Tag Archives: saints

24 May: Going viral CVI: A pilgrim feeling very, very exposed.

These pilgrims are somewhat exposed. The woman in the middle at least has long sleeves against the nettles and brambles; the lads behind? Well, they lived to tell the tale. If it’s not nettles or brambles, it will be neck pain or blisters or soakings or sunburn. But pilgrimage can also lead us to friendship, hospitality, service; the discovery of who we are and where we are – eventually – hoping to be.

There seems to be a growing interest in pilgrimage these days, perhaps enhanced by the experience of confinement under covid regulations. Let’s get out of here! i’ll come to Mrs Turnstone’s and my visit to Bury Saint Edmund’s in another post. Here we share a reflection by the designer and tv presenter, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, one of a group of ‘celebrities’ who travelled across Ireland and the Irish Sea as pilgrims to Iona, for the BBC, and following journey of Saint Columba.

He tells Peter Stanford, “I am of a generation that has been war-free, plague-free, difficulty-free for most of our privileged lives, and suddenly here we are facing a plague [Covid], nuclear war [Ukraine] and gas prices going through the roof. We are literally touching cloth for the first time and we are feeling very, very exposed. We have nothing to believe in and yet we have to make some decisions quite quickly because we are running out of time.” (The well-tailored pilgrim, in The Tablet, 6 April, 2022).

Privileged we have been, but this blog does not accept that we have nothing to believe in.

The well-tailored pilgrim

by Peter Stanford

Pilgrimage: The Road to the Scottish Isles is available on BBC iPlayer for ten months.

https://wordpress.com/post/agnellusmirror.wordpress.com/30684 johnson

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13 May: Young Saints.

somers.town. pentecost.jpg

Some readers will remember that I like St Aloysius’ Church near Saint Pancras station in London. This window, with Mary at the centre of the Apostles on Pentecost morning arouses mixed emotions though. It is good to see a clear theology of Mary’s place in the Church, receiving the Holy Spirit with – I wish I could say ‘with everyone else’ – but it is with the Apostles only, not the 120 people who were gathered together. Perhaps the artist felt that the picture was crowded enough already, but where is Mary Magdalene, Johanna, the other women and where is John Mark, Paul’s future assistant that he would call his ‘son’ (Colossians 4:10)? He is usually identified with the boy who ran away naked from the garden on Maundy Thursday night, as well as with Mark the evangelist. It was to his mother’s house that Peter went after the angel sprung him from prison. (Acts 12.12) She was another Mary.

The window is not diverse enough to represent the first Church, though a few minutes looking through the clear glass out into the street would assure any visitor that St Aloysius’ is in the midst of diversity today. But there should be more women and more young people in that window!

Saint Aloysius was a Jesuit novice when he died in Rome aged 23, after catching plague from nursing the victims of an epidemic. Not an inappropriate neighbour for Saint Pancras, who was martyred for his Christian faith at Rome on 14 May 304, at the age of fourteen. John Mark, Aloysius and Pancras, young men who were saints. Worth remembering them, and young women saints like Agnes, Lucy and Therese, as we approach the great Synod of Pope Francis. Today’s young Christians are as capable of witnessing to the Gospel message as their parents, grandparents, distant ancestors, and the clergy. Let’s hear their voices.

Keep them in your prayers!

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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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18 April: Racism and Resurrection


St Josephine Bakhita
Dorothy Stang.jpg
Sister Dorothy Stang

Archbishop John Wilson preached this homily on Racial Justice Sunday in February, but it’s message is also particularly telling at Eastertide.

Dear friends, if we think that racism is a thing of the past, then suddenly we need to think again.

It’s a present reality in our communities.

I was shocked the year before last. I met with a group of young women students from a school in our diocese, and I was shocked to listen to their experience of racism.

Through comments, through insults, through slurs, through discrimination, alive and present today.

Racism is not a thing of the past, and therefore we cannot be silent about it. We cannot be silent about its existence, and we cannot be silent about its causes.

We must unite in Christ with other people of goodwill. We must unite in Christ, to work for justice. To speak out for equality for every person no matter what the colour of their skin is, no matter what language they speak. No matter where they come from, no matter what they look like.

My friends, it is our mission to continue to make our parishes and schools places where the gifts and the skills and the experience and the heritage of all people of every background honoured and valued and cherished and celebrated.

We have in our church some inspiring examples of people who have spoken out, spoken out against slavery and work to overcome the sufferings of those enslaved. I want to name just two today. There are many others we need to learn of them because they’re truly inspirational.

The first is perhaps more familiar to us.

