We start with a prayer to Saint David, asking him to pray for the people of Wales. Unlike the other nations of Britain, Wales has a native born saint as its patron, born at the edge of the little city that bears his name.
Blessed David, you are an apostle and patron for the people of Wales. Grant, I implore, that through your prayers, your people will be enlightened by the truth which you taught, and they will obtain everlasting life. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
David was a true apostle, fondly remembered after 1500 years. he travelled the country, preaching and celebrating the Sacraments. His famous last advice to his followers was to ‘be faithful in the little things’; advice we could all usefully take to heart.
He was a vegetarian if not a vegan, so today we can enjoy a Leek and Potato gratin in his honour, though he would not have known potatoes, and would have eaten cheese only out of politeness. He did not condemn others who ate meat and dairy, but abstained from them as an act of penance; Lent all the year round. But today is a Feast Day, a day to celebrate in his honour.
Under your protection
We take refuge,
Holy mother of God.
When we are in need
Do not reject our petitions
But deliver us
From every danger
O glorious and blessed virgin.
The original text of this prayer is preserved in the John Rylands Library, Manchester. The papyrus dates from the third century but the prayer was probably in use before then. This is the oldest known prayer to Our Lady. We came across this translation in St David’s Cathedral, unless I misremember, and we have a family link with the Rylands. A post about Mary on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, but with an image from Spain.
It’s worth a little look at the theology of this prayer. It depends upon the doctrine of ‘the communion of saints’ by which the saints who have died and are no longer physically with us are still members of the Body of Christ – and that in ways we can hardly begin to understand. But just as we can pray for each other, so the saints in heaven can pray for us.
‘Holy Mother of God’ asserts that Jesus was ‘conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary’, as we profess in the Creed, and truly God and truly human. He indeed went through the Passion, Mary witnessing and supporting him. She could not protect him from that, or from other dangers in his public life though every mother will protect her child from many dangers s/he might wander into all unawares.
We can pray for deliverance from danger. Do we recognise when our prayers are answered? Vaccines against the Covid – 19 virus are ‘the work of human hands’ and minds, but they are a new arrangement and presentation of God’s gifts of life. And the greatest danger is not to our earthly life: that will come to an end in a relatively short time, but to our eternal life. And although that too is a gift from God, it’s a gift we can decline or refuse.
The image of taking refuse under Mary’s protection reminds me of the statue of Mary in Valencia Cathedral. Jesus is confidently sitting on her lap, under her cloak, and mothers have slid little photos of their children between the folds of her garments, as concrete prayers. It may not be your way of praying, but it is visual and physical, and remains when the woman has left the church, as a burning candle does – only the photo is longer lasting.
Our younger grandson has the endearing habit of kissing photographs of family members: he clearly wishes them well and expresses it in this concrete fashion. Perhaps catching sight of a loved one’s picture is an occasion to offer a silent prayer on their behalf.
“I do not call you servants any longer… but I have called you friends”
Romans 8:26-27The Spirit helps us in our weakness
Luke 11:1-4Lord, teach us to pray
God thirsts for relationship with us. He searches for us as he searched for Adam, calling to him in the garden: “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9)
In Christ, God came to meet us. Jesus lived in prayer, intimately united to his Father, while creating friendships with his disciples and all those he met. He introduced them to that which was most precious to him: the relationship of love with his Father, who is our Father. Jesus and the disciples sang psalms together, rooted in the richness of their Jewish tradition. At other times, Jesus retired to pray alone.
Prayer can be solitary or shared with others. It can express wonder, complaint, intercession, thanksgiving or simple silence. Sometimes the desire to pray is there, but one has the feeling of not being able to do so. Turning to Jesus and saying to him, “teach me”, can pave the way. Our desire itself is already prayer.
“In the regularity of our common prayer, the love of Jesus springs up within us, we know not how. Common prayer does not exempt us from personal prayer. One sustains the other. Let us take a time each day to renew our personal intimacy with Jesus Christ.”
The Rule of Taizé in French & English, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Great Britain pp. 19 & 21
Lord Jesus, your entire life was prayer,
perfect harmony with the Father.
Through your Spirit, teach us to pray
according to your will of love.
May the faithful of the whole world unite
in intercession and praise,
and may your kingdom of love come.
Jesus lived as an example of what it means to “live in prayer”. If prayer is the foundation of our relationship with God how much time and attention could you give to your personal prayer life?
