Tag Archives: Saint John

23 May, Synod Newsletter: Mary, and the Synod way

This edition of the synod newsletter highlights Mary, Mother of the Lord, as an example of someone with a synodal attitude. She accompanied Jesus all the way to the Cross; she was part of the decision-making of the early Church, and lived with the Beloved Disciple as his mother, bequeathed by Jesus. There are stories from around the world. Follow this link.


Good morning, everyone. Here we are again with a new edition of our Newsletter.
Listening and discernment are perhaps the two words that have been most used in this first phase of the synod process. But how does one listen and discern correctly?  I believe that a model and a true method is given to us by the One whom we want to celebrate in this Newsletter: Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church; Mary, Via Synodalis
READ THE FULL EDITORIAL
Mary,Via synodalis

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27 April: Tea’s company


Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
  Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
  And while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
  Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
  That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
  So let us welcome peaceful evening in.

These lines by William Cowper are taken from his long poem ‘The Task’, written in response to a challenge from his friend Lady Ann Austen. Many readers will recognise ‘the cups that cheer but not inebriate’ but perhaps, like me, did not know the source.

I’d like to put alongside Cowper’s image the photo on this book cover.

Jésus, l'homme de la rencontre

Bishop Claude Rault was a teacher of mine before he became Bishop of the Sahara, at least the part of it in the great empty quarter of Algeria. His book has been my Lenten reading this year, but what I want to share today is from the introduction by Fr Christophe Roucou, himself a missionary in North Africa.

Roucou explains why Bishop Rault chose this picture for his cover. It shows

“a teapot in the embers of a living fire, ready to make tea that will be drunk and shared in this corner of the desert between friends, or offered to the passer-by in token of welcome and hospitality.

“The tea of meeting!”

The word ‘meeting’ is hardly adequate as a translation of rencontre; ‘encounter’ does not, for me at least, convey the warmth and welcome implied in ‘rencontre’. Claude’s book is a commentary on the meetings Jesus had with people, as described in Saint John’s Gospel; and we know how deeply he welcomed all manner of people. A review will follow.

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 20 April: The Forgotten Grave.

This very chapel and its graveyard are all but forgotten as the village it served has moved three kilometres away.
After a hundred years 
Nobody knows the place, — 
Agony, that enacted there, 
Motionless as peace. 

Weeds triumphant ranged, 
Strangers strolled and spelled 
At the lone orthography 
Of the elder dead. 

Winds of summer fields 
Recollect the way, — 
Instinct picking up the key 
Dropped by memory.
 
From Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete, via Kindle.

Two thousand years on, and people know the place of Christ’s agony in the garden, his further agony and death on Calvary; the place of his tomb; they visit them in their thousands every year.

But did Mary Magdalene return to the tomb – or Peter or John – after Easter? Mary took the Lord’s message to the Apostles: they were to take themselves to Galilee, they knew the way. Before long Peter was leading them out to the boats for a fishing expedition. But the winds of summer seas would take most of them far away, to where people were waiting to hear the Good News from the fishers of men and women. No need for the disciples to revisit the empty tomb, but James and his church in Jerusalem surely remembered and marked the spot.

We cannot all hope to visit the Holy Land, but we can go to Mass this Easter time, or slip into the back of any church, acknowledge the ever-present risen Lord, and then … go back home, back to our daily lives, to glorify the Lord by our life. To share the Good News, mostly without words, but living as other Christs in today’s world, letting the Spirit speak through our instinct.

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15 March: People in their thousands, IV.

The risen Jesus leading Adam and Eve to heaven, with the Cross and the Tree of Life.

Part IV

We are looking at Jesus’ words in Luke 12: 4, where he says, To you, my friends, I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. He is telling us more than we may at first realise.

I’d like to ask us to consider under what heading we usually think of Jesus. Maybe we think of him most often as a teacher, or a miracle-worker, or a prophet. Maybe we think of him most often as the one who rose from the dead. Maybe we focus on him as God and the Son of God; maybe we turn to the Creed, with full acceptance of everything that the Creed says about him. All of these ways of thinking of Jesus are wonderful and true. But perhaps we forget that he is also a lover. He is a different sort of lover, granted, to the ones that are celebrated in novels and films, but he is nevertheless a lover. And the authentic lover, who loves the beloved more than himself, wants to protect the beloved from pain and suffering – indeed, wants to remove it entirely.

The human person’s deepest suffering is in the knowledge that we must die one day. Jesus wants not only to deprive this suffering of its ‘sting’, to use St. Paul’s expression (cf. 1 Cor. 15: 55-57), but also to reassure us about the entire experience. He tells us in John’s gospel that when we die, he will take us to himself and we go to the place he has prepared for us in the Father’s house (cf. Jn 14:3). As God, Jesus is actually capable of doing this. He does not overturn the laws of nature by taking death away. Except in the case of the miracles he works, nature’s processes remain the same. But what happens after our death is something new – it is Jesus’ ‘territory’, you might say. That is what he knows about. And because of this knowledge he tells us not to be afraid.

