Tag Archives: Saint John the Baptist

17 December, 3rd Sunday of Advent: A reflection from Bangladesh

Article by Sister Gillian Rose, a former USPG mission partner, who oversees the USPG-supported Bollobphur Hospital, which is owned by the Church of Bangladesh.

Despite political unrest that upset the country and horrific terrorist activities, here at Bollobphur we remain a little oasis of peace. Families of different faith backgrounds – Muslim, Hindi and Christian – live and work together in peace and harmony. Indeed, tiny babies of different faith backgrounds share together the warmth and comfort of the incubators.

Our largest incubator often has three babies growing up together. I always say these tiny babies do better if they have a companion – and, indeed, they keep each other warm when a sudden power cut shuts off the electricity supply to the incubator.

During the year, a total of 573 babies were born at Bollobphur. Of these babies, 38 were tiny and premature. The majority are very tiny on arrival, weighing only 800g, 900g or
1kg. Several mothers brought tiny twin babies for us to care for. Our student nurses care for them, feeding them every two hours, day and night – and what a joy it is when the mother is able to take her baby home, weighing over 2kg.
• Your church can directly fund this health programme through USPG’s Partners in Mission scheme. Visit http://www.uspg.org.uk/pim This link leads to an article on Bollophur by Sister Gillian Rose with a picture of her with a mother and baby.

 

O God, whose servant John prepared the way for Jesus’ coming:
we pray for the medical mission of the Church of Bangladesh.
Bless the premature babies there, sharing a common incubator.
May their world become a fair and just home for all.

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December 16. Zechariah: an Unlikely Advent Star: IV.

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Your son will be your joy and delight and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord; he must drink no wine, no strong drink; even from his mother’s womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, and he will bring back many of the Israelites to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him to reconcile fathers to their children and the disobedient to the good sense of the upright, preparing for the Lord a people fit for him (1:14-17).

Zechariah and Elizabeth had longed for a child. A child will be born to them, says the angel, but such a child as they could not possibly have imagined. The angel declares that their son will be “great in the sight of the Lord… in the spirit and power of Elijah. Their son will have a mission for all Israel: to bring them back to their God, to prepare for the Lord a people fit for him (cf. 1: 12-17).

This angelic utterance is really a rather long one, containing information that can only have been completely mind-boggling for Zechariah. Perhaps readers of this post have heard this story many times, and through familiarity have lost the sense of its being beyond fathoming – this prophecy from the mouth of a powerful and numinous being. Certainly for Zechariah, it is all too big to absorb. At first he is silent while the angel delivers his astonishing message.

When Zechariah does find power of speech, he comes out with the words that have earned him such criticism through the centuries: “How can I know this? I am an old man and my wife is getting on in years” (1:18). I rather doubt I’d have performed any better than Zechariah, and would probably have done far worse, but note well: this was an angel, after all, and angels generally know what they are talking about. Zechariah, however, seems to think that the angel might not realise how old he and his wife are. Even with my bias in favour of Zechariah, I must confess that I can’t help smiling here. It is almost as though he is asking the angel to check his divine instructions and make sure he has not come to the wrong temple and spoken to the wrong man.

So, what do we see here? Zechariah blurts out a question that is pretty daft in the circumstances. But is he really so bad after all? His question shows at least that he is a stable character, not easily diverted from the path of righteousness. And it has already been established that Zechariah is a good and upright man in the sight of God. He is not someone to curry the favour of men (or angels), or to give his consent, even to an angel, without deep conviction of heart. He is a man of depth. He wants to understand what is happening, but he is out of his depth now. He is used to having his prayer unanswered, we know. But he is not used to that same prayer now being answered.

SJC

John baptising Jesus – Zakopane Basilica of the Holy Family, Poland.

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December 15. Zechariah: an Unlikely Advent Star: III.

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Then there appeared to Zechariah the angel of the Lord, standing on the right of the altar of incense. The sight disturbed Zechariah and he was overcome with fear. But the angel said to him, “Zechariah, do not be afraid, for your prayer has been heard” (1:11-12).

The gospels are sometimes discreet about their characters’ emotional reactions. The Holy Spirit must fill in such details. I imagine Zechariah suddenly feeling, with scalp-tingling certainty, that he is not alone in the Lord’s sanctuary. He looks up from the incense and gasps, his heart hammers in his chest, he trembles, he feels frozen to the spot. I imagine him telling this story long afterwards, every detail held fast in his memory. A magnificently beautiful angelic being is standing there on the right side of the altar of incense, radiant, solemn, and looking straight at him – looking straight into his eyes, and seemingly into his very soul. Zechariah stares back, shaking and wide-eyed. The splendour of the angel overwhelms him. He is frightened, feels he should cover his eyes or lower them, but he cannot stop looking at the angel’s majestic beauty. The angel tries to reassure him, calling him by name, “Zechariah, do not be afraid.”

