Today we remember the Exaltation, or lifting up, of the Holy Cross. Our reflection is from Canon Anthony Charlton of Canterbury, England.
After the fiery serpents, sent by God, whose bite killed many in Israel, (Numbers 21: 4-9) Moses pleaded with God and he commanded Moses “Make a fiery serpent and put it on a standard. If anyone is bitten and looks at it he shall live.” Anyone bitten who gazed on the bronze serpent, lived.
In the gospel Jesus says that “when you have lifted up the Son of Man then you shall know I am he.” (John 8:28) Just as the bronze serpent gives life so the cross, an instrument of torture and death gives life. In John 12:32 we read “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all people to myself.”
May we grow in wonder at the cross that shows us the extent of Jesus love for us. On the cross he endured every kind of suffering to show his solidarity with us.
May all who are suffering in anyway recognise that Jesus is a companion who has shared their journey. May the cross that was once a cursed thing and transformed by Jesus into a tree of blessing, be a source of comfort and peace to all.
Canon Father Anthony, Parish Priest, St Thomas’, Canterbury.
Pope Francis visited the Poor Clares, the Franciscan enclosed sisters, in Assisi on the World Day of the Poor, 19 November 2021. The report below is from Vatican News; we can gain some understanding of the contemplative calling, but also a few challenges for our own lives. Happy Feast Day!
Pope Francis asked the Franciscan nuns to pray for the Church so that it may not be corrupted by sin, calling on them to be attentive contemplatives. Pope Francis said attentiveness to the Lord requires having peace of mind, serenity of the heart and serenity of the hands, lest we miss Him when He passes by. It is not watching the world pass by and chatting from a window, but being aware of what is going on with a pure mind, thinking well and not badly of people, he remarked.A “serene heart” implies going back in memory to the origin of religious vocation, to the reason of God’s call, to love and let ourselves be loved.
There is also the serenity of the hands: hands must move not only to pray, but also “to work,” Pope Francis said, recalling St. Paul’s words in his Letter to the Thessalonians: “Whoever does not work, must not eat”.
When mind, heart and hands do what they have to do, consecrated people may find a balance which is “full of love and passion”, making it easy not to miss what the Lord tells us when He passes by.
He pointed to the core of the Poor Clares’ contemplative work: “You carry on your shoulders the problems of the Church, the pains of the Church and also – I dare say – the sins of the Church, our sins, the sins of the bishops, we are all sinful bishops; the sins of the priests; the sins of consecrated souls … And bring them before the Lord”.
The real danger in the Church is not being a sinner, but allowing oneself to be corrupted by sin, to the point of seeing sin as “a normal attitude” and not feeling the need to ask for God’s forgiveness. Pope Francis therefore called on the cloistered nuns to pray that corruption might not affect the Church, stressing that God “only asks our humility to ask for forgiveness.”
Concluding his speech, Pope Francis asked the Poor Clares to think and pray for the elderly, who are often considered “disposable”, for those families struggling to make ends meet so they can bring up their children well, and for young people and children exposed to so many threats and dangers in today’s world.
Finally he asked them to pray for the Church, in particular for priests and bishops so they consider themselves pastors and not “heads of office”.
We’re in the midst of a reflection on the rich young man (see Mark 10:17-22) and I invite you to scroll back to our previous posts in order to catch up.
I’d like to dive straight in today and say that when the rich young man makes his rather preposterous claim to have kept all the Commandments from his earliest days, ‘Jesus looked steadily at him and was filled with love for him’ (Mark 10:21). As I ponder this, I see once again that Jesus responds to people in a manner that is very different from what I’d have done. At this point in the story, my annoyance at the rich young man returns. After all, he’s just more or less admitted that he’s perfect–and no one’s perfect. Why doesn’t Jesus take him down a peg or two? Instead, Jesus is filled with love for him. So, I try to understand Jesus. He is always right, always a superb psychologist. No one pulls anything over on Jesus. Why has the rich young man just stolen his heart? It’s possible that the rich young man’s claim is not preposterous after all.
I wait quietly in prayer, asking for understanding of Jesus’ love for the rich young man. A few ideas begin to occur to me.