Let’s take a day to reflect on some of the ways in which Jesus talks about our death. Tomorrow, we’ll be back for our final reflection.

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9 February: Nathaniel Finds His Heart, Part I.

from FMSL

A feast of Sister Johanna’s thoughts during these few days. Today and tomorrow she invites us to sit under the fig tree with Nathaniel. Will he become a disciple of Jesus? And let’s ask ourselves as well, will we follow him?

In the first chapter of the Gospel of John, starting with verse thirty-five, John gives us his account of the calling of the disciples.  I was pondering this well-known section of the gospel recently, thinking about what it must have been like to be one of those who were called.  Their life changed completely, from top to bottom, bottom to top, from the outside in and inside out – all in a matter of minutes.  The exact moment of each disciple’s encounter with Jesus, the moment when they realised that following him was the only thing that really mattered, must have been deeply inscribed within their memories.  In quiet times, they must have revisited the mysterious occasion, trying to understand its profound effect and meaning.  

I notice this time that in John’s gospel, the disciples are excited about Jesus in a way that is less evident in the other gospels.  Right from the beginning of their discipleship, they are already talking about Jesus’ identity as saviour.  Two of those called immediately tell others that Jesus is the Messiah.  Andrew, Peter’s brother, is the first to do so (see John 1:40f).  Then Philip makes the same declaration, and tells Nathaniel that they had found ‘him of whom Moses in the Law and the prophets wrote.’  And here I begin to slow down.  

Something about Nathaniel’s response to this news is absorbing my attention, and I want to explore this feeling.  Nathaniel is different.  Seemingly, he is not so ready to jump on this Jesus-bandwagon.  He is cautious.  He points out to Philip that Jesus comes from the lacklustre town of Nazareth.  Before we think how silly Nathaniel is being, let’s stop.  It can be quite a turn-off to discover that a person everybody is making such a fuss about comes from the kind of place where the only exciting thing that ever happens is… is nothing.  The people there are backward.  They have no style.  They all talk with their own uncultured accent.  They’re just losers, we might think.  In our day, such a town would probably not be a safe place to live – there’d be gangs, maybe drugs and weapons.  “From Nazareth?” Nathaniel asks.  “Can anything good come from there?”  I can think of quite a few places about which I’d be inclined to say that.  And that’s where Jesus comes from.  

Then John records the conversation that takes place between Nathaniel and Jesus.  It is an unusual one.  Interpreting it can be difficult.  I ask the Holy Spirit to inspire my imagination and then I let my thoughts play with this scene.  I first imagine Jesus speaking to Nathaniel in the rather jovial tones we often adopt in social situations when we meet a new person.  I hear Jesus now.  He’s saying in a friendly voice to Nathaniel – maybe even clapping him lightly on the back – “Nathaniel!  An Israelite in whom there is no deception!”  They’re smiling.  And they are also sizing each other up.  As I think about these words, I realise that there is a subtext here in Jesus’ introductory remark.  Jesus seems to be telling Nathaniel that he senses his hesitation about him.  But that’s not all.  Jesus’ words are not words of correction.  There is nothing threatening in them.  On the contrary, Jesus’ friendliness suggests that he likes the fact that this Israelite will think for himself and will not deceive him by pretending to be impressed just because everyone else happens to be. 

What does Nathaniel make of this?  I think he’s secretly pleased.  He’s been complimented by Jesus of Nazareth – but in an understated way.  We are usually quick to notice compliments, even understated ones.  Nathaniel is no different.  Probably taking up Jesus’ own joking tone, Nathaniel says to him, “How do you know me?”  When we receive an unexpected compliment, sometimes we try to deflect it with a little joke.  It isn’t that we don’t like praise.  We always do – but it can make us feel momentarily bashful, slightly confused.  We’re apt to cover this awkwardness with some bravado.  “Of course I’m the admirable human being you think I am!  How did you happen to find this out about me?” is what Nathaniel’s playful remark suggests to me.  

Those of you who have read my posts before know that I’m apt to take time to develop these lectio reflections so that we can enter more deeply into the sacred text by prayer.  I think we should stop here for today.  As Jesus and Nathaniel are getting to know each other perhaps we can turn to Jesus in prayer as if meeting him for the first time.  What have we heard about him?  What does he say to us?   Are we playful?  Or serious?  Tomorrow we will return to this reflection. 

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7 February: Zebedee, Part III

Mrs Turnstone’s two little fish from Aberdaron, Wales. Reminding us of a pilgrimage.

