Putting on an apron, as Jesus did: that can be as serious and solemn as giving one’s life … and vice-versa, giving one’s life can be as simple as putting on an apron.
Blessed Christian de Chergé, Martyr of Algeria.
Tag Archives: service
Bearing of the Cross
My son is now 14, and thinks he’s much too grown-up for Lego. But I’ve really enjoyed these years of revisiting the world of long six-ers and square flat four-ers, finding myself far more creative now with the pieces than I ever was as a child.
This crucifixion scene is an image designed to appeal to the younger Bible student, of course, as much as to adults. The quotation from Peter’s first epistle connects the death of Jesus with our response in dying to sin and living for righteousness (covenant justice, that is, lest we lapse into moralism). It indicates that its production by EK Johnson was an act of faith and this is important to me, as it is with all Christian art.
But shouldn’t a subject as serious as this be treated with more gravitas than Lego can offer? My inner conservative complains that “Lego Jesus” just seems wrong, diminishing his lordship, maybe, or infantilising his mission.
My inner iconoclast replies that this Lego scene represents a gentle mocking of religious art – with all its trappings of patronage and power; pride; ill-gotten wealth and elitism – and not of the cross itself. Wasn’t the cross always meant to serve as a massive lance to the boil of religious pomposity?
I like this image because I believe that the gospel story should be communicated meaningfully by every possible means. Fresh, accessible and slightly subversive, a Lego representation of Jesus connects and engages with today’s culture in ways that renaissance art and stained glass simply cannot.
EK Johnson is clearly keen for us to grasp the solemnity and significance of the event he depicts. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross … by his wounds you have been healed” reads the text. The apostle Peter is alluding to Isaiah the prophet, making sense of Christ’s crucifixion through the lens of the Hebrew scriptures and the promised “suffering servant”. If we find the Lego distracting or overly provocative, this text should leave us in no doubt that this was the most profound, powerful and momentous event in all of human history. It was the day the God of Israel worked his salvation for the world; for our lives.
Lego might not give us everything we want in a crucifixion scene, but it communicates its historical truth simply and clearly. Every age in religious art has provided its own distortions and distractions, however well-intentioned the artist. We inherit notions of the “sublime” from the Romantics, for example, but it’s a misguided ideal, because it lacks humility. There is certainly humility in Lego. Simple blocks and simple figures remove much of the element of human sophistication. And with that gone, we can begin to grasp – and be overwhelmed by – the love of God demonstrated on a hill in West Asia, two thousand years ago.
What is Christian morality? In terms of content there is no Christian morality distinct from human morality. The Ten Commandments of the Old Testament and the precepts of the New Testament are simply human demands. But there is something different about Christian morality – just as people in Old Testament and New Testament times saw these human demands in the context of covenant with God and solidarity with Christ, faith today obliges us to see the demands of being fully alive as a response to the call of God.
What difference does Faith make? It puts before us the attractiveness of Christ’s life – one that bears fruit in Resurrection, and promises the same Spirit, the same energy to anyone interested. Sensitivity to his values lifts lives above the minimum of good manners – turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, foregoing legitimate rights for wider benefit. Belonging to a community of faith also makes demands – sharing a Sacramental life, which is not the case for non-believers.
Important as these differences are, the basic moral demand is to become what we are potentially – fully human: “God is praised when we are fully alive…” – Irenaeus. And we don’t grow alone. Our roots are in the earth, and life and health and growth emerge from our relationships – we are what our relationships let us be. A moral life is to be in a right relationship to all of these. Our love for God is only known via the test of service – “unless you did it to these…”!
Sin turns self into God – and pride, lust, avarice, abuse and aggression are the certain fruits. Sin is not a problem, problems can be solved, sin is an ever present mysterious reality, in the world, the Church and individuals. It is a reality to be concerned about, but not to be afraid of: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more” – Romans 5.20. Jesus is the forgiveness of sin, but unless we are convinced of our sinfulness, how do we recognise our need for him, or rejoice in what he makes possible?
Love has a marvellous property of feeling in another It can enjoy in another, as well as enjoy him. Love is an infinite treasure to its object, and its object is so to it. God is Love, and you are His object. You are created to be His Love : and He is yours. He is happy in you, when you are happy : as parents in their children. He is afflicted in all your afflictions.
And whosoever toucheth you, toucheth the apple of His eye.
Will not you be happy in all His enjoyments ? He feeleth in you ; will not you feel in Him? He hath obliged you to love Him. And if you love Him, you must of necessity be Heir of the World, for you are happy in Him. All His praises are your joys, all His enjoyments are your treasures, all His pleasures are your enjoyments. In God you are crowned, in God you are concerned. In Him you feel, in Him you live, and move, and have your being, in Him yon are blessed. Whatsoever therefore serveth Him, serveth you and in Him you inherit all things.
There have been times of great perplexity, when I could have done with the following prayer from Cardinal Newman. Something of an antidote to ambition! Retirement is as much a time of discernment as when leaving school or college, and it may well be that Newman’s Kindly Light will lead into unexpected corners!
God created me to do Him some definite service.
He has committed some work to me,
which He has not committed to another.