There is a certain unabashed innocence in the rich young man. He’s oblivious to the fact–or doesn’t care–that some people would find his claim to have kept all the Commandments preposterous. This is simply how he sees himself, and false modesty is not part of his character. Jesus loves this sort of forthright person.
In the rich young man, Jesus finds a character who is not plagued by any neurotic self-doubt. He has a ‘can do’ attitude, and a ‘can do’ view of himself. “I’ve kept all the Commandments. I can do that!” How refreshing, Jesus must have thought. And I become aware of how delightful the young man’s personality might have been–cheerful and full of hope.
Although Jesus challenges the rich young man when he calls Jesus ‘good,’ the fact is, the young man seems to recognise in Jesus’ goodness the specifically divine attribute of goodness. We touched on this in yesterday’s post and I promised we’d look at it today. I think Jesus asks him to explain his reason for calling him ‘good’ because he wanted the rich young man to say that he saw Almighty God’s own goodness in Jesus. The young man doesn’t actually come right out and say this, however–perhaps he is not fully conscious of what he sees in Jesus, or is not yet able to articulate it beyond calling him ‘good.’ But whether the young man can articulate all that he sees in Jesus or not, Jesus himself, with his penetrating human insight, would know that there is only a short step from what the young man sees in Jesus to identifying Jesus with God. Jesus sees this and loves him for it.
The rich young man has courage. He does not back down from his assertion that Jesus is ‘good’ and he does not withdraw his question about inheriting eternal life. He has strength and determination. He wants to hear Jesus’ answer. He’s waiting for it. Jesus would smile at this, I believe.
If, as he says, he has kept all the Commandments from his youth, the rich young man can be relied upon to be truthful, peace-loving, chaste, modest, respectful of others’ possessions, and a loving son to his parents, among other things. This is a thoroughly decent human being, practised in virtue–a very loveable person.
As already indicated, the rich young man has approached Jesus with a combination of determination and humility. This is an unusual mix. In general, people tend to have one or the other, but not both. If the young man were to become a follower of Jesus, he’d have a wonderful ability to relate to people and to preach the kingdom. Jesus likes this very much.
At this point, I begin to like the young man, too. A lot. Based on Jesus’ next remark, it’s clear that he thinks the young man would be an asset to the Twelve. According to the text, Jesus is filled with love for him and then actually invites him to become one of his close followers. But not before he challenges him in an even deeper way.
We are continuing Sister Johanna’s reflection on Jesus and the rich young man. She advises: ‘If you’ve just joined us, I hope you will scroll back to yesterday’s post to see where we’ve come from and where we are going.’
Today, I return to the beginning of the story of the rich young man in Mark 10:17-22 in order to read it again more slowly, to see if I can answer the questions with which we ended yesterday’s reflection. And maybe, with the Spirit’s help, I can. I take my time, allowing my imagination gently to engage with the words of the text. I notice that, first, Mark tells us that Jesus is about to start on a journey. I slowly picture it. It’s always difficult to get started on a journey, no matter what century you happen to live in. Somehow organising yourself and others for the trip and thanking hosts and saying good-bye to dear friends and family always takes much longer than planned. When you’re finally ready to leave, you’re loath to be delayed again. If something happens to interfere with the departure it is usually dealt with as quickly as possible and with more than a hint of exasperation.
Enter: the rich young man. The fact that Jesus’ journey is about to begin places the young man at some disadvantage; nevertheless, he bursts onto the scene and ‘runs up’ to Jesus (Mk. 10:17). Some people, afraid of causing inconvenience, would have given up before they began and gone home without meeting Jesus, and ordinarily, this might be the wise thing to do. But not in the judgement of the young man of our story. He seems to realise that meeting Jesus is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that must not be thrown away. Perhaps because he is a rich man (and people are usually rather in awe of the rich), no one there tries to circumvent this encounter with Jesus in order to spare Jesus the inconvenience. Nor does Jesus indicate that the delay is a problem to him. Indeed, we see again and again in the gospels that Jesus is always ready to talk to someone who is sincerely seeking him. And the young man is nothing if not sincere.