What have you learned from praying with other Christians? What might God want you to learn from the practices and traditions of others?
What specific need in your community can you commit to pray for over the coming year?
We pray that our personal relationship with Jesus Christ be nourished by the Word of God and a life of prayer.
That’s Pope Francis’s intention. Perhaps we could recall when Jesus gave some clear advice on how to pray. We see him doing just what he advises when we read the Gospels.
And when ye pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, that love to stand and pray in the synagogues and corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men: Amen I say to you, they have received their reward.But thou when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee.And when you are praying, speak not much, as the heathens. For they think that in their much speaking they may be heard. Be not you therefore like to them, for your Father knoweth what is needful for you, before you ask him. Thus therefore shall you pray:
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.
Oh God,make the door of this house wide enoughto receive all who need human love and fellowship,and a heavenly Father’s care;and narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and hate.Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling-block to children,nor to straying feet,but rugged enough to turn back the tempter’s power.Make it a gateway to thy eternal kingdom.Thomas KenBishop of Bath and Wells under Charles II and James II.
This prayer was on a poster within Saint David’s Cathedral. I don’t recall reading it before, but it is worth returning to on our armchair pilgrimage. I’ve lost track of the groups and individuals that we can invite through our front door right now but look forward to receiving all who knock in the future.
Bishop Ken was ousted from his diocese because, having sworn allegiance to King James, he refused to beak his oath and acknowledge William of Orange. He spent many years in quiet seclusion in Wiltshire.
One part of St David’s Cathedral did not feature in our armchair pilgrimage – the Treasury. Strange, that, since we do like things that help tell the Story of Creation and Salvation, but thanks to Crispin Paine who visited for Religion & Collections, we can put that right now.
What story do your treasures tell? This cushion is not in the Treasury, but like so many of St David’s treasures is just doing its job in the Cathedral. But it invites us to sit and be comfortable in God’s presence and reminds us of the heavenly Jerusalem to which we are bound, a country as lovely as Wales but with better weather for camping! Can someone identify the tune, perhaps?
A note about the Charter mentioned by Dr Paine: ‘the City status of St Davids, while having ecclesiastical roots going back for centuries, was granted to all of St Davids by HM the Queen by Royal Charter on 1st June 1995’, according to the City Council. This charter put things to rights after it was discovered that there was no record of a city charter ever being granted. Rochester in Kent, however, lost its city status in 1998, when the city council was merged with Gillingham, and does not look like getting it back any time soon. Yet Rochester was the second English city, founded by St Justus in 604.
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!
We found this plaque on the wall of our holiday house, so the Christian roots sink deeper there than at Minster Abbey in Kent, two modern or five ancient realms apart. Ty Gwyn – the White House – is walking distance from Saint David’s Cathedral; a short walk further is his birthplace. We were on holiday rather than pilgrimage, but that was part of the holiday too, even if we took plenty for the journey including changes of clothes, and a meal for the first evening. We did use the local shops after that.
Sister Johanna of Minster Abbey wrote this reflection for us, about the preaching pilgrimage Jesus set up for his disciples. This was David’s way of life as a missionary bishop. As well as preaching, he was known as a healer.
He called the Twelve together and gave them power and authority over all devils and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. He said to them, ‘Take nothing for the journey; neither staff, nor haversack, nor bread, nor money; and do not have a spare tunic…. . So they set out and went from village to village proclaiming the good news and healing everywhere. Luke 9: 1-4,6.
I’m ashamed to admit that I usually go blank when I read this passage from the Gospel of Luke. But, today I lingered over the words, repeating them over and over gently in my mind, in order to give the Holy Spirit all the time necessary to help me find my way through this text. And before long, things began to happen.
I first noticed the words, ‘He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.’ To proclaim and to heal. Jesus is not a man of words only, but of words and deeds: and here, the deeds are deeds of healing. Deeds of life, therefore. Jesus wanted his disciples not merely to tell, but show that he, Jesus, was a man who could bring about change – change of the most important kind. This, for ordinary people, is vital. And ordinary people, hard workers, carrying a burden of responsibility and of sorrow – these are the ones Jesus was trying to reach.
