George Herbert died before the friction between Charles I and Parliament descended into Civil War. He was a Church of England minister and Cambridge don. This was the time when the King James Bible, sponsored by Charles’ father, was becoming familiar from being read at Anglican Church services. This poem, ‘The Altar’, was written to be printed as shown to represent the silhouette of an altar like that in the Sanctuary in Jerusalem. But more than the altar was broken in the Church and Nation, and we are still looking through the damaged parts to see how best to rebuild a united church, a united nation; and how and when we can share the Eucharist at one table, one altar. May God’s grace continue to help us Christians to be ever closer to each other.
God told Moses to use only uncut stone when building an altar (Exodus 20:25).
A broken ALTAR, Lord, thy servant rears,
Made of a heart and cemented with tears:
Whose parts are as thy hand did frame;
No workman's tool hath touch'd the same.
A HEART alone
Is such a stone
As nothing but
Thy pow'r doth cut.
Wherefore each part
Of my hard heart
Meets in this frame,
To praise thy name
That if I chance to hold my peace
These stones to praise thee may not cease.
Oh, let thy blessed SACRIFICE be mine
And sanctify this ALTAR to be thine.
We came across this gate while walking in Sussex. When we got home I saw that there were a few stories to be heard – or seen – here.
This is where a track crosses the railway, or better, the other way about, because the track was almost certainly there well before the railway was built. There was a station here, though few passengers. The station had a wooden platform, wooden shelter and no lighting, oil, gas or electric. Not surprisingly. there is little to be seen of the station, nor of the crossing keeper’s cottage.
The footpath is on the Brede Level marshland. It must get very muddy, so someone has added cobbles to make the foot crossing dry. The crossing keeper would surely have kept the gates open to trains, closed to road vehicles, so the position was something of a sinecure, or a job for an elderly worker still strong enough to manage the heavy gates. There were fewer road vehicles than trains. A lightweight farm gate either side of the track is all that’s needed.
The old pedestrian gate is a picture; I guess it’s XIX Century. Its new galvanised post suggests that a surveyor did not want to scrap this unique specimen – the one on the opposite side is quite different, but both were clearly handmade by carpenter and blacksmith, probably in the South Eastern Railway works at Ashford. No question of an off-the-peg gate here. Note the decorative work on the top hinge, and the swivelling pulley cover to keep fingers safe; its makers took pride in their work. The gate frame will have been made of hardwood, possibly English oak, and when the upright palings had perished a sheet of marine plywood was substituted. Railwaymen seem to have had a soft spot for this gate over the last 150 years or so.
Modern technology is represented by the telephone: drivers of slow moving vehicles are warned to call the signaller for the all clear before crossing the railway. We arrived here by foot downhill from Udimore where King Edward III once stayed. He was supervising defensive fortifications at nearby Winchelsea in 1350 when the Spanish fleet came into sight and gave battle, ending in an English victory, witnessed by Queen Phillipa from the top of the track we are following.
Since then a naval safe haven has become a saltmarsh, supporting sheep beside the river; and the sea is now some distance away.
In the distance across the marsh is a hill with a village and pub, a destination for our walk. A shared walk, a shared meal; shared reminders of why we promised to share all things, for better or worse, forty-three years ago.
In this extract from Pope Francis’s paper on Saint Joseph we come close to home, where the bread on the table and the roof over our heads are earned by hard work but dignified work. Joseph the carpenter fed his family and who knows? His wife may have had a cleaning job in Cairo.
An aspect of Saint Joseph that has been emphasized from the time of the first social Encyclical, Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, is his relation to work. Saint Joseph was a carpenter who earned an honest living to provide for his family. From him, Jesus learned the value, the dignity and the joy of what it means to eat bread that is the fruit of one’s own labour.
In our own day, when employment has once more become a burning social issue, and unemployment at times reaches record levels even in nations that for decades have enjoyed a certain degree of prosperity, there is a renewed need to appreciate the importance of dignified work, of which Saint Joseph is an exemplary patron.
Work is a means of participating in the work of salvation, an opportunity to hasten the coming of the Kingdom, to develop our talents and abilities, and to put them at the service of society and fraternal communion. It becomes an opportunity for the fulfilment not only of oneself, but also of that primary cell of society which is the family. A family without work is particularly vulnerable to difficulties, tensions, estrangement and even break-up. How can we speak of human dignity without working to ensure that everyone is able to earn a decent living?