So, the young man ‘runs up’ to Jesus. This is another detail that is in Mark and not the other gospels. I try to enter fully into Mark’s experience of this event. I see the young man. He looks an intelligent person, he’s attractive–as the rich often seem to be because they can afford the best clothes and the best, most skilled people to groom their hair and skin; he is, therefore, well dressed, but at this moment he’s actually rather a mess. He is hot and breathless from running–he has, for now, forgotten his usual rich-boy persona and slick appearance. He has, in fact, forgotten himself entirely in his desire to see Jesus.
And Jesus? He is silent at first, according to the text. He lets the young man state his business. But Jesus cannot miss the earnestness in him. Moreover, the young man immediately kneels before Jesus. Mark’s touch again. The kneeling impressed Mark, and I can see why. The rich young man could have presumed upon the status conferred by his wealth. He could have stood before Jesus, eye to eye, man to man. But he does not. The rich man puts aside all privilege and kneels down. He has grasped something essential about Jesus: he has grasped Jesus’ greatness.
I’m looking, as I said yesterday, for what the rich young man can teach me. Jesus will look at him with love in a few minutes. Why? Many reasons have already been given here. The young man’s urgency and his determination to see Jesus, his self-forgetfulness, his sincerity, his awareness of Jesus’ greatness and his own comparative littleness, his spontaneous decision to kneel down.
I want to give this opening scene time to become fruitful in me and allow these reasons for Jesus’ love the space they need to locate themselves within my heart and prayer. I want to be that young man for a little while–a full day. Tomorrow, we will continue.
It used to be one of the standard questions in those short celebrity interviews: Who (or what) do you see in the mirror in the morning? Perhaps it’s been quietly dropped because interviewees came to expect it and had answers ready, answers to sell their new film, tv show or book.
Saint James would have us look into a mirror, a looking glass. We like mirrors, here at Agnellus’, even when they make us look ridiculous.
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if a man be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he shall be compared to a man beholding his own countenance in a glass. For he beheld himself, and went his way, and presently forgot what manner of man he was.
But he that hath looked into the perfect law of liberty, and hath continued therein, not becoming a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work; this man shall be blessed in his deed.
The mirror to see ourselves in is the ‘perfect law of liberty’: how do we use the liberty we have been given, or would have been given if our hands had not been clenched, deep in our pockets? We will never reach the day’s end without refusing or abusing our liberty in some way, great or small, but we can look into the mirror of liberty, and with our God-given freedom, do better tomorrow.
Part of me wants Genesis 9:8-15, God’s Covenant with Noah, to be an Easter Vigil reading, when in fact it comes at the beginning of Lent in Year B. Nevertheless, it does speak of salvation, and water bringing Noah’s family to new life; it’s a little taste of Easter as Lent starts. The rainbow still tastes of Easter if we celebrate it in Easter week, with the curate of Selborne, Gilbert White. Our picture is of the rainbow seen over our friend Mrs O’s house on the day of her funeral. White was a pioneer of natural history, and here the scientist and theologian are one with the poet: ‘Lovely refraction!’ ‘Maker Omnipotent.’Happy Easter!
ON THE RAINBOW by Gilbert White of Selborne.
” Look upon the Rainbow, and praise him that made it: very beautiful is it in the brightness thereof.” Ecclesiastes, 18:11.
On morning or on evening cloud impress'd,
Bent in vast curve, the watery meteor shines
Delightfully, to th' levell'd sun opposed:
Lovely refraction ! while the vivid brede
In listed colours glows, th' unconscious swain,
With vacant eye, gazes on the divine
Phenomenon, gleaming o'er the illumined fields,
Or runs to catch the treasures which it sheds.
Not so the sage: inspired with pious awe,
He hails the federal arch ; and looking up,
Adores that God, whose fingers form'd this bow
Magnificent, compassing heaven about
With a resplendent verge, " Thou mad'st the cloud,
Maker omnipotent, and thou the bow
And by that covenant graciously hast sworn
Never to drown the world again: henceforth,
Till time shall be no more, in ceaseless round,
Season shall follow season: day to night,
Summer to winter, harvest to seed time,
Heat shall to cold in regular array
Succeed. — Heav'n taught, so sang the Hebrew bard."
