Tag Archives: seeing

5 December: You have to help me VI; learning to help yourself.

Glorious food!

young sparrow

Bruno is a babe in arms, still dependent on milk from his mother, as is to be expected in one so young. But Bruno has other ideas. He sits, he watches, he thinks about what he sees. He thinks about his hands and feet, moving them around and sucking them. His mouth and eyes bring him plenty to think about.

The holiday cottage had no dining table so Bruno was sitting on his mother’s knee as she ate her pasta with tomato sauce, a delicate balancing act. Bruno sat, watched, thought about what he saw. He saw Mummy eating off a plate, he saw Daddy eating off a plate; he saw Granny and Grandad and Aunty eating off their plates. He saw hands moving to mouths. He thought, I can do that. So he did.

In very short order, his hands were smeared with pasta sauce, his mouth was smeared with pasta sauce and Mummy was shunting the pasta swirls out of Bruno’s reach. Bruno carried on smearing and sucking his fingers, very pleased with himself.

There’s no going back: Mummy and Daddy, you have to help me to eat solid food!

I am reminded of a previous post in this series where Chico, a young sparrow, was sitting, watching, and thinking about what he saw. And almost coming to grief.

We have to be ready to feed each other and keep each other safe from choking or from hurting ourselves. It may be offering someone hospitality or a taste of this or that, supporting the local food bank or international charities like Mary’s Meals or Water Aid.

You have to help me!

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19 October: Realities that are Unseen, III.

Strasbourg Cathedral

Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that are unseen (Hebrews 11: 1-2).

In our reflection on this passage from Hebrews, we have been pondering the phrase, ‘realities that are unseen’ in light of our desire to understand the nature of faith.  We ended yesterday with the realisation that faith and love are inseparable realities and that faith itself is a loving relationship with God.  As I absorbed this thought I was reminded that our God always takes the initiative in the faith-relationship and expresses his love for us – even his ‘faith’ in us – first, before we make a move towards him, and he does this in ways that make the unseen realities more see-able.  

 Most notably, God’s loving initiative was see-able when he sent his Son into the world.  This was an historical, therefore see-able, event on one level.  But I reflected further that there were people during Jesus’ lifetime who did not see.  Jesus’ enemies were among those. What was lacking was that quality of love-filled faith. There were others who wanted to see, yet felt frustrated by their lack of ability to do so: the Lord’s disciple, Philip, for example, came out with the poignant words, ‘Lord, show us the Father and we will be satisfied’.  And Jesus answered, ‘The one who sees me sees the Father’ (see John 14:8,9).  I can understand Philip’s perplexity.  Much later, after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit, surely understanding was given to Philip, as it is offered to us.  With over two thousand years of Christianity to draw on, we are perhaps in an even better position than Philip was to know that Jesus himself is the proof of realities that are unseen: if we look at him with the eyes of love-filled faith the unseen Father becomes see-able.  

My difficulties with the text from Hebrews began to ease further; I began to appreciate more deeply that the ‘unseen realities’ of our faith are actually not all that unseen for those with the openness that comes from faith and love.  They have been given to us, they have been proved through Jesus and through the sacred texts of the New Testament that make him known to us.  Therefore, our faith is a response to what God has given us first.  We do not have to concoct faith out of nothing and live it in a void.  Something’s offered to us by God first.  It is not fully see-able through the senses but it is understood through the same capacity we have to recognise love.  Faith is a response to the loving out-reach of God to us.  

Let’s leave our reflection there for a day.  I invite you perhaps to consider the ways in which God has offered something to you.  I hope you will be back tomorrow as we continue.  

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18 October: Realities that are Unseen, II.

A gate from former military land into Canterbury’s Poets’ Estate.

Sister Johanna’s second post in this series.

___________________________________________

Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that are unseen (Hebrews 11: 1-2).

If you weren’t here for yesterday’s post I hope you will scroll back to it to catch up with us.   We’re looking at the relationship between the notion of religious faith and the notion of “proving” unseen realities – it all seemed problematic for me when I first read the verse from Hebrews given above.  “We’re not meant to prove anything; we’re meant to consent to mystery,” I ranted.  

Then, I remembered that frequently when I am doing my lectio, a problem surfaces within the text that seems unsolvable at first.  But after I spend time with the scripture passage, reading and praying, the problem resolves by means of a sort of journey I take into the text, led by the Holy Spirit.  In this case, I now found that the journey involved pondering the words at the end of the quotation given here: ‘realities that are unseen.’  I didn’t know why at that point, but those words seemed important and I kept repeating them slowly in my thoughts.  There is, I find, a balm in this – almost as though my mind craves the nourishment that the words give even before it is able to penetrate to their deeper meaning. 