Working persons, whatever their job may be, are cooperating with God himself, and in some way become creators of the world around us. The crisis of our time, which is economic, social, cultural and spiritual, can serve as a summons for all of us to rediscover the value, the importance and necessity of work for bringing about a new “normal” from which no one is excluded. Saint Joseph’s work reminds us that God himself, in becoming man, did not disdain work. The loss of employment that affects so many of our brothers and sisters, and has increased as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, should serve as a summons to review our priorities. Let us implore Saint Joseph the Worker to help us find ways to express our firm conviction that no young person, no person at all, no family should be without work!
For the coming week, beginning at Sundown today, Jewish families will be remembering their ancestors’ escape from Egypt, led by Moses, Aaron and their sister Miriam. All week they will not eat ordinary leavened bread, instead they will eat thin, unleavened crackers which cook rapidly, for their ancestors did not have time to bake leavened bread before rushing out of Egypt.
Cardinal Archbishop Gregory of Washington DC Cardinal Gregory of Washington DCrecorded this interview a few months ago. . He spoke about the closeness that should exist between Christians and Jews and the proper view to take of antisemitism. He was talking to Michael J O’Loughlin of America magazine; follow the link for the full interview.
Jesus tells his disciples on Maundy Thursday, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22:14) And from that Passover meal he gave them – and us – the Eucharist. This seemed a good moment to remember the very Jewishness of the prayers Jesus used and we use. Cardinal Gregory spoke about the closeness that should exist between Christians and Jews and the proper view to take of antisemitism. He was talking to Michael J O’Loughlin of America magazine; follow the link above for the full interview.
MJO: What is the message you think Catholics need to know about antisemitism, anti-Judaism and how should they view that phenomenon through their lens of faith. Many people active in interfaith dialogue cite personal friendships and relationships, through dialogue, but not every Catholic is going to have the chance to experience something like that. If you were to take some lessons you’ve learned over the years from these dialogues, what would you want Catholics to know?
WG: So much of our Catholic prayer tradition is directly related to our Jewish brothers and sisters. The way that we view Scriptures, the way that we pray, the language that we use in our worship has deep and important Jewish roots. Whether it be directed towards people of colour, immigrants, Jews, Muslims, hatred is never acceptable.
The berakhah* prayer—such an important way that our Jewish brothers and sisters pray—has given rise to our prayer of blessing, our Eucharist and the way we pray the Psalms in our worship. There are so many ways that when we as Catholics come into our church, and we begin our liturgical life together, we are related, in that very act, to our brothers and sisters in the Jewish community and we should know that.
Our Catholic liturgy has a great debt that goes back to the first Christians, including our Lord and Blessed Mother herself: They were Jewish. And when they prayed, they prayed in the Jewish context. Those first Christians came from the Jewish community. And so they brought with them their heritage of prayer and worship and language. That has highly influenced the way that we Catholics pray each and every time we gather in church. So it’s important that our Catholics know that and respect that.
* Berakhah is a prayer of blessing. The Judaism 101 website gives a clear explanation which will show how Jewish prayer helped form the Eucharistic Liturgy we celebrate today. Many of the berakhot that we recite today were composed by Ezra and the Men of the Great Assembly nearly 2500 years ago, and they continue to be recited in the same form. All berakhot include the phrase “Barukh atah Ha-shem, Elokaynu, melekh ha-olam,” Blessed art thou L-rd, our G-d, King of the Universe. This is sometimes referred to as shem u’malkut (the name and the sovereignty), the affirmation of G-d as king.’
As we approach Holy Week and all its violence, jealousy, fear and betrayal, Pope Francis asks us to pray for the spread of peace and non violence, by decreasing the use of weapons by States and citizens.
The flowers, candles and other tokens in the square after the bombing represent just one instance of people coming together to reject violence and darkness in favour of peace and light.
It is not only states that must renounce violence, but citizens, you and me. Remembering that the pen, and the tongue too for that matter, is mightier than the sword, let us be courteous and respectful in speech at this time commemorating betrayal, false witness and fear. A silent smile will do no harm!
Let us take a leaf out of Pope Francis’s book and show our care for those around us, including those who work hard to care for us. Despite being ill, he took the opportunity to baptise a little boy and encourage his mother, and later to share a pizza with the staff who were caring for himself. Shared meals are part and parcel of being Christian!
WHEN blessed Mary wiped her Saviour’s feet, (Whose precepts she had trampled on before) And wore them for a jewel on her head, Showing his steps should be the street, Wherein she thenceforth evermore With pensive humbleness would live and tread :
She being stained herself, why did she strive To make him clean, who could not be defiled? Why kept she not her tears for her own faults, And not his feet? Though we could dive In tears like seas, our sins are piled Deeper than they, in words, and works, and thoughts.