Sister Johanna concludes her reflection on Zebedee. Thank you Sister!

For two days, we have been considering the call of James and John through the eyes of Zebedee, their father. If you are just joining us today, it’s advisable that you scroll back two days to see how we’ve arrived here. Today we’ll begin our reflection with the silence of Zebedee, as he acquiesces to what Jesus has just done. This is what Mark seems to wonder at, I believe – the text suggests this to me. If the evangelists had gone in for textual emphasis, then maybe the words, LEAVING THEIR FATHER ZEBEDEE WITH THE MEN HE EMPLOYED IN THE BOAT would have looked something like that, with everything else in lower case lettering. And I wonder at this, too: Zebedee himself was not asked by Jesus to follow him. Only his sons were asked. Zebedee, in fact, wasn’t asked anything – he was not even acknowledged by Jesus, and James and John didn’t even say good-bye. They all acted as though Zebedee wasn’t there. What does Zebedee think? How does he feel? He doesn’t say. He is silent.

But maybe this silence itself says something. Maybe Zebedee is silently saying, “I will not interfere with my sons’ relationship to Jesus”. This is remarkable because his non-interference involves the loss of something extremely precious to him – his sons. Their presence. Their help, Their daily expressions of filial love. But Zebedee doesn’t interfere,

either now or later. Whatever in Zebedee’s silence that could have been attributed to shock does not change once Zebedee gets over it. There is no record of Zebedee turning up at Jesus’ camp later and saying, “Hey! I want my sons back!” Zebedee’s acceptance of this strange turn of events is total.

Where does this reflection on Zebedee leave me? I suppose it leaves me with the recognition that sometimes Jesus’ actions toward those we love are unfathomable and leave us in a state of incredulity. We see that Jesus is requiring something of someone we love, and we see them responding. Maybe it looks crazy to us – looks contrary to all that they’ve been prepared for and to everything we expected of them. And, worse, maybe we’re required to give them up now, or change our relationship in a way that hurts us. What will we do? How will we manage? Nor do we understand Jesus’ actions – actions which leave us with a lot of very good questions, and no answers. We simply don’t understand what is going on or why.

How would I react if I were Zebedee? How am I reacting now to the unfathomable aspects of Jesus’ actions toward those I love? He’s not asking me for my opinion; he doesn’t seem to be taking me into account at all. Could I, can I be as silent and trusting as Zebedee? Could I do this long-term? Perhaps Zebedee is one of the New Testament’s greatest saints.

Knowing when not to interfere … that’s wisdom!

Here’s another look – or looks – at this story from the Visual Commentary on Scripture, ‘Fishing for People.‘ VCS is a free series of reflections through works of art.

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5 February: Zebedee, Part I.

Traditional Northumbrian Coble fishing boat, by Nigel Coates.

Sister Johanna has been giving her thought to Zebedee, a strong silent man of the Gospels, whose sons and later his wife, left all to follow Jesus.

Jesus saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John: they were in their boats mending the nets. At once he called them and, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the men he employed, they went after him (cf. Mark 1:19-20. Translation: New Jerusalem Bible).

It’s not often we find editorial comment or attitude in the Gospels. Usually the evangelists simply tell their story and leave us to do the commentary and feel the emotion. But these few lines from the Gospel of Mark seem full of Saint Mark’s feeling – indeed, his incredulity. I think it comes across in line 20 where he says, ‘leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the men he employed…’. In these words seem to hear Mark marvelling not only over the response of James and John to Jesus’ call, but also over Zebedee’s reaction to the sudden defection of his sons from everything that Zebedee had prepared them for.

I know something about fishermen. My own father was one, not by profession but by preference: he loved nothing more than to be on a boat with a line in the water, hauling in fish by the dozen. His fishermen friends all tended to be like him: no nonsense men, hard working, a bit earthy, rather outspoken in their opinions, tough-spirited tough-guys with soft hearts. I imagine Zebedee was like that – only perhaps more care-worn than my dad and his cronies, who all fished for recreation, and earned their livelihood elsewhere. For Zebedee, fishing was his way of supporting his family. It was important and it was work, with all the strains and stress work involves. Surely Zebedee expected his sons to do their share, and probably take over the business one day when he was no longer able. He must have been doing pretty well: he had a few employees. But, as we know, to do well in any business takes a lot of hard work, combined with a lot of shrewdness.

Zebedee. For the first time as I reread the passage today, I had a sense of the man. Now, I see him on a specific day, the day his sons leave. This had probably been an ordinary day. Now they were doing their routine net-mending and stowing things away; it was time to stop work; they were weary and ready for a good meal. And suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, Jesus turns up, calls to James and John, and without uttering a syllable, they go off after him. Zebedee, meanwhile, sits in the boat, torn net in his hands, staring after them open-mouthed. The employees all stop their banter, look up from their nets, exchange surprised glances with each other and quickly attend to their net-mending again with a degree of intensity not usually needed for this particular task. Zebedee says not a word about what has just happened. Not now. Not ever, it seems.