How does Zechariah respond? Does his fear evaporate? I rather doubt that the fear disappears completely, but perhaps some aspects of it diminish a bit as the angel continues his message. “…your prayer has been heard.”

What prayer? Can it be the one so dear to his heart, yet so long unanswered? The prayer that was by now past praying for? That Elizabeth should conceive? And bear a son? Indeed, yes! Zechariah’s prayer had been heard: Your wife Elizabeth is to bear you a son and you shall name him John. (1:13)

But, Zechariah – even though he is a holy man, and upright in the sight of God – might not have been prepared for the fact that when we ask God for something in prayer, God hears not only the request of which we are conscious, but also that request’s most profound ramifications, of which we are not fully conscious when we first made our prayer. Perhaps, then, we need to be ready when we ask God for something – ready for the fact that God does nothing by halves. Our prayer will be answered, yes, but it will be answered so deeply, so completely that it will require of us a new level of surrender to the divine will, and a greater degree of courage than we had needed hitherto. This much is certain: when God answers a prayer, some mind-stretching is required in order to take it in.

SJC

 

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12 December. Zechariah, an Unlikely Advent Star: Preface on Lectio Divina.

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It is always good to hear from Sister Johanna at Minster Abbey. Today she introduces her Advent reflections on Zechariah (or Zachary) by explaining how they came to her. She was reading the Gospel story of how John the Baptist came to be born to Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth when a very human and likeable figure emerged.

Lectio Divina

Lectio divina is a rather fancy Latin term that may not be known to every reader of these posts. It means ‘sacred reading’, or ‘holy reading’ and refers to the practice of slowly and prayerfully reading the bible. For a Benedictine nun or monk, lectio is a daily exercise, lasting anywhere from one to two hours, and it is a wonderful experience. But lectio is not merely a pious exercise for monks and nuns. If you take your spiritual life seriously and wish to grow closer to God, try to set aside a period of time each day for this beautiful practice. Busy people may not have time for a full hour or two, but even a daily habit of fifteen minutes can be full of grace.

If you have never tried it, lectio may seem strange at first. Reading the bible is not like reading any other book. You are not trying to ‘find out what happens next’, or quickly reach the end. You are reading a bit like a child eats an ice-cream cone: you try to make it last, and to savour each line like the child savours each lick.

Soon, the reader finds that lectio divina yields a harvest of rich meditations. This in turn leads to deeper prayer, as the Holy Spirit gives the reader new insights, which can be deeply personal ones that shed light on the way God is working in the reader’s life. I have found that writing down my lectio meditations helps them along. As I write, more insights come. The following posts are based on the meditations I have had when using the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke for my lectio.

Reading can be a window looking beyond ourselves. Zakopane. Poland.

 

 

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24 June: Saint John the Baptist: Dipped in Light, Dipped in Grey – Editor’s note.

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Today is the feast of John the Baptist. As John the Evangelist tells us,

The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to give testimony of the light, that all men might believe through him. He was not the light, but was to give testimony of the light. That was the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world. 

John 1:5-9.

And of course, for us in the Northern Hemisphere, this is the longest day, the light-filled day. For Southerners, Antipodeans, the days are about to lengthen. So now turn over and read Sister Johanna’s poem, and cast away greyness, revel in the light.

You may also care to revisit T, Alfie and Ajax’s musings on greyness in all its aspects: https://agnellusmirror.wordpress.com/2017/01/10/land-of-plenty/

Photo: Zakopane, Poland, Holy Family Shrine.

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9 January: The Baptism of Our Lord

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When my ten-year-old godson was baptised, he chose a new name, one that was important to him: his Father’s name.

When my son was baptised he was given names from his grandfathers and godfather. Our daughter’s names, too, were chosen to say something about who they were and where they came from.

We can learn something about a person – and their parents and ancestors – from their surnames.

And so it is when Jesus is baptised; we are told something about him: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

While John was right to say that Jesus did not need his baptism of repentance, by accepting it Jesus witnessed to his relationship with his Father – a relationship John encouraged his penitents to renew at a personal level through a symbolic death and rebirth in the water.

Let’s pray for the grace to be faithful to our baptism by daily witnessing to our relationship with the Father and by daily renewing that relationship in our moments of reflection and repentance.

MMB

The Baptism of the Lord, Basilica of the Holy Family, Zakopane, Poland.

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15 December: Accept God’s invitation to change.

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There is an aura of joy about today’s readings; in the first, the people are told to: “Shout for joy” and mourn no more, for salvation was coming.  Isaiah was prophesying about a time when the people had repented and returned to God, and He had forgiven them, making a “Covenant of peace” with them which would never be shaken.  His only requirement was that the people had faith in Him.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus commends John, who had been the “greatest of all the children born of women”, because he had known what God wanted and had not been afraid to preach it.  He had been the person bridging the gap between the Old and New Testaments, showing people the first step of the new order: repentance and baptism.  Yet, those coming after who accepted the teaching of Jesus would be in a greater position than John because they had faith, having learned the truths of the Gospel, and were to benefit from the Sacrifice of the Cross.

