Tag Archives: sacrifice

20 July: Elijah the prophet.

The prophet Elijah has his feastday today, though comparatively few of us observe it. He is counted as an inspiration by Carmelites, for he lived as a hermit on Mount Carmel, where the Order was founded, centuries before it came to Europe.

Elijah does not have a book to his name, as Jeremiah, Isaiah, Amos and others do, but we know of his witness in the Northern Kingdom of Israel from the Books of Kings.

It was on Mount Carmel that Elijah faced down the prophets of Baal and the people of Israel, who were worshipping both the Lord and Baal. More than 400 prophets of Baal danced and sang all day to their god, but nothing happened to their offering. Elijah, having built his altar, added firewood and the sacrifice of a bull’s carcase, drenched it all in water, and the Lord sent fire to consume it all.

Later, when Elijah was close to despair with the wickedness of the people and King Ahab, he ran away, but the Lord sent ravens to feed him and strengthen him. That is the scene shown here in a house sign from Amsterdam.

Elijah faithfully challenged Ahab on God’s behalf, but it did not make for an easy life, as the Books of Kings tell us. Let’s pray for the grace of perseverance in our own lives.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, PLaces

2 June, Heart II: a ready heart.

Praying hands, Saint David’s Cathedral, Pembrokeshire

Moses said to all the assembly of the children of Israel: This is the word the Lord hath commanded, saying:

Set aside with you first-fruits to the Lord. Let every one that is willing and hath a ready heart, offer them to the Lord: gold, and silver, and brass, violet and purple, and scarlet twice dyed, and fine linen, goats’ hair, and rams’ skins dyed red, and violet coloured skins, setim wood, and oil to maintain lights, and to make ointment, and most sweet incense. Onyx stones, and precious stones, for the adorning of the ephod and the breastplate. Whosoever of you is wise, let him come, and make that which the Lord hath commanded.

Exodus 35:4-10.

Moses had come down from seeing God on Mount Sinai to find the people dancing around the golden calf, made from their jewellery. His hopes for the birth of a god-fearing nation were shattered, along with the tablets of stone bearing the Ten Commandments, God’s route map through the desert.

But he went back up the mountain, received anew the Commandments, and returned to the Assembly. While the priests were getting ready to perform properly the Temple ritual, Moses challenged the people to be generous in providing materials for the Tabernacle, or mobile Temple. Many of these precious items had been given to them by Egyptians who were probably glad to see the back of them after the final plague, killing off the firstborn.

What am I being asked to give up at this time? Money, the loan of my tools, my time and talents? Whatever it may be, let me give it readily, willingly.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, PLaces

5 April, Palm Sunday

Today we’d put out the flags, as Caernarfon did to welcome us (and thousands more tourists) a few years ago. 2,000 years ago it was palms and cloaks that were actively waved – not just left out in all weathers – as Jesus came to town. But by the following Friday nobody would have wanted the Romans to see the national flags and emblems on their buildings. Jesus had become dangerous to know.

The Plantagenet Kings whose castle commands this view would have looked askance at the scene, and their spies would have filled the castle governor’s ear with more or less factual accounts of the latest prince to arise to rally the Welsh. Pilate would have heard about Jesus before Palm Sunday but the parade of the King of the Jews did not lead to his immediate arrest. Pilate thought he could contain this uprising before it got very far.

By Friday festival fever was worrying a hypersensitive elite who valued the shaky Pax Romana as it applied in Judea, offering them status and privilege and allowing the Temple worship to continue according to the Law. Verses from the Psalms and the Prophets that challenged the idea of sacrifice were dismissed in their turn by the priests of the Temple.

For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

Ps 51: 16-17

 

Jesus’s heart was broken, his body too, though not his spirit. His death completed his lifelong passion. It is all of a piece, as the Pieta tells us – the baby we saw Mary cuddling at Christmas is the One she cradles briefly before his burial. But today, knowing he is riding into difficult times, he is the King the crowd were waiting for.

Image from Missionaries of Africa
Strasbourg Cathedral

So let’s put out the flags in our hearts, and wave our palms for our King! And let’s hope we can distribute palms from the backs of our churches should we be banned from gathering to celebrate Holy Week and Easter.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Easter, Lent, PLaces

28 March, Desert XXIX: Proverbs 21.3, More acceptable to the LORD.

poperinge.2

To do righteousness is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.

PROVERBS 21:34

This postcard was sent during the Great War from Poperinge, a village in the small enclave of Belgium that was not overrun by the Kaiser’s armies. You may be able to see where the censor obliterated the town’s name for security reasons.

‘Pop’ was a place of rest for allied troops, and an Anglican Chaplain had an open house there. His name was Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, alias Woodbine Willie, from the pungent cigarettes he distributed far and wide.

He had the reputation of a poet, often writing in dialect, as he does here. This is from a longer poem, ‘Well?’, describing a soldier’s dream of the Last Things. We include it here since it challenges any smugness that we might have accumulated during our ‘Lenten Observance’ – the man is in the ultimate desert place – or so he feels.

How would you answer that ‘Well?’

For more about Woodbine Willy, see Remembrance Sunday 2015: Woodbine Willie

And day by day, and year by year,
My life came back to me.
I see’d just what I were, and what
I’d ‘ad the charnce to be.
And all the good I might ‘a’ done,
An’ ‘adn’t stopped to do.
I see’d I’d made an ‘ash of it,
And Gawd! but it were true.