I’d like to leave us with that picture of Zebedee for a day and return to our reflection tomorrow.

SJC


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3 October, Season of Creation XXXIV: Making Peace.

Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge.

Pope Francis reaches the end of Chapter 2 of Laudato si’ by giving a Christian understanding of the world, a world created good, not to be despised as evil and a source of contamination.

98. Jesus lived in full harmony with creation, and others were amazed: “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:27). His appearance was not that of an ascetic set apart from the world, nor of an enemy to the pleasant things of life. Of himself he said: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard!’” (Matthew 11:19). He was far removed from philosophies which despised the body, matter and the things of the world. Such unhealthy dualisms, nonetheless, left a mark on certain Christian thinkers in the course of history and disfigured the Gospel. Jesus worked with his hands, in daily contact with the matter created by God, to which he gave form by his craftsmanship. It is striking that most of his life was dedicated to this task in a simple life which awakened no admiration at all: “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mark 6:3). In this way he sanctified human labour and endowed it with a special significance for our development. As Saint John Paul II taught, “by enduring the toil of work in union with Christ crucified for us, man in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the redemption of humanity”.

99. In the Christian understanding of the world, the destiny of all creation is bound up with the mystery of Christ, present from the beginning: “All things have been created though him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). The prologue of the Gospel of John (1:1-18) reveals Christ’s creative work as the Divine Word (Logos). But then, unexpectedly, the prologue goes on to say that this same Word “became flesh” (John 1:14). One Person of the Trinity entered into the created cosmos, throwing in his lot with it, even to the cross. From the beginning of the world, but particularly through the incarnation, the mystery of Christ is at work in a hidden manner in the natural world as a whole, without thereby impinging on its autonomy.

100. The New Testament does not only tell us of the earthly Jesus and his tangible and loving relationship with the world. It also shows him risen and glorious, present throughout creation by his universal Lordship: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:19-20). This leads us to direct our gaze to the end of time, when the Son will deliver all things to the Father, so that “God may be everything to every one” (1 Corinthians 15:28). Thus, the creatures of this world no longer appear to us under merely natural guise because the risen One is mysteriously holding them to himself and directing them towards fullness as their end. The very flowers of the field and the birds which his human eyes contemplated and admired are now imbued with his radiant presence.

Tomorrow is the feast of Saint Francis and so this is our last post for the Season of Creation. We’ll return to Laudato Si’ after a break.

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6 August: Praying with Pope Francis

From the Franciscans in Harare, CD.

Pope Francis’s Prayer Intention for Evangelization: – The Church
Let us pray for the Church, that She may receive from the Holy Spirit the grace and strength to reform herself in the light of the Gospel.

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration, when Jesus climbed a mountain with chosen Apostles, Peter, James and John. There he appeared to them shining like the sun, his clothes as white as light, and alongside him, Moses and Elijah from the Old Testament. They heard the voice from heaven saying this is my beloved Son, Listen to him. (Matthew 17)

Where did this experience get them on Good Friday? John stayed by the Cross, James slept through the Agony. Peter denied knowing Jesus, three times, while he was trying to get near enough to find out what was happening: a muddled, timid, self-protecting response.

Yet Peter was the Rock on which Jesus built his Church. A church that has felt rocky, rather than rock-like of late. We do need the grace of the Spirit, each and every one of us. And we so-called laity must pray for the grace to reform ourselves in the light of the Gospel of our transfigured, lifted-up and risen Lord.

WT

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8 April: The Easter Garden

Franciscan Church, Venice

The church had imposing monuments, emphasising the worldly wealth that was Venice’s, but what struck me was this carving of Christ on Easter Morning, watched over by a Guardian Angel, a serenely happy angel indeed. But Jesus maybe does need an eye kept on him, He looks as though he is not at all used to his risen body, see how he’s feeling the wound in his side; it’s bleeding as though he were alive.

The English Easter gardens, from a village in Northumberland, Canterbury Cathedral, and Saint Mildred’s Church nearby, are unpopulated so far as we can see, but just as with Doctor Johnson the other day, we can feel God’s presence.

When I helped at Children’s Masses, some of them enacted Mary, John and Peter going to the tomb, and finding no-one. We then unrolled a poster saying ‘Jesus is nowhere’, because they did not find him. The priest had to take a pair of scissors to it, so that it read, ‘Jesus is now here’. Our daily challenge for mission is to live as though that’s true. Which it is!

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