I’m sure you’ll understand why I don’t usually take my phone to church, even if this one usually stays switched off when I switch it off. Not like the one that erupted into cacophonous life during an Archbishop’s sermon. This habit partly explains why I’ve only just added this picture of a passion flower from Saint Thomas’ Church in Canterbury. We looked at the symbolism of the flower a few months ago after we spotted some on tombstones in nearby Chartham. You can tell the Christian story with it.
Here is the real thing, a promise of summer to come, and also of heaven to come! Saint Thomas’ flower is next to the sacristy door, the priest and servers process by the passion flower on the way to the altar to celebrate the passion and death of Jesus.
As we have remarked more than once, Jesus lived a lifelong passion. He enjoyed the world, loved it. He told us parables about the flowers of the field, trees and fruit, wine and wineskins, seeds and sowers, so it’s appropriate that we should have this little parable in stone in our Church, even if Jesus would not have known one in his earthly life.
Would Jesus have known this plant, the hop? I don’t know, but it was very common in Kent back in the Nineteenth Century when the church was built, and is still grown in the local area for the brewing industry. Hops were harvested by hand until after the Second World War, with whole families joining in; school holidays in Canterbury were adjusted to allow children and parents to go to the hop gardens legally rather than as truants!
The hops can be seen between two arches on the opposite side of the Church. They represent the people of Canterbury, and the work of their hands. So Christ’s offering and ours, depicted in stone on the walls of our Church: Laudato Si!
PS: So far we’ve not found carved passion flowers in any local churchyard that we’ve visited since Chartham.
On the last day we walk less miles. From Patrixbourne we follow the Pilgrims’ Way back home to Canterbury. Our first stop will be when we first see the Cathedral; we love Ines’s picture.
We’ll cross the city and make for Saint Mildred’s church – here she is with her grandfather, Ethelbert – and then under the arch of hops to the Glebe, the L’Arche garden project. The BBQ can commence! The hops shown here are in St Thomas’s Church, Canterbury, and they stand for all the work of the farmers and their farmhands around the city.
St Thomas of Canterbury, plaque at St Thomas’ church.
I seem to remember parish pilgrimages from my youth, where some people sat on the bus and said the Rosary very loud and very fast. Of course prayer is part of our journey too. Indeed, just putting one foot in front of the other is prayer, just as walking hand in hand, silently, is love and prayer.
Hand in hand: we have agreed a theme of ‘Stay with us, Lord’, Luke 24:29, from the story of the two disciples going to Emmaus on the first Easter Day. Charlotte and Colin have found a Taizé chant we might be able to sing, so I can begin to plan out the prayers.
Starting on the beach: I think ‘Stay with us Lord’ will be a good response to our prayers, one we can all remember. On a clear day you can see the White Cliffs from our nearest L’Arche neighbours, Les Trois Fontaines at Ambleteuse on the French Coast. May the Lord be with them too. Abbot Peter of Canterbury was shipwrecked and washed up dead on the shore there, his body glowing with light when it was found. Another link between our two communities.
I digress, wandering some 30km across the seaway from our Kentish path. Each day we will begin with prayer, pause for prayer, end with prayer. We can thank the Lord for food, for friends and family, for feet carrying us on. Let’s see what comes to heart and mind! We can try to make the prayers relevant to the sites we visit. A few possible churches and halls have been noted down. We’ll see what the final route takes us.
Over the coming fortnight our posts will follow the Stations of the Cross from the point of view of Peter. You are invited to sit with him in prison in Rome under Nero’s persecution of the Christian church. He has time to reflect on his life with Jesus, and especially on the events of those few nights and days at the end of his Lord’s earthly life.
When someone is hurt, those around feel it too. All the more if they have let their loved one down, betrayed them, in big things or in small. Jesus suffers and dies with his brothers and sisters every day – near at hand and in lands far away. Do we walk away – like the disciples on the way to Emmaus? Do we harden our hearts, as Malchus and his companions must have done, to carry on arresting Jesus after he’d cured that severed ear?
Do we run off and weep as Peter did? Despair, as Judas did?
Do we let Jesus seek us out and help us back onto our feet, as Peter did?
These stations link the Via Dolorosa to other events in the lives of Jesus and Peter. If we could see the whole picture we would know that the life and death of Jesus are one story: as Rowan Williams said, he lived a lifelong Passion. We are his body and our lives make sense in his.
As we walk with Peter, yards behind Jesus, almost out of sight, let us pray that we may see more clearly our own sufferings and our own betrayals alongside our joys. May we see more clearly how our sisters and brothers are betrayed and abandoned by us. may we then be ready to let Jesus come and find us, put us back on our feet, and lead us into his Kingdom of service.
For each station there are Scripture references to the Way of the Cross and to parallel events in the lives of Peter and Jesus.
These Stations were followed in Saint Thomas’s Church, Canterbury in 2005.
Canon Anthony Charlton has published a tribute to the Franciscan Missionaries of Saint Joseph who are leaving the city and the parish after 27 years.