A throng ‘o faces came and went,
Afore me on that shore,
My wife, and Mother, kiddies, pals,
And the face of a London whore.
And some was sweet, and some was sad,
And some put me to shame,
For the dirty things I’d done to ’em,
When I ‘adn’t played the game.
Then in the silence someone stirred,
Like when a sick man groans,
And a kind o’ shivering chill ran through
The marrer ov my bones.
And there before me someone stood,
Just lookin’ dahn at me,
And still be’ind ‘Im moaned and moaned
That everlasting sea.
I couldn’t speak, I felt as though
‘E ‘ad me by the throat,
‘Twere like a drownin’ fellah feels,
Last moment ‘e’s afloat.
And ‘E said nowt, ‘E just stood still,
For I dunno ‘ow long.
It seemed to me like years and years,
But time out there’s all wrong.

What was ‘E like? You’re askin’ now.
Can’t word it anyway.
‘E just were ‘Im, that’s all I knows.
There’s things as words can’t say.
It seemed to me as though ‘Is face,
Were millions rolled in one.
It never changed yet always changed,
Like the sea beneath the sun.
‘Twere all men’s face yet no man’s face,
And a face no man can see,
And it seemed to say in silent speech,
‘Ye did ’em all to me.
‘The dirty things ye did to them,
‘The filth ye thought was fine,
‘Ye did ’em all to me,’ it said,
‘For all their souls were mine.’
All eyes was in ‘Is eyes, – all eyes,
My wife’s and a million more.
And once I thought as those two eyes
Were the eyes of the London whore.
And they was sad, – My Gawd ‘ow sad,
With tears that seemed to shine,
And quivering bright wi’ the speech o’ light,
They said, ”Er soul was mine.’
And then at last ‘E said one word,
‘E just said one word ‘Well?’
And I said in a funny voice,
‘Please can I go to ‘Ell?’
And ‘E stood there and looked at me,
And ‘E kind o’ seemed to grow,
Till ‘E shone like the sun above my ead,
And then ‘E answered ‘No
‘You can’t, that ‘Ell is for the blind,
‘And not for those that see.
‘You know that you ‘ave earned it, lad,
‘So you must follow me.
‘Follow me on by the paths o’ pain,
‘Seeking what you ‘ave seen,
‘Until at last you can build the “Is,”
‘Wi’ the bricks o’ the “Might ‘ave been.”‘
That’s what ‘E said, as I’m alive,
And that there dream were true.
But what ‘E meant, – I don’t quite know,
Though I knows what I ‘as to do.
I’s got to follow what I’s seen,
Till this old carcase dies.
For I daren’t face the land o’ grace,
The sorrow ov those eyes.
There ain’t no throne, and there ain’t no books,
It’s ‘Im you’ve got to see,
It’s ‘Im, just ‘Im, that is the Judge
Of blokes like you and me.
And boys I’d sooner frizzle up,
I’ the flames of a burning ‘Ell,
Than stand and look into ‘Is face,
And ‘ear ‘Is voice say – ‘Well?

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Lent, Mission, PLaces, poetry

3 December: Whose sacrifice? Francis and his Father.

525px-Giotto_-_Legend_of_St_Francis_-_-05-_-_Renunciation_of_Wordly_Goods

Here, as promised, is Francis as a young man giving back to his father the fine clothes he had earned or been given in the course of the family business. During Mass at the Upper Basilica in Assisi, we found ourselves seated next to this Giotto fresco. A rather worried looking bishop is covering Francis’s nakedness with a towel. I can’t help but wonder what is going through the episcopal mind: this is not an everyday scene. Was he trying to keep the peace between father and son?

Many families have moments of truth, if less dramatic. We don’t expect our children to turn their backs so determinedly on all that we parents have worked for, worked hard for in the case of the prosperous merchant: his long days of travelling, hours of hard bargaining and of learning to appreciate the skill of the weavers and embroiderers who supplied him. Perhaps the bishop’s own vestments were cut from Mr Bernadone’s cloth, but he saw that it was good, and so was the comfortable family life it brought.

Francis is not turning his back on his father and on riches, but in a gesture of prayer, he offers them to his Creator. He is learning how to be a creature, rather than a self-made man.

So who is called to sacrifice here? Francis has made his decision and by this gesture he makes it public. He will live openly dependent on God, utterly crazy in the eyes of his father who has constructed a secure home with every mod con, including servants. Peter Bernadone can see poverty any time he cares to look for it and he shuns it, the cold, filth, hunger poor people endured then.

Letting his son go must have been a wrenching, tremendous sacrifice; so I wonder who needed the bishop most, once this scene was over, the son or the father?

Abraham was called, challenged, to sacrifice his son, only for Isaac to be restored and redeemed, sent back to become a patriarch, an ancestor of God’s people. Francis was to live largely under the family’s eye, dying at the bottom of the hill on which Assisi is built, a daily challenge to his former circle.

Let us pray for the wisdom  to handle moments of truth without antagonising any of the parties involved, and for the grace to be close to our families in times of trial and times of joy.

WT

Image from Wikipedia

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Mission

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

john xxiii

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

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.

st.thomas.reliquary1.

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, PLaces

April 30: Saint George for England – and Ethiopia!

st-george-dragon1

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, PLaces

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

soldier.crucifx.hthe

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Easter, Lent