Tag Archives: saints

September 17: the Stigmata of Saint Francis

More from the Letters of Fr Andrew SDC, pioneer Anglican Franciscan, 1869-1946.

As you know, the word ‘sacrifice’ … just means the thing that is made holy.

It could not be God’s will to desire a thing because it was painful; no pain, no sorrow, no evil can be His ultimate desire. The pain of sacrifice is for a while: the holiness is for all time.

But for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear … our life here is not only baptised but signed with the Cross. There never was yet an unscarred saint.

WT

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August 13: H is for Holywell.

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There are Holy Wells all over Britain, most more than half forgotten. But people still leave little offerings and prayers tied to branches or stuffed between stones at St Nôn’s Well in Pembrokeshire. Even in Rome, coins are tossed into fountains to bring people back to the eternal city. Are they trying to force the hand of God or some lesser local deity?

R.S. Thomas, the Welsh priest-poet, had a holy well in his parish where he would pray. Whom did he and other visitors pray to there?

‘ where the coins lie, the tarnished offerings

of the people to the pure spirit

that lives there, that has lived there

always, giving itself up

to the thirsty, withholding

itself from the superstition

of others, who ask for more.’[1]

Holy wells challenge me, if no-one else! Whatever lies behind the legend of St Winifred’s well springing to life where her severed head fell, water has bubbled up here, people have prayed here, people have been cured and have left their crutches behind.

Is it superstition to ‘ask for more’? And is seeking bodily healing asking for more – or less – than a draught of ‘the pure spirit that has lived there always? More than likely people came to the holy well before the Welsh saints gathered around it.

Certainly water was a powerful sign to people before the coming of city plumbing and clean water on sale in plastic bottles. Here is Philip in the earliest days of the Church, riding in a chariot with a potential convert (Acts 8):

Philip, opening his mouth, and beginning at this scripture, preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came to a certain water; and the eunuch said: See, here is water: what doth hinder me from being baptized?

 And Philip said: If thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest. And he answering, said: I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still; and they went down into the water, both Philip and the eunuch: and he baptized him.

May we never take water, or the Spirit, for granted!

Find out how to share the benefits of reliably clean water here: http://www.wateraid.org/uk

Winifred and her Holywell depicted in a window at her church in Plowden, Shropshire.

 

 MMB.

[1]R.S. Thomas, ‘Ffynnon Fair’ in R.S. Thomas, ‘Collected Poems, 1945 – 1990’, London, Orion, 2000.

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17 July: F is for Fishguard

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What is it about Docks and Ports? Dover, East End of London, and now Fishguard? Things happen there, as they do at railway stations.

Fishguard, one of the ports to go to Ireland, is tucked into this rocky Welsh shore, not far from St David’s. I introduced readers to the late John Byrne a year ago last month; he was a highly respected Irish railway modeller.

He was also a retired sea captain. When we were in Pembrokeshire I sent him a photo of the Ferry arriving in port; he recognised her at once, saying she was not built for the Irish Sea and the Atlantic swells, but for the enclosed Mediterranean  or the Baltic, and gave many a rough ride when the wind was up.

I wonder how it was for Saint Nôn and her son David, forced into exile when he was little, voyaging on a tiny boat across the very sea that John’s big ship was so ill-equipped for?

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Let us remember in our prayers all those in peril on the sea, especially those trying to cross the Mediterranean in flimsy boats. Like the one used to make the Lampedusa Cross. And remember, too, the crews who spend months at sea, rarely able to call home, ill-paid, forgotten by us consumers who depend on their hard work. crososososo1450655040

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July 13, 2017: Nuts, nuns and a Saxon princess.

Our local Saint Mildred, a Saxon princess who had a continental education and rejected the St_Mildred,_Preston_next_Wingham,_Kent_-_Window_-_geograph.org.uk_-_325439 (1)idea of a political marriage to become a nun, has her feast today. She reminds me to pray for her sisters, living today at Minster Abbey; and also to forage the walnuts from my favourite tree.

It’s harvest time because right now the nuts have not yet grown their woody shells inside those green carapaces. Off the tree they come to get pricked all over with a fork, then left to steep in brine for a few days before drying off for a few days more.

The juice has stained my fingers to the complexion of a chain-smoker, if only for a few days. But when the nuts are fully dry for pickling they will be as black as the habits of the Benedictine Sisters who live in Saint Mildred’s Abbey at Minster-walnutsgreenin-Thanet. By Christmas the nuts will be sweet-and-sour and spicy.

Only the first and third of those adjectives apply to the sisters at Minster!

Happy foraging!

Saint Mildred, pray for us.

Saint Mildred from a window at Preston-next-Wingham, Kent.  John Salmon

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July 11: Saint Benedict, ‘Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.’

