Tag Archives: saints

A Grey day in Canterbury

As I was walking home at a quarter to nine this morning, the Sun was finding it difficult to break through but there was autumn colour nonetheless. We are in the city centre, at the site of a corn mill that burned to the ground eighty years ago. Top picture is looking upstream; the cathedral is behind the houses on the left; the building on the right, obscured by trees, was once the Dominican Priory.

Looking downstream, the steps, right foreground, take you across the main river over the sluice gates that control the flow – still vital when there is too much or too little rain.

There is a pub with rooms called the Miller’s Arms just visible behind the trees to the right. They fed us well the last time we visited.

The old bridge is called after St Radigund, a princess-abbess from the so-called dark ages when so many noblewomen found openings for themselves and others to be something other than wives, mothers and domestics. We’d better publish a post about her sometime soon; till then, Laudato Si!

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5 October. Little Flowers XXXXI. Francis and the Robbers, 2.

flowers.francis.illustrationYesterday we read how Brother Angel, the guardian, chased away the three robbers who came begging at the friary. Francis sent him to bring bread and wine to them, bread and wine that he himself had begged.

The obedient guardian came up with the robbers and offered to them the bread and the wine, and said all that Saint Francis had laid upon him.

And sith it was the will of God, these robbers as they ate the alms of Saint Francis, began to
say among themselves Woe unto us, miserable wretches! how grievous are the pains of hell that await us, who go about not only robbing our neighbours, and beating and wounding, but likewise slaying them; yet we feel no whit remorse of conscience, nor fear of God; and lo! this holy brother that hath come to us and humbly hath confessed his fault for diverse words he justly spake against our wickedness; and more than this, hath brought us bread and wine and so bounteous a promise from the holy Father; of a truth these be holy brothers of God, and merit the paradise of God; and we be sons of eternal perdition and merit the pains of hell, and every day increase our own damnation; and we know not whether we can turn us from the sins that we have done up till now. Come, what is it that we needs must do?

Let us go,” said one, “unto Saint Francis ; and if he gives us hope that we may find mercy of God for our sins, let us do whatsoever he bids us, and so deliver us. Thls counsel was pleasing unto the others; and so they all three being agreed gat them in haste to Saint Francis, and bespake him thus: “Father, for the multitude of sins and wickednesses that we have committed, we deem it not possible to return to the mercy of God; but if thou hast any hope that God will receive us into His mercy, lo! we be ready to do whatsoever thou shalt tell us, and to do penance with thee.”

Thereat Saint Francis, dealing lovingly with them and in kindly fashion, comforted them with many examples : and making them assured of the mercy of God, promised them of a surety to obtain it for them from God, and setting forth to them how that the mercy of God is infinite; and that if we had sins without number, yet the mercy of God is greater than our sins, according to the Gospel; and the Apostle Saint Paul saith: “Christ, the blessed One, came into the world to save sinners.”

Through the which words and the like admonishments, the three robbers renounced the devil and all his works. And Saint Francis admitted them into the Order.

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4 October: Little Flowers, XXXX. Francis and the Robbers 1: better by gentleness.

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It’s St Francis’s day, so who better to continue our series on begging? This story concludes tomorrow.

Now there dwelt in those parts three notorious robbers, who wrought much evil in that country, the which came on a day to the House of the brothers, and besought Brother
Angel, the guardian, to give them food to eat; and the guardian with harsh reproof, answered them after this fashion: “Ye thieves and cruel murderers, ye be not ashamed to rob others of the fruits of their labours: but likewise, as men insolent and bold, ye would devour the alms bestowed upon the servants of God; in sooth, ye are not worthy that the earth should hold you, since ye respect nor men nor God who created you: then go your ways and see ye come not here again”; whereby they went away disquieted and full of ire.

And behold, Saint Francis returned from abroad with a wallet of bread and a little flask of wine, that he and his companion had begged: and when the guardian recounted unto him how he had driven the men away, Saint Francis reproved him sternly, saying: “Because sinners are brought back to God better by gentleness than by cruel reproofs; wherefore our master Jesu Christ, whose Gospel we have promised to observe, saith that they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick and that he was not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance: wherefore he oftentimes ate with them. Seeing then, that thou hast done against charity and against the holy Gospel of Christ, I command thee by holy obedience, that thou take this wallet of bread that I have begged and this little flask of wine, and search diligently for them over mountains and valleys until thou find them, and give them all this bread and wine as from me; and then kneel thee down before them and humbly confess thy fault of cruelty; and then pray them on my behalf that they do no more ill, but fear God nor offend Him any more: and if this they will do, I promise to provide for their needs and to give them food and drink abidingly; and when thou hast said this unto them, return hither again in all humility.”

