-one was smart at the Somme, where Robert died. Their heroism was different: men drowned in mud or were cut down by machine-gun fire before coming to close combat. Robert himself was killed when a shell hit where he and Godfrey James Wilding were sheltering.

Hopkins continues:

Mark Christ our King. He knows war, served this soldiering through;
He of all can handle a rope best. There he bides in bliss
Now, and séeing somewhére some mán do all that man can do,
For love he leans forth, needs his neck must fall on, kiss,
And cry ‘O Christ-done deed! So God-made-flesh does too:
Were I come o’er again’ cries Christ ‘it should be this’.

For love Christ leans forth to kiss Robert and cry … ‘So God-made-flesh does too!’ What did God-made-flesh do in the War? He did not conquer death and sin with violence.

I think of Jesus, asleep on the rugs in the sinking boat. A flimsy shelter, causing his friends to fear. Jesus sensed their fear, knew that death was close by, calmed the storm. But there was no dramatic rescue for Robert and Godfrey in this world, and no more that they could do. ‘It should be this’: not killing other men, but putting oneself in the firing line.


Why did Robert and Godfrey lay down their lives?

The gesture of touching Christ’s feet suggests that Robert’s parents wanted to associate his death with Christ’s, and saw it as freely given.

Here is another soldier’s take on the daily sacrifices of being a soldier in the Great War. For Joyce Kilmer the freely accepted, everyday deprivations were as a millionth part of Christ’s sufferings:

My shoulders ache beneath my pack 

(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back). 

We published his poem on the centenary of his death last July; click on the link. The post following that is Christina’s response to Kilmer’s poem: Is All Human Suffering The Same Suffering?. Do read that as well.

May we unite our sufferings with the Lord’s, may we grow into the persons he wants us to be, and may we be aware of our own lack of importance and ‘let us render back again /This millionth of Thy gift. Amen.’

MMB

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April 5. Before the Cross XXI: The power of evil is poured out on Jesus

I think Jesus might be dead… Or extremely close to death. The thought of His lifeless body growing cold terrifies me. Or of struggling to hear if He’s still breathing. Or hearing Him struggling to breathe. He has become nothing but weakness and pain and death. He has united Himself to us, even in our weakness and pain and death, even our oppression and victimhood. If you are united to the oppressed, you share their oppression.
Jesus is completely naked. He is left with nothing hidden, no protection, nothing off limits. His last possession, His final mark of dignity, is stripped from Him. Here He is. The authorities were trying to expose Jesus as a fraud, as a pathetic, weak, failure. What they did instead, was expose the fullness of His love, in giving absolutely everything, absolutely all of Himself, to His wife, the Church. Nothing at all has been held back from His beloved.
His mother is there, in the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, at the foot of the Cross. The blood from Jesus’ feet has run down onto her; she shares His death by her love; if He is bloody, she is bloody. In the icon, we can see the child Jesus: it is the same Jesus and same Mary, when Mary held Him in her arms, and when she stood at the foot of His cross. He is her child.
Why have an icon of Mary in the image, and not just Mary? Because Jesus told us, “Behold, your mother”, and the icon is where we do that. Behold her. She is our mother, the mother of the New Creation in Jesus Christ. And at the foot of the Cross, in her sufferings she is giving birth to us, the Church. Behold your mother: know her and love her.
Behind the cross we have the Church, led by Pope St. John Paul II (the Pope when it was painted, and also a great saint of the cross). The Church is at the foot of the cross, because that is where Jesus is. He gives His life to us on the cross, and that is where we must go to receive it. He unites Himself to us in our sin and suffering, and unites us to Himself in His obedience and glory. He offers Himself and us to the Father, and we must let Him. He unites Himself to us by sharing our death, and we must unite ourselves to Him by sharing His.
Then there are the many crosses. The cross has gone forth through the world, and through it, the sufferings of the world are being united to Jesus and offered to the Father. Through the cross, the sufferings of the world are becoming love, and being borne with the hope of resurrection. The world is being divinised through its suffering.
Jesus is either dead or nearly dead. He is pinned down so He can’t move. He is bleeding all over. He is physically torn apart by His own gravity. He is mocked openly by His enemies. He is stripped naked and put on display. He is annihilated. Evil has won.
But it doesn’t have the last word. This image seems to show Satan’s victory. On the cross we see God fully under evil’s power, but in this, evil is overcome, because He transforms it into His own love. All of the power of evil is poured out on Jesus, and all of it is overcome by being transformed into Jesus’s self-gift.
This post is from Ignatius, an old friend of Agnellus. Ignatius went to Poland for World Youth Day in 2016. This painting is from the Stations of the Cross by Jerzy Duda Grasz at Jasna Gora in Częstochowa, Poland. As Ignatius says, this is not a risen Jesus, but these stations, like Ignatius’ reflection, do end in resurrection. You can find the full pilgrimage of stations here.
I am very grateful to Ignatius for this reflection. There is room for us all before the Cross.
WT.