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Today the 11th of July, we celebrate the feast of St Benedict, Abbot. In the reading of today from the book of Proverbs,(2: 1- 9) God is telling us to take his word to heart, learn His commandments, and apply our heart to the truth. We can rest assured that God will keep watch over us. St Benedict left everything and followed Christ. Today am I setting my heart on His words asking Him to teach me? Am I turning my ear to His wisdom? St. Benedict advised:

Whenever you begin any good work you should first of all make a most pressing appeal to Christ our Lord to bring it to perfection.’

When I am faced with difficulties, where do I turn? St Benedict lived a life of solitude and prayer. How often do I take my time to listen to God talking to me in the busy world of today? Do I hear God calling me to bless His name at all times? Do I hear the invitation of God to taste and see the Lord is good (Psalm 33: 2-11)? As Benedict’s Rule advises, ‘Listen carefully to the Master’s instructions and attend to them with the ear of your heart.’

St Benedict discovered the love of God and left everything and followed Him. I pray that each day, I also may hear God talking to me through His creation and have the grace to respond wholeheartedly. Amen.

 

FMSL 

St Benedict at Einsiedeln Abbey, Switzerland by Roland Zh

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16 May: Doctor of Theology – John Stone, martyr.

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Much is written about St Brendan (whose day it is today) and his epic voyages across the seas to bring the Gospel to others. There is even a myth he may have reached South America. However, I wanted to write about another saint who is lesser known and whose day this is also. John Stone lived at the time of the Reformation which has become an interest of mine due to a series of novels by the historian C J Sansom. The books are about a hunchbacked lawyer called Matthew Shardlake and his adventures during tremendously unstable times for religious thinking and belief in King Henry VIII’s reign.

John Stone was a Doctor of Theology from Canterbury who opposed the King’s wish to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon. During the dissolution of the monasteries all religious were expected to sign a document which acknowledged the King as the Head of the church in England – The Act of Supremacy. John Stone refused to sign and was carted off to the Tower where, C J Sansom tells us, torture was inflicted on the prisoners. It was a brutal and grisly time – has the world improved, I wonder? John was returned to Canterbury to be tried. He was found guilty under the Treason’s Act and hung, drawn and quartered, his head and body being left on display for being a traitor.

Sansom’s novels show us the profits and land deals that were made on the back of the sale of religious houses and properties. Of course, the full truth was riddled with complexities and the changing whims of King Henry, yet those who do not follow the tenets of more dictatorial leaders, even in our times, are subject to persecution. Men of principle, such as John Stone, however, shine forth. I do recommend Mr Sansom’s books but beware, once you read one, you will want to read them all. What shall I do when I reach the end of his final book in the series? Sob!

CW.

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15 May: Saint Carthage (c555-637)

st Carthage

Saint Carthage, whose day it is today, is also known as Mochuda. He was a humble swineherd from what is now County Kerry and after joining a monastery he was ordained a priest. His life is marked by a series of phases where he established churches and places of worship and pilgrimage only to be turned out after making successes of his endeavours. His demise each time was due to the jealousy of others. But he picked himself up, moved on and succeeded again someplace else and in doing so left a trail of churches and holy places. How often does God use the negativity of others to bring into fruition His plans for us.

As a Tertiary Franciscan I have been enamoured of the stories of the early Franciscan friars whose lives are detailed in the book called, Il Fioretti, or the Little Flowers of St. Francis. Often they were despised and accused of many things but Francis taught them that from such condemnation is perfect joy. Our natural instincts when we are criticised or gossiped about is to react and feel negativity in return. Yet by changing our reactive attitude and transforming it into a force for good we can transcend and so continue with greater energy our journey in Christ. After all, Jesus was the most perfect Son of God and did he escape jealousy and envy? Not a bit. In fact His essential truth and reality in Almighty God polarised, very quickly, all those he came into contact with.

So along with Mochuda and with Christ, let us take heart and be encouraged by any darkness of spirit from others and rejoice, for it is by these things we are marked as servants of God. And we may, just by our attitude, allow others who fear to become a little more positive themselves.

CW.

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March 20: A Sandwich for Saint Cuthbert

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March 20 is the feast of St Cuthbert, who died on this day in 687. There is a story that one Friday, the bishop of Lindisfarne, Saint Cuthbert was welcomed into an isolated farmstead by a woman who offered to feed him and his horse. ‘Stay and eat’, she said, ‘for you won’t reach home tonight.’ But Cuthbert would not break his Friday fast, so he rested a while, let her care for his horse, and pressed on his way. It got dark well before he was in sight of home so he found shelter in a tumbledown, empty, isolated shepherd’s hut.

Here his horse began to pull down the thatch of the roof to have something to eat, but even Cuthbert could not see thatch as food for a man, however hungry he might be. The horse carried on attacking the roof, making the best of what was available in this wild place. As it pulled at the thatch, a packet fell to the floor; when the good bishop opened it he found bread and meat, the meat still warm. He shared the loaf with his beast as he gave thanks to God. How did the meal get there? Was it concealed by the hospitable woman as she tended his horse back at the farm? Cuthbert did not know, but he was happy to eat what was provided after his day of fasting had finished – for like the Muslims at Ramadan today, he would have counted sunset as the day’s end.