While the guardian was going for to do his bidding, Saint Francis set himself to pray, beseeching God to soften the hearts of those robbers and convert them to penitence.

Photograph by Christina Chase, Ste Anne de Beaupré, Canada.

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22 September: Saint Maurice, a book review.

Looking back, I realise that my teacher Miss ‘Killer’ was an ignorant woman. She ridiculed children who had not been baptised with what she considered to be appropriate saints’ names. ‘There’s never been a Saint June!’ she once spat, instead of saying, ‘You could stick with Saint Jane or Saint Joan.’ As for ‘Royston’! ‘What kind of a name is that?’ Life was miserable if you were on the wrong side of her, as a good 75% of us regularly were. I’m glad she did not pick up on the idea that Saint Maurice did not exist; it would have been another stick to beat me with. And I mean beat.

The theory was that since there were no contemporary accounts of Maurice and his companions, they were more likely a group of saints invented to make sense of a mass grave found in Switzerland in 383 AD, said to have been Christian legionaries executed for refusing an immoral order.

Donald O’Reilly in Lost Legion Rediscovered  settles the Question to his and my satisfaction: there was a Christian Theban legion – from the Egyptian Thebes, not the Greek one – and in the late 3rd Century civil war its members were killed in great numbers for disobeying an immoral order, and this happened not only in Switzerland’s town that bears his name but across North West Europe.

O’Reilly’s detective work is well worth reading, giving insight into Roman civil and military life of the time, and into Christian attitudes to military service. Yes, St Maurice did exist, an African in Europe, which is why his town is now the focus for the annual African pilgrimage to the saints of Africa every June.

Here is part of a speech attributed to Maurice by a later writer (p121 of O’Reilly’s book).

Our right hands know how to fight against wicked men and enemies; they do not know how to cut into pieces innocent men and fellow citizens. We remember we took up arms on behalf of citizens rather than against citizens. We have always fought on behalf of justice, on behalf of the safety of the innocent; up to the present time this has been the reward of our dangers. We have fought on behalf of the faith; and how are we to keep our faith towards you – the words are addressed to the emperor – if we do not show forth faith to God?

 

Donald O’Reilly, Lost Legion Rediscovered, Barnsley, Pen and Sword, 2011.

MMB

 

 

 

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6 September. Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXXV: Getting into the Habit 1.

 

A VERY noble and tender youth entered the Order of Saint Francis; the which after some days, through the prompting of the devil, began to hold the habit that he bore in such hate, that it seemed unto him he wore a sack most vile; the sleeves he abhorred, he hated the hood, and the length and the roughness thereof were unto him as a load unbearable, A mislike of the religious life increasing more and more, he was purposed to put off the habit and return to the world.

Now already it was his wont, according as his master had taught him, so often as he passed before the altar of the convent, whereon was kept the Body of Christ, to kneel with great reverence, and draw back his hood, and with arms crossed bow himself down. It befell that on the night whereon he was to go away and leave the Order, he must needs pass before the altar of the convent; and as he passed, he kneeled him down as was his wont and did reverence.

And forthwith he was rapt in spirit and God showed unto him a wondrous vision: in that he saw before him as it were a countless multitude of saints, like a procession, two and two, clad in beauteous robes of precious stuffs, and their faces and their hands shone like the sun, and they marched to the songs and chants of angels. Among these saints were twain more nobly clad and adorned than all the rest; and they were wrapt around with so much brightness that they wrought exceeding great amazement in whoso looked on them; and nigh to the end of the procession he saw one adorned with great glory that he seemed a new-made knight, more honoured than they all. The youth beholding the vision aforesaid, marvelled exceedingly and knew not what this procession might portend, and dared not ask, but stood all mazed for very sweetness.

The Blessed Sacrament reserved at Greyfriars, Canterbury.

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29 August: Saint Sabina

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I doubt I’ll find out how an icon of a second century Roman martyr saint came to be displayed in a redundant church in Shropshire, but that’s where we found this image of Saint Sabina. Who was she?

A wealthy woman by all accounts, who was converted by her Syrian slave girl, Serapia. That alone makes me wonder what sort of relationships existed between Roman citizens and their slaves. But it was not a Roman, but a Victorian woman, Mrs Alexander, who wrote All things bright and beautiful, including the lines, ‘The rich man in his castle,/ The poor man at his gate,/ God made them high and lowly / And ordered their estate. 