Josephine Bakhita, a Sudanese woman sold into slavery and eventually brought to Rome where she was cared for by a community of religious sisters.

And she developed her own Christian faith and joined a religious community. She was such an outstanding example of what it means to live the values of the kingdom that in the year 2000 She was made a saint – Saint Josephine Bakhita.

I think of someone perhaps very few of us maybe only one other in this church today will know the name of Sister Dorothy Stang.

An American Sister of Notre Dame, who was martyred 17 years ago yesterday, the 12th of February 2005.

Why was she martyred? Because she upheld the rights and the dignity of indigenous peoples in Brazil.

The voices of all those in our church who have defended and protected people of different racial and cultural backgrounds, those voices must be alive in us. They must be.

Dear friends,

Are we one in Christ?

Are we one in Christ? We are one in Christ who is risen. Christ who is risen, who has overcome death, who has conquered sin and therefore we are people of hope. Are we not – people of hope? And as people as hope, one in Christ, we are committed to working side by side to consign racism to history.

And so, we pledge today, to continue journeying together into the future.

One in Christ and one with each other.

Amen.

Watch the homily: www.facebook.com/ArchdioceseOfSouthwark/videos/1104318056808474

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11 April, Monday in Holy Week: We worship a truly living, loving Lord

This open letter was written by an Anglican Priest, Reverend Iain Taylor, tragically killed in a road accident in Canterbury in September 2021. I’m sure he won’t mind crocuses in Lenten purple: the anthers and stamens are as golden as anyone, bees included, could wish.

PASTORAL LETTER

APRIL 2020

Dear Friends

Returning home recently from a sick visit, I decided to take the route through the Westgate Gardens.  It is some considerable time since I came that way, and I was greatly impressed by the general standard of upkeep throughout the park.  The golden yellow daffodils were, at that time, just in bud and there was a profusion of gold crocuses (or should that be croci?)  Now it is well known that my plant knowledge is very limited, to say the least, and to me one snowdrop looks exactly the same as any other snowdrop.  So I was intrigued to learn from a friend that there are actually over thirty different types of snowdrop – I’m still trying to distinguish them!  As I paused to gaze at the flower beds, I was aware of the forthcoming spring; there were signs of new life everywhere.


By the time you read this message, we shall be in the season of Passiontide during which we recall how God allowed his Son to go through the hideous ordeal of crucifixion; a form of execution that was normally reserved for the vilest of criminals.  However, it is during this season that we prepare to celebrate the greatest event in the history of the world.  It is the season when God breathes new life into his church, just as spring heralds new life in the world of nature.  As our thoughts turn to the Resurrection of our Lord, we remember with joy in our hearts that on the third day he rose in glorious triumph from the grave.


We worship a truly living, loving Lord, and Easter is a time when we focus on new life, new opportunities and new hope.  Here again the array of those budding young plants in the park comes to mind: the tender spring blooms surely remind us that God is a wondrous God and, as his precious buds, as his body on earth, the Church, we must learn to love and nurture one another, especially those fragile buds who are new in the faith, so that in due time we may all come into full bloom as worthy disciples of our risen Lord.


The most significant change that came over the first disciples after the resurrection was their confidence in Jesus.  They realized that, for about three years, they had been in the presence of someone very special.  They also realized that what he had been teaching was not just a good idea but THE way to live – the life of love and forgiveness, for them and everyone else.
They followed in his footsteps – trusting when things were difficult – getting things wrong (read the book of Acts to see how!) But in due time those fragile buds blossomed into strong blooms and with the help of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, they set about spreading the Good News of the Gospel, although in some cases it cost them their lives.


The message of Easter is that, just as the spring plants burst into bloom at springtime , so Christ conquered death and burst from the tomb revealing the power, the love and the glory of God in all its splendour.


May the glory of the Resurrection transform our lives that we may become, to use a favourite expression of Archbishop Michael Ramsey, ‘An Easter people’.

Rev Iain Taylor

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10 April: Palm Sunday, The Passion and I.

Good Friday

Am I a stone and not a sheep
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy Cross,
To number drop by drop Thy Blood's slow loss,
And yet not weep?

 Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;
 Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon,--
I, only I.

 Yet give not o'er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

Christina Rossetti

This post card was sent home by a man who himself never came home from the Great War. Ironically, it was produced in Munich, sent home to Manchester from Poperinghe in Belgium, and saved by the recipient and her descendants.

Christina Rossetti puts herself with Mary, Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene and other women who stood weeping, next to the Cross, owning a lack of tears on her own part. Poetic licence, I feel. Her heart in this poem is full of sorrow and self-accusation, but she is also repentant, asking God to strike her stony heart, as he commanded Moses to strike to rock in the desert:

“Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” (Exodus 17:1-7).