The Twelve were also given ‘power and authority over all devils’ – well and good, surely. Good for the Twelve. Jesus was commissioning them here, and he knew that Satan would try to undermine their efforts, their confidence, everything. But Jesus doesn’t suggest to the Twelve that they walk up to the ordinary man on the street and announce, ‘I have been given power and authority over all devils’. Imagine it. I rather think that then, as now, the reaction of the man on the street to such an approach would have been one of hasty withdrawal from that apostle, a withdrawal of eye contact, a striding in the opposite direction, and throwing only the quickest of backward glances to make sure that apostle wasn’t following. But the authority to cure diseases was something else. This was something the Twelve could use, and ordinary people would respond to. The Twelve were the primary ones who needed to know that Jesus’ power was greater than Satan’s – but the ordinary people were the ones who needed to see real results. And Jesus is happy to respond to this need.
Jesus isn’t finished with the Twelve yet. He has more instructions – and they are strange ones. First, ‘Take nothing with you for the journey.’ Imagine what it would have been like for the Twelve to hear that. It was probably not possible for them to exchange puzzled glances with each other right then, but they must have wondered incredulously, “Whoever heard of someone being so crazy as to set out on an important journey without packing?” But the subtext here is in words Jesus uses elsewhere, ‘Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask him.’ Rely on him. You are going out to do his work. He will provide. The labourer deserves his wages. Jesus, anticipating their questions, perhaps, goes on to make the nature of God’s providence perfectly clear by detailing the things they were not supposed to take:
‘No staff’ to lean on as you walk. Lean on me, he suggests.
‘No haversack.’ Right. He already said ‘take nothing with you.’ No, not even an empty bag to put things in once the gifts start coming. You are not to stockpile.
‘No bread.’ I am the bread of life. You will have food of a different sort to sustain you. Your fathers had manna in the wilderness. You will be fed.
‘No money.’ Why? Because I am your wealth. People long for me more than for money. Offer me to them free of charge. They – or enough, anyway – will fall all over themselves to help you whenever you have a need.
‘No spare tunic.’ No, not even a change of clothes. Some people will welcome you so fully into their lives that they will seem to adopt you. You will be like their son. You will want for nothing.
And now, I place myself for a moment in the sandals of one of the Twelve, imagining myself going on this missionary journey. With nothing. I feel exposed, vulnerable. Very. But only for a moment. Then I remember that this is always a very good thing in the spiritual life. Self-assurance is worth very little in my relationship with Jesus. I think of how it’s been when I have gone off on my own to pursue projects that did not originate in Jesus. Self-assurance, therefore, is not what Jesus wants to inculcate in the Twelve on this, their first missionary endeavour – or in me, ever. He wants us to rely on him utterly – and on ourselves, never.
And off they go. The program was successful beyond their wildest dreams. ‘They went from village to village proclaiming the good news and healing everywhere.’ Everywhere.
Continuing our armchair pilgrimage to Wales: this altar stone is a treasure of Saint David’s Cathedral. Traditionally, Catholics have had, at the centre of altars, a stone containing relics of martyrs. This one, we are told by tradition, was a portable altar stone that could be used to celebrate the Eucharist outdoors or in a private dwelling.
The stone was given to David in Jerusalem. He brought it home to Wales and carried it on his travels around his diocese of Menevia. It is generally known as the Sapphire Stone.
This is a relic on many levels! It is a relic of Saint David himself, a reminder of his devotion to bringing the Eucharist to his flock: the source and summit of the Church’s life. It links the cathedral and visitors to David, founder of the cathedral, patron of Wales. And it links us, through David, to the pre-Islamic Holy Land, to the Apostles and to their Lord and ours.
Whatever your thoughts or feelings about altars or altar stones – and this one must have been well hidden in Reformation times to have survived – the emotional and spiritual resonances of this rather non-descript stone cannot be denied.
Sharp eyes, Kentish or not, will have seen the Tabernacle or Aumbry to our left of the Altar. Jesus is sacramentally present here. We were a little late in the day to be able to linger anywhere in Saint David’s Cathedral; the crowd was beginning to press, but we can sit quietly and ponder these words of Sion Aled Owen in his meditation on The Accidental Pilgrim. Sometimes it’s easier to have heart aflame in a quiet moment than a crowded one.
And here you are
diverted by curiosity from the Coastal Path,
seeking some solace on a vacation rainy day
or on a taster tour from your ship
granted an hour to inherit centuries.
Or coming with heart already aflame
to claim the shrine’s promise.