But that’s not today’s reflection!

Sabina held Serapia dear enough to have her body rescued after she was martyred, and buried in the family tomb. Sabina herself was denounced and executed soon afterwards.

The ancient Basilica of Saint Sabina in Rome is built where her house had stood.

Serapia shows us how anyone can be a herald of the Gospel; Sabina invites us to humbly pay attention to everyone around us, to respect those who serve us. A bus driver, postman or woman, a supermarket worker or nurse; none of these is our slave but our sister or brother in Christ rendering us service. That much Sabina saw; an early step on the road to abolition. The two ideas of equality and slavery are irreconcilable, unless everyone is equally precious and everyone is also a willing slave towards their neighbours.

For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man.

Philippians 2:5-8

 

Photo from St Batholomew, Richard’s Castle.

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August 28: Cultural Centre bears witness to the “universality” of the Church

Here to mark the feast of Saint Augustine is a story from his native land of Algeria, where the Missionaries of Africa have been present for more than 100 years. Their society is 150 years old this year. 

Precious volumes and photographs testifying to the history of the Christian presence, but also courses in English and French and IT: all this is found at the Cultural Centre of the White Fathers (Missionaries of Africa) in Ouargla, a city in eastern Algeria,  at the service of the local, mainly Muslim, community, in this city of the desert.

The Cultural Centre is rooted in history. In 1875 the first White Father missionaries were sent here to find only a French military garrison and a handful of Berber hovels. Besides providing religious assistance for the soldiers, the White Fathers started to learn the local languages. At the same time they collected ancient books, scrolls and took photographs.

Over the years the missionaries catalogued the growing heritage which becomes a memory for the region and for the whole of Algeria. The photographs in particular bear witness to the different stages of a Christian presence which is ever more closely linked with the local population. “From the early years of colonisation down to our day – says Fr. Aldo Giannasi, a White Father missionary who lived and served in Ouargla – the Algerians viewed the Church as a continuation of the French political and cultural invasion. Today a change is taking place: the majority of priests and other church workers are from Black Africa, which clearly shows that the Church is not connected with France or with the West, or the powerful people of the world. She is Catholic, that is universal, and at the service of all”.

Ouargla too has changed. The military base is now an important Oil hub. The small village has become a city. The Cultural Centre still stands in the qasbah. As the years passed the structure deteriorated. The windows and doors were old and the desert sand was beginning to penetrate the rooms. Shelves, tables, chairs were old and needed to be replaced. The White Fathers thought of moving to the outskirts, but decided to stay in the original place and embark on its refurbishing.

Today the Centre hosts boys and girls, mostly Muslims, who study and use the library. Here they find a patrimony of books: history, geography, sociology, ethnology, religion and Christian spirituality. However the Centre has also become a focal point for the rest of the city because students find help with research and local people take courses in French, English, IT. “Our structure – concludes Fr Giannasi – bears witness to an active presence of Catholics at the service of Algeria, committed to a cultural mission which is a fruit-bearing seed of the Gospel” (Fides 4/4/2018).

The Algerian stamps show St Augustine and a Christian inscription from his time.

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22 August: Relics XIII, His last pint and pipe.

claypipe.jpg

Fragments of clay pipes often turn up when digging in England and Wales. Trevor, the old gardener I worked with in Wales, told me how they were sold at low prices, or even given away, by pubs to valued customers, which explained a cache in one corner of the churchyard we were restoring. The drinkers at The Three Salmons snapped their old pipes and threw them over the wall, where I found them many years later. This one is from Canterbury; a little unusual with its laurel leaf decoration. It set me thinking of John Kemble, the Martyr of the Marches.

Herefordshire is a long way from London, and the local gentry often turned a blind eye to the work of Catholic priests, even when they were officially deemed traitors. And in all honesty who would organise an invasion or coup d’etat from such a rural inland area?

John Kemble himself was from a landed family that was largely Catholic. He was ordained in France in 1625 and returned to work in his home area either side of the Anglo-Welsh border. For more than fifty years he travelled around Hereford and Monmouth ministering to the local Catholics and keeping a low profile until he was accused of being part of a non-existent Popish Plot to overthrow King Charles II in favour of his Catholic brother, James Duke of York.