In Muslim countries today, many Christians will observe the fast in solidarity with their neighbours. So  let us enjoy our sandwiches – yes, even in this season of Lent – to thank the Lord who provides the food, as Cuthbert did, and to share in the ministry of hospitality, like the woman on the farmstead.

Cuthbert in a wall painting at Durham Cathedral.

Please remember in your prayers Abbot Cuthbert Johnson OSB, sometime Abbot of Quarr, who died on January 16, 2017. He was from Saint Cuthbert’s diocese and was ministering there when he fell sick and died.                         Will T.

Photo from thepelicans.org.uk where you can read Abbot Cuthbert’s obituary and an address he gave for the Missionaries of Africa to whom he remained close. http://thepelicans.org.uk/obituaries/obits24.htm#pjohnson

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8 March, Human Will IV: The Will and Virtue

 

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In the Church’s anthropology, our will is one.  We have ‘free will.’  Saint Irenaeus, in the third century, wrote that the human person is ‘master over his acts’ precisely because of his free will.  We are therefore responsible for our decisions and actions.  Those decisions and actions of which we are ashamed cannot be panned off on some other sort of ‘will’ present within us.

At the same time, we know that our will’s capacity to respond to the promptings of our conscience is not always immediate or consistent.  Although Augustine thought our emotions and our will can and should work as one, the fact is that sometimes the will is under the sway of our emotions.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this important observation:

Progress in virtue, knowledge of the good and ascesis enhance the mastery of the will over its acts [no. 1734]. 

Let us pause over this sentence and savour it a bit.  It means that if we want our will to function properly with ‘mastery’ over our acts, it needs some help.  First, as the Catechism indicates, help is needed on the level of virtue.  The Church defines virtue as ‘an habitual and firm disposition to do the good.  Virtue allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself’ [Catechism, no. 1803].[1]

What is important to note here is the encouraging news that we can grow in virtue.  Each time we do something truly good, the will is strengthened by that action, and we grow in our ability to continue to do good.  We grow not only in terms of the ease with which we act in a good way, but we grow in our understanding of what we are doing and why: we grow in spiritual depth.  We thereby make real progress in virtue, and strengthen the power of our will.

The next idea in the sentence we are considering is that our will’s mastery is strengthened by our progress in ‘knowledge of the good.’  Perhaps you are someone who has been a Christian all your life, or perhaps you are someone who is just discovering God, Jesus, Christianity.  But, wherever we may be on the Christian timeline, we all need to grow in our ‘knowledge of the good.’

We do not live in a society that accepts that ‘the good’ exists in a way that makes requirements on all people.  Much of what Christianity declares to be truly good in an unchanging and universal sense, our society simply writes off as mere opinion – not binding on anyone except those who hold such opinions.  This can be confusing, both for long-term Christians, and new Christians.  To really know ‘the good’, it is necessary to turn to the teaching of the Church, to pray for understanding, and to be courageous enough to reject some counterfeit notions of goodness that are the currency of our culture.  The Church has always been counter-cultural and Christians must simply expect that the ethical and moral teachings of the Church will be a challenge to many of our society’s popular notions of morality.   As we gradually come to understand what is truly good, and live in accordance with our knowledge, our will is strengthened, and its mastery over our acts is enhanced.  We become more alive, more joyful, on a very deep level.

And lastly, our phrase from the Catechism uses the word ‘ascesis.’  What is that?  Perhaps we can call it the ability to set limits on our pleasures.  Living for mere pleasure can quickly degenerate into addiction.  And it is well known that addiction’s pleasures operate by the law of diminishing returns.  This is not to suggest that a Christian should have no pleasure, but that pleasure is the by-product of joy, and joy comes when our will, guided by our reason and informed by faith, exercises mastery over our acts.  Perhaps it is easiest to understand ascesis as self-discipline that functions for the purpose of enabling us to be free of dependences in order to live fully for God.  St. Augustine’s prayer, published at the beginning of these posts, affirms God helps us on the level of our will.  He is the strength of the will that serves him.

 

[1] This is not the place to give a detailed treatment of all the virtues, but those wishing to understand more about this subject may refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1804 – 1829.

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22 February: Faith and Science, hand-in-hand.

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Despite a few, often painful, boundary disputes over the years, the Church is not opposed to Science as a way of learning about Creation. There is no need to abandon the faith for that reason, as Fr James Kurzynski tells us in this article from the Vatican Observatory blog. Read and enjoy.

Faith and Astronomy

Most High God!
Thou that enkindlest
the fires of the shining stars!
O Jesus!
Thou that art peace and life and light and truth,
hear and grant our prayers.

Amen.

Saint Ambrose 

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