The reading ends with a warning to the Pharisees, who had been too proud and too convinced of their righteousness to receive baptism from John. They had not realised that this was how God was leading His people at this time; they were “Thwarting God’s plan”.

Let us pray that we will always be open to change our ideas to do whatever God asks of us.

FMSL

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14 December: Recognising God in the world.

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Today is Wednesday in the third week of Advent, .and also the Memorial of Saint John of the Cross Priest and Doctor of the Church. He was a Carmelite friar who was outstanding in his holiness and knowledge, as his many spiritual writings testify.

The first reading from Isaiah 45: 6-8; 18, 21-26 is telling us that “Apart from me, (God) all is nothing. I am the Lord unrivalled. There is no other god besides me, a God of integrity and saviour;… Turn to me and be saved. From the Lord alone comes victory and strength”. As we are in this Advent period of waiting for Christ, how open I am to receive him? How prepared am I to welcome him and accept him and His good work in me? Am I ready to recognise him in my daily life?

In the Gospel, John the Baptist sends his disciples to go and ask Christ if he is the Messiah, or are they to wait for another? (Luke 7: 19-23) God comes to me in my daily activities and in the people that I meet each day. I meet God in creation, in the stillness of the lonely valleys…flowing with fresh water’… as St John of the Cross says in his Spiritual Canticle. I pray through the intercession of St John of the cross, that God will give me the grace to be strengthened, and rooted in the Love of God, that I may have the power to comprehend with the saints the breath, and length, and height and depth of the Love of Christ which surpasses all knowledge (cf.Ephesians 3:18). Amen.

FMSL

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October 18: Is Something Wrong?

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Where is that place apart

you summon us to? Noisily

we seek it and have no time

to stay.[1]

 

‘Wrong?’ is the title R.S. Thomas gives this poem. The question mark is important. It’s true enough, we – I – often have no time to stay in a ‘place apart’, like the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral. Indeed getting there every week, let alone every day, requires some organising, and today the place was closed to visitors for a graduation!

Some will call this ‘wrong’, but is it? It’s the way things are, and no doubt it always was. After the murder of John the Baptist Jesus took his disciples to a place apart, but they were overtaken by the crowds, so that Jesus found himself teaching and feeding 5,000 men (not to count the women and children) Matthew 14.

Earlier he had taught them to pray thus:

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. (Matthew 6:6-8)

Daniel’s praying quietly in his chamber (Daniel 6) did not prevent his enemies from denouncing him for praying to God, and then casting him to the lions.

Daniel’s quiet place was within his heart. Had he panicked in the lions’ den the angel would have had a hard job to hold them off!

R.S. Thomas concludes with God whispering to us of

…the stepping

aside through the invisible

veil that is about us into a state

not place of innocence and delight.

There are places on earth that seem to favour taking that step, let’s be grateful and spend time there when we can. Let’s also find quiet moments wherever we are to step through the veil, torn forever on Good Friday. (Matthew 27: 50-51)

 

[1] ‘Wrong?’ Selected Poems p287.

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29 September – William Blake’s ‘Angel Appearing to Zacharias’

William Blake, The Angel Appearing to Zacharias. c.1799-1800. Pen, ink, tempera and glue on canvas. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image released under the Metropolitan Museum’s Open Access for Scholarly Comment scheme.

 

The pictures posted today and tomorrow are from another series of pictures of biblical subjects painted by William Blake for the civil servant Thomas Butts. Before Blake made Butts the watercolours of which we saw one yesterday, he painted fifty small temperas of biblical subjects.

Within this group of paintings, Blake’s Nativity pictures seem to act as a distinctive sub-group with a strong sense of series – an unfolding narrative which reflects the artist’s conception of Christ’s identity as the source of Vision and prophecy. Christ’s advent in Jesus is part of an ongoing process of revelation.

The New Testament sequence in Blake’s biblical paintings opens with The Angel Gabriel appearing to Zacharias. This is an unusual subject: I have not come across other examples by Blake’s contemporaries, but it is possible that Blake had seen prints of Old Master versions such as Ghirlandaio’s fresco in the Tornabuoni chapel, Florence.

The angel is bringing news of the birth of John the Baptist, the prophet of Christ and a figure with whom Blake himself identified (because Blake saw himself as a prophet).

Blake strips away the temple architecture which tends to dominate images of this subject and contrasts the priestly trappings of Zacharias and the temple with the simple white garment of the angel – the herald of the prophet who points to the blast of light coming from above.

Zacharias doubts Gabriel’s prophecy and is struck dumb in punishment until the child is born (Luke 1:18-20), demonstrating that doubt hinders prophecy, although this blast of light outshines the menorah (the seven branched candle-stick) and the fire on the altar. Blake, who saw angels in a tree on Peckham Rye, and on the beach at Felpham uses this story to encourage his viewer to trust in the messages of angels.

NAIB

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