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26 March. Before the Cross XII: the beatific vision.

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Rood, Our Lady and English Martyrs, Cambridge.

This Crucifix is like that of Tignes a couple of days ago in one respect: it is a representation of the Risen Christ, but in a different context, and equally valid.

This Victorian Rood, full of symbolism, is in the Catholic Church of Or Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge, England. It is challenging in a different way to some of the other images we have seen this Lent, but like the Welcoming Christ, it is essentially an image of resurrection. No way is this Christ dead or in agony!

So what is the Rood telling us?

Let’s start with the Christ figure. We see a man in the prime of life, vigorously alive, not hanging naked on the cross but standing tall and robed in majesty. No-one could say of him, he cannot save himself! The crown on his head is of royal gold, not thorns; the nails in his hands and feet are in gold also, but lest we forget the earthly reality of the cross, we see red blood on his palms and insteps. As well as a King’s crown, he wears the long white alb and the red scarf or stole of a priest vested for Mass.

The white scarf around his neck is called a pallium. These are woven from lambs’ wool and given to archbishops by the pope. One appears on the coat of arms of Canterbury Anglican diocese and that of Westminster Catholic diocese. As well as announcing Christ as high priest, the pallium is associated with the idea of the Good Shepherd who brings home the lost sheep, and with the sacrificial Lamb of God.

The alb is a symbol of purity – we see in the Book of Revelation all the saints in white garments. Christ’s here has red trimmings; together with the red stole they tell of blood shed in martyrdom or persecution. The priest celebrating Mass today wears an alb to show that he is representing Christ, the High Priest, and seeks to be as saintly as the white garment implies. Christ, of course, has every right to wear the white garment, and each baptised Christian is given a white garment at Baptism: so we are crucified and risen with Christ: a thought to sustain us in times of hardship.

At the foot of the Cross stand Mary – the dedicatee of the Church, and John the Apostle and Evangelist. They are not mourning in this Resurrection Crucifixion but are absorbed in the beatific vision: this cross presents the artist’s interpretation of the true meaning of the Crucifixion.

Angels adore the Lord from around the Cross: again sending us to Revelation and pointing out the one-ness of Creation, of our world of time and space where Jesus died in Jerusalem with the heavenly Jerusalem where he is Priest and King; King of All Creation, not just of the Jews.

At the foot of the Cross and along its trunk and arms are stylised leaves and grapes: in John’s Gospel Jesus says, I am the Vine, make your home in me as I make mine in you. The wine pressed from the fruit of the Cross brings relief from our spiritual thirst and joy to our hearts. Take up your Cross daily and follow me – to the Crucifixion, yes, in smaller and bigger ways each day, but to the risen life each day as well, even before we die and go to meet the Good Shepherd.

Finally, at the feet of Jesus we see a chalice – for the cup at every Eucharist is indeed the Holy Grail, the cup of the Last Supper – and above the cup, marked with a Cross and radiant in gold, is a round of white unleavened bread; the ‘forms of bread and wine’ that make present in our day all that this Crucifix sets out to tell us.

If, like me, silence does not always come easily to your heart in church or in prayer, maybe sitting with this image can help direct your thoughts to the eternal reality which it professes. The whole story of Jesus is symbolised here from his birth to Mary, up to John running to the empty tomb and seeing and believing – and witnessing to what he believed. May we be ever more faithful witnesses to what we believe.

MMB

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19 March: Before the Cross VI: Why?

 

Saint Anselm’s feast falls on 21st April, Easter Day this year. So let’s visit him during Lent, reflecting on Good Friday and Easter with another Archbishop of Canterbury.