Sadly, by the end of this month, the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of St Joseph will have left the parish after their presence here of twenty-seven years when Sister Margaret arrived to study at the Franciscan International Study Centre (FISC). From there she moved to St Bonaventure’s University in Upstate New York to study for her Masters in Franciscan Studies returning to teach at FISC where she remained until its closure. During that time, she served as Director of Franciscan Studies and Sabbaticals and the Spiritual Direction Course in which a number of our parishioners took part. Margaret also served as Vice Principal.
In 2002 I wrote a history of Saint Thomas’s School in Canterbury to mark its centenary in its present building. There had been a few changes of address over some fifty years before that, when the school occupied one inadequate building after another. The parish and most of its families were poor.
The logbook of the school records how one Christmas Mr Henry Hart, of the Red House, gave cloth for the girls to make cloaks to keep themselves warm in wintertime. I knew of two buildings from that time called the Red House; the more likely one was near the shopping centre and close to the present-day Oxfam charity shop, which has a mosaic threshold bearing his name. Very interesting, and duly recorded.
When I came to revise the story I was already a bit of a silver surfer and typed in Mr Hart’s name, occupation, and trade. I learned to my surprise that he was Jewish, (yet giving Christmas presents) and the first Jewish Mayor of Canterbury. That information was published on a couple of Jewish websites.
I certainly had not suppressed Mr Hart’s Jewishness, I just had not discovered it. In his lifetime the city was much smaller than it now is, and he was a member of the School Board as well as mayor. Everyone knew he was a Jew so nobody needed to record the fact. But it is an interesting fact and it points to something good about the integration of Jews – and Catholics – in Victorian Canterbury.
Keep on asking questions – such as who was Henry Hart. What you discover may be an interesting detail or a vital missing link.
I finally caught up with Sister Rose the other day: do you recall her sleep-out to help homeless people in Sussex? (see January 18th and subsequent posts). Well, I managed to walk out of St Thomas’s Church with her and have a short chat. Between herself and Sisters Clare and Anne, they raised nearly £3,000. I guess they could have paid that for a West End Hotel, but the money has gone to a much better cause.
Well done, sisters, and thank you and well done to all who supported them. If you did not manage to help the sisters back then, spare a thought for your local food bank, as parents have to find an extra meal per day to make up for the dinners their children would have eaten if they had been in school.
We met the poet John Betjeman again last month. He was a devout Anglican, if one beset by awareness of his own sinfulness as well as intellectual doubts. In his autobiographical poem Summoned by Bells he wrote:
What seemed to me a greater question then
Tugged and still tugs: Is Christ the Son of God?
Betjeman was also aware of the natural aversion of people to self examination and repentance. We can see it in all sorts of situations of course; he exposes this hypocrisy in a Church community. Let’s take note, not just how we treat our clergy, but also in all our dealings. I’d recommend seeking out the poem as well. I feel I am at times guilty of trying to ‘keep us bright and undismayed’, mea culpa!
Blame the Vicar
When things go wrong it’s rather tame
To find we are ourselves to blame,
It gets the trouble over quicker
To go and blame things on the Vicar.
The Vicar, after all, is paid
To keep us bright and undismayed.
Thomas Becket did not keep King Henry bright and undismayed.
We invite you to walk the Via Crucis – the Way of the Cross – with us during these final days of Lent.
There are one or two differences between these Stations and the traditional order seen in most Catholic Churches. These have been made to bring the Stations closer to the events as told in the Gospels, and to finish the Way of the Cross at its true destination – the new life for which it is a signpost.
Each station is described by someone from the Gospels who would have gone up to Jerusalem for the Passover. Every one of their lives was changed by Jesus; now they are witnesses to his passion and death. Witnesses, not merely observers: as they tell us, each one knows this man Jesus. The meditations refer back to their encounters with Jesus. We see them learning what sort of person he was. Opening the Gospels at these passages in the light of the Passion story, may we open our hearts to let the Spirit work in us. The Scriptural reference is given for each meditation. The question, ‘Why did he have to die?’ is not an easy one to answer. These stations show how the lack of understanding, the falling short of total commitment of so many of his contemporaries — even those close to him — were part of the climate that allowed the crucifixion to happen.
You are invited to pray in solidarity with these bewildered bystanders, who, for all their failings, were good people; each of them loved, or wanted to love Jesus. At the end, none could halt his Way of the Cross. And each of them suffered a personal, private, crucifixion.
We need Jesus’ help to accept our own sufferings as the cross to be taken up daily, to follow him. We know at one level that we must suffer, but perhaps find it a long lesson to deal with it when it comes.
I have told you this now before it happens, so that when it does happen you may believe. John 14:29.
Jesus tells us his truth – then it has to become alive in us by working itself out within each of us in our crucifixion and resurrection. Thomas Merton.
(These Stations were presented at Saint Thomas’ Church Canterbury.)