‘Realities that are unseen.’ As I repeated these words, I began to reflect that unseen realities are not easy to live with, especially for us in our day.  We’re so scientifically minded.  For us, the word ‘reality’ applies mainly to what can be seen or touched or heard; we talk about ‘evidence-based medicine,’ for example–we need evidence that we can actually observe in order to decide on the right medicine.  So, the senses determine what we consider to be reality most of the time.  What is unseen can make us uncomfortable.  We often decide therefore that unseen things don’t exist.

Then it occurred to me that we do live with some unseen realities–constantly and fairly comfortably.  They don’t always discommode us.  Take love, for instance.  Love itself is unseen but we know with every fibre of our being that it is real.  While we know that love is forever seeking to give evidence of its existence through words and actions that are self-giving, even self-sacrificial, we also know that underneath these see-able expressions of love, on a level that is unseen, love exists as a reality.

Faith, I reflected, is like that.  In fact, it is extremely like love, I realised, and is inseparable from love.  Indeed, it is informed by love.  My problem with the scriptural text from Hebrews began to ease as I reflected that although faith is certainly about consenting to the truth of theological propositions that are too mysterious to grasp fully, faith is primarily a loving relationship with the unseen God.  I mentally rewrote the passage from Hebrews: “Only a loving relationship with the unseen God can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that are unseen.”  I felt that I was moving closer to an understanding of this text.

Let’s stay with these ideas for the day and find out what they evokes in us.  I hope you will come back tomorrow for the continuation of our reflection.

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10 October, Little Flowers XCVII: About the Stigmata

It seems that the brothers did not know what to make of the stigmata, any more than most of us today would. None of them are reported to have believed that the wounds were self-inflicted, while Francis himself was embarrassed by them, as well as suffering from them.

Now, as hath been said above, albeit Saint Francis, as much as in him lay, strove to hide the most holy Stigmata, and, from the time when he received them, always went with his hands bandaged and with stockings on his feet, yet, for all that he could do, he could not prevent many of the friars from seeing and touching them in divers manners, and particularly the wound in his side, the which he endeavoured with special diligence to hide. 

Thus a friar, who waited on him, induced him, by a pious fraud, to take off his habit, that the dust might be shaken out of it; and, since he removed it in his presence, that friar saw clearly the wound in his side; and, swiftly putting his hand upon his breast, he touched it with three fingers and thus learned its extent and size; and in like manner his Vicar saw it at that time. 

But more clearly was Friar Ruffino certified thereof; the which was a man of very great contemplation, of whom Saint Francis sometimes said that in all the world there was no more holy man than he; and by reason of his holiness he loved him as a familiar friend, and was wont to grant him all that he desired. 

In three ways did this Friar Ruffino certify himself and others of the said most holy Stigmata. The first was this: that, it being his duty to wash the breeches of Saint Francis, which he wore so large that, by pulling them well up, he covered therewith the wound in his right side, the said Friar Ruffino examined them and considered them diligently, and found that they were always bloody on the right side; whereby he perceived of a surety that that was blood which came from the said wound; but for this Saint Francis rebuked him when he saw that he spread out the clothes which he took off in order to look for the said token. 

The second way was this: that once, while the said Friar Ruffino was scratching Saint Francis’ back, he deliberately let his hand slip and put his fingers into the wound in his side; whereat, for the pain that he felt, Saint Francis cried aloud: “God forgive thee, O Friar Ruffino, that thou hast done this”. 

The third way was that he once begged Saint Francis very urgently, as an exceeding great favour, to give him his habit and to take his in exchange, for love of charity. Whereupon the charitable father, albeit unwillingly, yielded to his prayer, and drew off his habit and gave it to him and took his; and then, in that taking off and putting on, Friar Ruffino clearly saw the said wound. Friar Leo likewise, and many other friars, saw the said most holy stigmata of Saint Francis while yet he lived; the which friars, although by reason of their sanctity they were worthy of credence and men whose simple word might be believed, nevertheless, to remove doubt from every heart, sware upon the Holy Book that they had clearly seen them. 

Moreover, certain cardinals, who were intimate friends of Saint Francis, saw them; and, in reverence for the aforesaid most holy Stigmata, they composed and made beautiful and devout hymns and psalms and prose treatises. The highest pontiff, Pope Alexander, while preaching to the people in the presence of all the cardinals (among whom was the holy Friar Buonaventura, who was a cardinal) said and affirmed that he had seen with his own eyes the most holy Stigmata of Saint Francis, when he was yet alive. 

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14 September: then you shall know.

My father’s rosary.

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

Canon Father Anthony, Parish Priest, St Thomas’, Canterbury.

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11 August: Feast of Saint Clare; Pope Francis meets the Poor Clares

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”.

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4 August: A Gift of Love and Sorrow, IV.

Speaking and listening: ESB

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’ll look at that tomorrow.

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2 August: A Gift of Love and Sorrow, II.

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.

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10 May: What do you see in the mirror?

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.

James 1:22-25

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.

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22 April: A Promise

2009-05-04 20.01.43 (800x532)

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)

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