(from “The Natural History of Selborne” by Gilbert White)
The solemnity of today will be overwhelmed by the joy of Easter, but there were tokens of the coming feast for those with eyes to see.
Before the sun was properly up I was looking into the back garden. What was that hunched figure inspecting the flowerpots? A hedgehog woken from hibernation and going about its business, ridding us of a few pests. That was enough to mark the day.
After the prayerful L’Arche Good Friday service some of us found our way to the Glebe garden, where a shrine had been built of willow wands. If this was intended to be a place of quiet reflection it soon became a meeting place for people who had barely seen each other during covid; another hint of the resurrection to come.
Flitting across the garden was a brimstone butterfly, a caterpillar died but transformed into a creature of beauty no less wondrous for being totally expected.
Then to my task of adorning the church porch. The Easter garden needed the finishing touches, Mary’s jar of ointment and the grave cloths hidden behind the door (a scallop shell to be rolled to one side). What concerned me was the Easter lilies. We had some in flower the last two years, but it had been touch and go this time. Since today was warm, the first flowers were unfurling to be bright and white on Easter Day.
In the evening down to the Cathedral to hear Faure’s Requiem, with its upbeat finish: May the Angels welcome you to Paradise, may the martyrs meet you and lead you to the Holy City of Jerusalem.
Walking home from the Cathedralin the glowing dusk, under the Easter full moon, three blackbirds, singing their hearts out, serenading the new life hatched in their nests. They will be busy tomorrow, as no doubt will I, but by these tokens and by other sure evidence I know that my redeemer liveth.
So I have a new name, refugee.
Strange that a name should take away from me
My past, personality and hope.
Strange refuge then.
So many seem to share this name, refugee,
Yet we share so many differences.
I find no comfort in my new name.
I long to share my past, restore my pride,
To show I too in time will offer
More than I have borrowed.
For now the comfort that I seek
Resides in the old yet new name
I would choose, friend.
Written by a twelve year old Afghan Refugee.
Mrs Turnstone spotted this poem in an exhibition at Canterbury Baptist Church.
During my lifetime our country has made room for different groups of refugees: to name a few, exiles from Eastern European Communism, Ugandan Asians, Vietnamese boat people, people oppressed for their sexuality or because of their opposition to dictatorships. They and their descendants are part of our society, offering more than they have borrowed.
So why are our shores so unwelcoming today? And why do people not only flee their homes but also seek to come here to Britain? Welcoming or rejecting the stranger, which is our true self?
Sheila Billingsley has had her eyes open! On the edge of Saddleworth Moor, spring has arrived! She gives this poem the title ’14th March 2022′. We hope Spring is enchanting your eyes, ears and sense of smell. Those cherry trees . . .
14th March 2022.
Today Spring arrived!
Slipped in!. . . Quietly!
Bright blue sky,
Pushing out thoughts of rain,
. . . until tomorrow!
The cherry tree in the lane is in blossom.
Delicate, tiny, hardly pink blossom.
Not the blowsy in-your-face Japanese,
Today the gardener arrived too,
To clear the detritus of winter.
Cheerful and happy within his whiskers.
Did many thank you?
Did many even notice?
That your world was still struggling to obey you,
Despite what we do?
At least your world obeys you,
While we fight and kill and poison.
Do they know that you exist ?
Do they know that you suffer?
I just wanted to record that Spring arrived today.
Today we remember Saint Joseph, husband of Mary, father, it was supposed, of Jesus. He was also a craftsman, a faithful believer, a refugee from oppressive political power. As with Joseph, the path we are to follow may not be smooth; after all we are called to ‘make his paths straight’, which may mean some heavy lifting, or possibly walking single file, looking out for nettles, brambles, puddles, mud and stumbling stones.
Here is a blessing for today, from the Church of England:
Christ the Sun of Righteousness shine upon you,
scatter the darkness from before your path,
and make you ready to meet him when he comes in glory;
And the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.