If the Lord makes our hearts run with tears, whether physical or inner tears, will we give the people living water to drink?

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2 April: Recognising dignity is the first act of care!

Saint Josephine Bakhita

This is the conclusion of Pope Francis’s message for the eighth World Day of Prayer and Reflection against Human Trafficking. this is marked on Saint Bakhita’s day, 8th February. All our posts for the month were in place awaiting publication when this message was issued, but Francis’s call to be conscious of, to recognise the dignity of each person accords with our Lenten theme.

Saint Bakhita shows us the way of transformation. Her life tells us that change is possible when one lets oneself be transformed by God’s care for each one of us. It is the care of mercy – it is the care of love that changes us deeply and makes us able to welcome others as brothers and sisters. Recognising the dignity of each person is the first act of care, it is the first act of care! Recognising dignity. And taking care of others is good for all, for those who give and those who receive, because it is not a unidirectional action, but rather it generates reciprocity. God took care of Josephine Bakhita; he accompanied her in the process of healing the wounds caused by slavery, until her heart, mind and inner self became capable of reconciliation, freedom and tenderness.

I encourage every woman and every girl who is committed to transformation and care, in school, in the family, and in society. And I encourage every man and every boy not to be left out of this process of transformation, recalling the example of the Good Samaritan: a man who is not ashamed to tend to his brother and to take care of him. Taking care is God’s action in history, in our personal history and in our history as a community. God has taken care ‘of’, and takes care ‘for’ us continually.

Caring together, men and women, is the appeal of this World Day of Prayer and reflection against human trafficking: together we can encourage the growth of an economy of care, opposing with all our might every form of exploitation in human trafficking.

Dear sisters and dear brothers, I know that many of you are participating in this Day of prayer and reflection, from various countries and different religious traditions. I wish to express my gratitude and encouragement to all of you: let us go forward in the struggle against human trafficking and every form of slavery and exploitation. I invite you all to keep your indignation alive – keep your indignation alive! – and to find, every day, the strength to engage with determination on this front. Do not be afraid of the arrogance of violence, no! Do not surrender to the corruption of money and power.

Thank you all, and keep going, do not be discouraged! May God bless you and your work. Thank you.

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1 March: Saint David.

A stanza from Vernon Watkins’ The Death Bell.

I that was born in Wales
Cherish heaven's dust in scales
Which may at dust be seen
On every village green
Where Tawe, Taff or Wye
Through fields and woods goes by,
Or Western Towy's flame
Writes all its watery name
In gold, and blinds our eyes;
For so heaven's joys surprise,
Like music from mild air
Too marvellous to bear
Within the bell's wild span,
The pausing, conscious man,
Who questions at what age
The dead are raised? To assuage
The curious, vision smooths 
The lids of age, and youth's.
Even man's defeated hopes
Are variants of those stops
Which, when the god has played,
No creature stands betrayed.

From Collected Poems of Vernon Watkins, p214.

Tawe, Taff, Wye and Towy are rivers of Wales.

Watkins notes that 'every argument but the silent prayer of the dust itself, expecting resurrection, is an evasion of truth, swayed by a too optimistic hope or a too impatient despair from its true music.' 

As we will be reminded tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, we are dust, and unto dust each one of us will return. Dust is one of the smallest things we can see, but it is glorious when it dances as motes in the lowering sun at dusk.

No creature will stand betrayed by God, says Watkins. Saint David told us to be faithful in the little things; the dust to which we will return deserves our faithful consideration, polluted as it has been by humankind - you and me. Let us be pausing, conscious men and women throughout this Lent.

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28 February: Saint Francis and his blindness.

Francis and the Passion

Rowan Williams said that Christ lived a life-long Passion. It was a passion, both in terms of human suffering – just one example being when the members of his local synagogue tried to kill him by throwing him down a cliff – and in terms of zeal, enthusiasm, living each day to the full; and in terms of love. Saint Francis grasped this idea and tried to live it out, feeling his own response to being alive and loved by God as falling short.

Would we not have compromised on the form the Franciscan order should take; be more practical in many circumstances than Francis was? Let us use this Lent to become conscious of where our compromises go too far.

“St. Francis was a dying man. We might say he was an old man, at the time this typical incident occurred; but in fact he was only prematurely old; for he was not fifty when he died, worn out with his fighting and fasting life. But when he came down from the awful asceticism and more awful revelation of Alverno, he was a broken man.