The crypt of Canterbury Cathedral was closed as they prepared for a service, so I went upstairs to Saint Anselm and sat opposite his post-war window. The focal point, it seemed to me that morning, was not the central figure of Anselm in bishop’s robes and pallium, holding his cross and giving his blessing, but the three Latin words on the book below the Saint and the descending dove of the Holy Spirit:

CUR DEUS HOMO

in English we would say, ‘Why did God become Man?’ Look again at the open book. There is also a sturdy tree on the page, a reminder of the Cross; it bears a cruciform flower. And indeed, Bishop Anselm carries a cross, not unlike the one we saw in the photograph from Algeria in the first post in this series. 

in his introductory chapter, Anselm says, ‘to my mind it appears a neglect if, after we are established in the faith, we do not seek to understand what we believe.’ We cannot disagree with that, even if we find his rather legalistic argument off-putting. 

Where Scotus would later argue that God wanted to become man anyway, Anselm argues that the way for sinful man to be reconciled to God was for the perfect sacrifice to be offered in atonement. A perfect sacrifice could only be offered by a perfect man, and that man was Jesus, and the perfect sacrifice was his death at the hands of sinners.

On the other hand, Anselm’s successor, Rowan Williams, argued in a Lenten talk in this cathedral that Christ lived a life-long passion: his whole life was a sacrifice, making holy the human race and all of creation. Here is Anselm (II.viii):

No man except this one ever gave to God what he was not obliged to lose, or paid a debt he did not owe. But he freely offered to the Father what there was no need of his ever losing, and paid for sinners what he owed not for himself. 

We are all obliged to lose our lives, but we can learn, not just from Anselm’s writings, but from his example. He left home to travel to Bec in Normandy to become a monk; at Bec he became a teacher and leader of the community before he was sent as Archbishop to Canterbury, where he continued teaching. But as Archbishop he had other duties, and was exiled twice for opposing the Norman Kings of England, William II and Henry I. He risked the same fate as Alphege his predecessor,  his successor Thomas, and his crucified Master.

‘Freely offered to the Father’ sounds like love to me, as does ‘lifelong passion’, as does Friar Austin’s view that:

Jesus is revealed in a life no longer under threat. The Resurrection is the realisation of his message of total freedom.

Different views of the same event, which was not Good Friday only, but the 33 years before that, and Easter Sunday and the eternity following that.

The text of Cur Deus Homo can be found here .

 

MMB.

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November 12. Truth telling XIII: the first casualty in war.

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It seems to have been the ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus who first said that truth is the first casualty in war.

This poster sums that up. It was intended to attract young Irishmen to join the colours during the Great War of 1914-18. I return to the question we asked on November 6 two years ago: What sacrifices have been offered in modern industrial war and to what deities?

Truth, in this case, was sacrificed to the idols of Nationalism and Xenophobia. And  all too many young men were sacrificed.

Let nation speak peace unto nation.

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October 20, What is Theology Saying? XXXIII: Original Sin

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Welcome back to Friar Austin and his explorations of today’s thinking theologically. 

We have all heard of Original Sin – and there is abundant evidence that it is still with us. But what is it? Let us begin with recognising the fact that there is collective and social violence accompanying everyday living [starting with Cain and Abel]. It has been called humanity’s family secret [Sebastian Moore, OSB] – it is against this backdrop that one man shedding his blood becomes real.

Salvation through shedding blood has had every possible expression and meaning. To appreciate this better we need to be more aware not so much of how we get to God, as how God gets to us. Original Sin has things to tell us about ourselves in a way that highlights the wonder of salvation.

It is only natural to assume that what I desire starts and ends with me – I know what I want. But there is a prior question: do I make my desire or does my desiring make me? My desiring first comes through being aware of some other person desiring. This prompts me to follow, even imitate, until eventually and inevitably, imitation gives way to rivalry: I may like what you are wearing enough to do the same – but then seek to justify the choice as being mine only; it is in this way that I identify myself through being me against… [X has a big house I will get a bigger one] – And that is me.

Being passed-over causes resentment, and sets me against – what makes my desire mine is that it isn’t yours! The “me” is now in place through being opposed to the other [not me] as the fruit of my desire. By contrast, Jesus sees himself as only gift – given to me by Abba, to enjoy, and to know where I’m from and where I can go. This is the crux of the matter – not me through being opposed to any other… I’m me as only gift… Given by the totally other to me. And this is not just a personal reality it is social and cultural – waiting in the wings to be kick-started by any desire intense enough to do so. [Desire is what humankind has in place of animal instinct].

AMcC

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