This time the magistrates had to arrest him and despatch him to London where he was cleared of the plot but still found guilty of treason and sent back to Hereford to be hung drawn and quartered.

On 22 August 1679 he sat down with the executioner and bystanders for a last pipe and pint before his death, comforting his executioner:  “Honest Anthony, my friend Anthony, be not afraid; do thy office. I forgive thee with all my heart. Thou wilt do me a greater kindness than discourtesy.”

So, although this 3cm of clay pipe is really no sort of relic at all of Saint John Kemble, it brings him to mind: his half century of dedicated ministry and his courage and care for others at the time of his death. And I’m counting it as a relic for the blog!

MMB

 

 

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28 July: The Beating Heart of Strasbourg

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The Cathedral is a heart

The Cathedral is a heart.

The tower is a bud.

Have you counted the steps

that lead to the platform?

Every night they become more and more numerous.

They grow.

The tower turns turns

and turns about itself.

It turns, it grows,

it dances with its saints

and the saints dance with their hearts.
Will it fly away with the angels,

the tower of Strasbourg Cathedral?

Strasbourg Cathedral is a swallow.

The swallows

believe in the angels amid the clouds.

The swallows don’t believe in ladders

to climb in the air.

They let themselves fall into the air

into the air interwoven

with the blue of infinity.

Strasbourg Cathedral is a swallow.

She lets herself fall into the winged sky

into the air of the angels.

 

I don’t claim to know what the sculptor Jean Arp meant by this poem; it is a poem that he let fly away once written. I did see an interview where he spoke about the saints on Strasbourg Cathedral. ‘We cannot surpass the work of the old masters’, he said of the cathedral dominating his home town. I read it as a love song.

Mediæval Cathedrals are well-loved. One expression of this is the continuing schedules of works to preserve these treasures, Canterbury always has scaffolding somewhere about its sides. We were not tempted to launch into the air from the roof platform at Strasbourg, but to have built the place so high was an act of faith by the architects, a duc in alto, putting out into the depths of space.

We should imitate Our Lord at his temptations in not taking irresponsible risks to impress the devil in us or in other people, but we should also trust him to hold us safe as we fly, ever in danger of falling, ever seeking the infinite blue of heaven.

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July 13, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXXI: A boy shares Francis’s mystical vision.

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How a little boy-brother while Saint Francis was praying in the night, saw Christ and the Virgin Mary and many other saints hold converse with him.

A LITTLE boy, very pure and innocent, was received into the Order, while Saint Francis was yet alive and he abode in a little House, wherein of necessity the brothers slept on mats. It befell on a time that Saint Francis came t0 the House, and in the evening, after Compline, lay down to sleep, to the intent that he might be able to rise up in the night to pray while the other brothers slept, as it was his wont to do.

The aforesaid little boy set it in his heart diligently to keep watch upon the ways of Saint Francis, that he might come to know of his sanctity, and chiefly that he might learn what he did by night when he arose. And to the end that sleep might not play him false, that little boy laid him down to sleep close to Saint Francis, and tied his cord to the cord of Saint Francis, for to be ware when he got up; and of this Saint Francis perceived naught. But at night in his first sleep, when all the other brothers were sleeping, he arose and found his cord thus tied; and softly he loosed it, so that the little boy was not aware thereof, and Saint Francis went out alone into the wood that was hard by the House, and entered into a little cell that was therein, and set himself to pray.

After some short space the little boy awoke, and finding the cord unloosed and Saint Francis gone, arose and went in search of him: and finding the door open that led into the wood, he deemed that Saint Francis had gone thither, and s0 entered into the wood. And coming close up to the place where Saint Francis was praying, he began to hear much discourse; and drawing nigher for to see and learn what it was he heard, he beheld a marvellous light that shone round about Saint Francis, and therein he saw Christ and the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist and the Evangelist, and a great multitude of angels, speaking with Saint Francis. When this he saw and heard, the little boy fell on the ground in a deep swoon; so when the mystery of this holy vision was ended, Saint Francis, returning to the House, stumbled upon the little boy lying as though dead upon the ground; and in pity lifted him up and bore him in his arms, as doth the good shepherd with his sheep.

Learning thereafter from him how he had seen the vision set forth above, he bade him reveal it unto no man so long as he should be alive. And the little boy grew up in great favour with God and devotion to Saint Francis, and became a man of worth in the Order, and after the death of Saint Francis he revealed unto the brothers the vision set forth above.

From Ste Anne de Beaupré courtesy of Christina Chase.

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