I have a mission.
I am a link in a chain,
a bond of connection between persons.
Therefore I will trust Him.
Whatever I am, I can never be thrown away.
If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him;
if I am perplexed, my perplexity may serve Him;
if I am in joy, my joy may serve Him;
if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve him.
He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about.
We live in secular times – in the course of the ages we have taken more and more possession of the earth and all it contains; we control much more than people of ages past. We also have better self-awareness – realising that customs, rules and ideas of order and beauty are not always shared by other societies. Customs and traditions are not the inevitable and only right way of doing things.
When we understood less we tended to see the transcendent God as the all-powerful organiser. This God made thunder when he was angry, sent plagues and disasters to punish and redressed everything that had gone wrong. God worked in unseen ways. Outwardly a man might seem good and virtuous, inwardly he could have lost God’s grace and be out of sorts with God and living in darkness. Lost God’s Grace – outwardly, before and after baptism there might be no difference in a person – inwardly there can be all the difference between night and day in that realm where God is active and inaccessible to our experience. As we began to take more control of the world, we also took more responsibility for what was going on – in the external world. We have lightening conductors replacing the sign of the cross; we have air traffic control instead of prayers for travellers; we have learned to seed clouds from the air instead of novenas for rain.
This has also made its way into the inner world of our spiritual life. We are starting to distrust ritual ways of obtaining God’s favour. We have reasoned that a person can’t receive additional charity unless we are really loving more and more. Accounts of the spiritual life, the redemptive work of Christ and the service of the Church are now sounding more like common sense psychology than strictly Christian teaching. Some are even doing away with the idea of Grace.
Mosaic from S Aloysius, Somers Town, London, (near Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross). While I know trains are very safe, I like to make a pilgrim’s prayer if I find this church open. MMB.
Love is deeper than at first it can be thought. It never ceaseth but in endless things. It ever multiplies. Its benefits and its designs are always infinite. Were you not Holy, Divine, and Blessed in enjoying the World, I should not care so much to bestow it. But now in this you accomplish the end of your creation, and serve God best, and please Him most: I rejoice in giving it. For to enable you to please GOD, is the highest service a man can do you. It is to make you pleasing to the King of Heaven, that you may be the Darling of His bosom.
This is Meditation 11. To be read slowly and repeated. And the pictures of the Darling of Mary’s bosom seem to fit. They come from the Jesuit Chapel in Canterbury and from the Missionaries of Africa.
Do you ever, probably unconsciously, feel that a teaching of Jesus is not aimed personally? Recently I had a reminder to think again. I’m thinking of this little story from the Lord’s final journey to Jerusalem. Mrs Zebedee has just tried to get top jobs for James and John.
Jesus called the apostles to him, and said: You know that the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them; and they that are the greater, exercise power upon them. It shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister: And he that will be first among you, shall be your servant. Even as the Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a redemption for many.
I’m no Prince of the Gentiles, and indeed the royal princes in the United Kingdom seem to have taken this text to heart. But still, ‘It shall not be so among you’ suggests that Jesus expected that it often would be. The various scandals in the Church are to do with exercising power over other people.
But a more mundane instance hit me during the cold spell we had in March. I had to go to a place where dedicated people care for others, and to reach the area where the hands-on care actually actually happens, walked past the administration offices. The path as far as that door had been treated with grit, so that all the snow had melted and walking was easy. For the last fifteen metres the grit had not been applied.
If you asked the admin staff straight out, are you more important than the carers, they could hardly say yes. But the pathway tells another story.
So perhaps a little examination of conscience on where I might be lording it over people? Even though I never thought I was?
When Peter’s mother-in-law was cured, she at once ministered to Jesus and his companions. With all the gifts I have received, I should be ministering to his friends too.
PS: spare a thought and prayer for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle as they prepare to marry tomorrow. The timing of this post was co-incidental; I only noticed on rereading it today.
Different town, different winter, deeper snow…
(Continued from Yesterday) After begging through the town, Saint Francis and Brother Masseo met together to eat in a place without the city, where was a fair fountain and, hard by, a fine, broad stone ; upon the which each set the alms that he had begged.
And Saint Francis, seeing that Brother Masseo’s pieces of bread were more and finer and larger than his own, rejoiced with great joy, and said: “ O Brother Masseo, we are not worthy of such vast treasure ”: and when he repeated many times these self-same words, Brother Masseo made answer:
« Father, how can one speak of treasure where is such poverty and lack of all things whereof there is need ? Here is nor cloth, nor knife, nor plate, nor porringer, nor house, nor table, nor man-servant, nor maid-servant.”
Quoth Saint Francis: “And this it is that I acount vast treasure, wherein is no thing at
all prepared by human hands, but whatsoe’er we have is given by God’s own providence, as
manifestly doth appear in the bread that we have begged, in the table of stone so fine, and in the fount so clear; wherefore I will that we pray unto God that He make us to love with all our
heart the treasure of holy poverty which is so noble, that thereunto did God Himself become your servitor.”
And when he had said these words, and they had done their prayer, and for refreshment of the body had taken of those pieces and drunk of that water, they rose up to journey into France.