As will be apparent when these events are touched on in their turn, it was not only sickness and bodily decay that may well have darkened his life; he had been recently disappointed in his main mission to end the Crusades by the conversion of Islam; he had been still more disappointed by the signs of compromise and a more political or practical spirit in his own order; he had spent his last energies in protest.

At this point he was told that he was going blind. If the faintest hint has been given here of what St. Francis felt about the glory and pageantry of earth and sky, about the heraldic shape and colour and symbolism of birds and beasts and flowers, some notion may be formed of what it meant to him to go blind. Yet the remedy might well have seemed worse than the disease. The remedy, admittedly an uncertain remedy, was to cauterise the eye, and that without any anaesthetic. In other words it was to burn his living eyeballs with a red-hot iron. Many of the tortures of martyrdom, which he envied in martyrology and sought vainly in Syria, can have been no worse.

When they took the brand from the furnace, he rose as with an urbane gesture and spoke as to an invisible presence: “Brother Fire, God made you beautiful and strong and useful; I pray you be courteous with me.” If there be any such thing as the art of life, it seems to me that such a moment was one of its masterpieces.

From Saint Francis of Assisi: The Life and Times of St. Francis, by G. K. Chesterton

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10 February: Nathaniel finds his heart, Part II.

Following Jesus in a wet Krakow.

Yesterday we were looking at the first meeting between Jesus and Nathaniel as recorded by the Gospel of John in chapter one, verse forty-three and following.  The two men seemed to be enjoying some friendly banter, initially.  But, as Nathaniel discovers, Jesus’ remarks were more penetrating than he was expecting.  Jesus – from Nazareth, of all places!  

After the ice is broken – and it breaks astonishingly quickly – Jesus drops the playful tone completely.  He comes out with a remark that is so profoundly mysterious that it found entry right into Nathaniel’s deepest centre – his heart.  Jesus says to Nathaniel, “Before Philip came to call you, I saw you under the fig tree.”  

I turn this over in my mind and undertake some research.  I find, unsurprisingly, that this remark has been the subject of deep reflection ever since the early centuries of the Church.  What could Jesus have meant by it?   Some of the fourth and fifth century Fathers of the Church offer the explanation that the fig tree represents the Law. Jesus is saying that he saw Nathaniel under the shadow of the Law, and that he, Jesus, is calling him into his own light.  Maybe this is true.  It is a beautiful thought, but I find myself more drawn to the interpretation St John Chrysostom, writing in the late fourth century, gives to Jesus’ words.  Chrysostom says that Nathaniel asks his question as a mere human being, but that Jesus gives his answer as God.  Chrysostom continues, saying that Jesus, by his words, is telling Nathaniel that he understands him deeply and beholds him as God beholds him – from above, as it were.  When Jesus says, ‘I saw you,’ he means, according to Chrysostom, ‘I understood you through and through, understood the character of your life and person’.  

John Chrysostom’s insight explains Nathaniel’s complete change of heart – to my mind, anyway.  Nathaniel was sceptical about Jesus at first, then he jokes a bit with him, but now he’s caught off-guard by something in Jesus that has moved him.  I ponder Jesus’ words and realise that when one is deeply understood by another human being it is a life-changing experience.  What’s more, Nathaniel has suddenly seen Jesus’ own character and spiritual power, even as he himself has been seen by Jesus.  His defensiveness, hesitation and jocularity all drop away.  With a seriousness as profound as Jesus’ own gravity, Nathaniel now says, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel.”  He is in a totally different place from the one he had been in just moments earlier.  This is Nathaniel’s turning point – and it takes place not only because of what Jesus has said, but because of Jesus himself, because of the spiritual power of his person and presence, and because Nathaniel has been deeply ‘seen’ by this extremely unusual man – from Nazareth. 

Perhaps you who are reading this reflection already know the joyful truth that Jesus is the centre of existence, the centre of reality itself.  He is the Beloved of everything that has being, the loving heart of every molecule, every world, every galaxy, every bug and blade of grass and mote of dust.  Maybe you already know that every person is formed for Jesus and that Jesus alone is rest for our restless hearts.  Nathaniel, despite his initial scepticism, comes to understand this wonderful thing, too – as we see it happen in these words from John’s gospel.  For someone like Nathaniel, Jesus does not need to work miracles or do any sensational things.  All Jesus needs to do is show up.  And all Nathaniel needed to do was to be himself with Jesus, to engage with him honestly.  It didn’t take Jesus long to reach Nathaniel at his deepest level.  A short encounter is all Jesus needs.  

“Catena aurea: commentary on the four Gospels, collected out of the works of the Fathers: Volume 6, St. John. Oxford: Parker, 1874. Thomas Aquinas”

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