Dear soul, she knew who did vouchsafe and deign To bear her filth ; and that her sins did dash Even God himself ; wherefore she was not loath, As she had brought wherewith to stain, So to bring in wherewith to wash : And yet in washing one, she washed both.
Holy Week is almost upon us. We will meet Mary Magdalene on Good Friday, beside the Cross as Jesus dies and again, early on Sunday morning, when she comes to the tomb to anoint the body of her Lord and friend. It is Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus who tends to Jesus’ feet in John 12. The other woman, the sinful one, who appears in the other Gospels is not named and is not Mary Magdalene!
But let’s set aside that matter and ask what is going on in this poem. This ‘Mary’ is called ‘blessed’ – she is forgiven, and knows Jesus brought this about. Not that Simon the Pharisee was aware of the change in her; she was still a sinner in his estimation, so a woman to be avoided.
She knew that her sins were deep ‘in words, work and thought’ but she knew well that the Lord had set her relationship with him on the right path. Jesus had already, in earthly time, forgiven her. Now, in washing Jesus’ feet, making them briefly into hair ornaments as she wiped them, she also cleanses herself in a symbolic gesture of repentance, of her changed life, her forgiven life.
And of course, she and Mary of Bethany had the idea of symbolic foot washing before Jesus did it on Maundy Thursday.
Two elderly sisters living out their days together after a life of service. They were both compromised physically, but were still managing to stay in their old home. Like the religious sisters we met yesterday, their Christian vocation did not end with retirement, pooling their capabilities to make sure the household still functioned. Although they could not get to church or the shops any more, they could offer the traditional cup of tea to a visitor, and they could still enjoy a good chat.
On this occasion the visitor was the parish priest, and after their short Communion Service, as he nibbled his ginger nut the conversation turned to the parish finances, which were not very healthy. Father went on at some length and in some detail, a worried man. But there was precious little his audience could do to help him.
At length one of the sisters piped up prophetically: ‘Father dear, stop dragging your cross, pick it up and get on with carrying it!’
Perhaps, like this good priest, we need a chance to let off steam but we also need someone to challenge us to be true to ourselves and the sometimes discouraging duties of our vocation. This Holy Week, let us pray to see our cross, indeed all our problems, in the perspective of the Cross of Jesus.
Eddie Gilmore of the Irish Chaplaincy has been reflecting on people with depression and how to help them get free of the blues, starting from research at Ohio State University that focused on 122 adults with moderate or severe depression. The results were published in The journal of Positive Psychology in January.
We know in our work at the Irish Chaplaincy that that little act of kindness can be transformative; and in the case of people in prison, who might be in particular despair, an act of kindness can be life-saving.
What this new study concludes is that the person giving the act of kindness is also helped. The participants were split into three groups. One group was required to carry out kind acts for others twice a week for ten weeks; a second group participated in planned social activities; and the third group were subject to a cognitive behaviour technique known as cognitive reappraisal. This involves the person being helped to recognise when their thoughts follow negative patterns and to make the thoughts more positive. As for the kind acts, they included things like baking biscuits for friends, offering lifts to people and writing notes of encouragement for housemates.
For those in the ‘kind acts’ group there was a greater improvement in depressive symptoms than for those in the other two groups. Dr David Gregg who led the study concludes, “Something as simple as helping other people can go above and beyond other treatments in helping people deal with depression and anxiety.” His colleague, Dr Jennifer Cheavers added, “We often think that people with depression have enough to deal with, so we don’t want to burden them by asking them to help others. But these results run counter to that. Doing nice things for people and focussing on the needs of others may actually help people with depression and anxiety feel better about themselves.”
After all, Jesus did not send individuals to preach the Good News but pairs, and he told them to accept the gifts they were offered. (Luke 10) So let’s not wait till we are depressed, or they are depressed, but get on our feet and walk a little way alongside our friends and family members, or invite them to tea; to cheer them up, and get out of our own head for a while.
A few years ago L’Arche celebrated fifty years of life on this earth and forty years in the UK. The big celebration in Britain was a pilgrimage to Canterbury, home to the first British community, L’Arche Kent. Hundreds of people gathered at the University of Kent, before an invigorating walk down to the Cathedral for refreshment as well as prayer. Transporting hundreds of people to this corner of Britain, finding accommodation to suit everyone’s needs – we had a few wheelchair users – and learning prayers and songs, all required tight organisation.
Even so, I managed to raise an eyebrow when I led my small group off piste. I was spotted by the chief organiser who wondered what I was up to. He was relieved when we showed up in good time. Quite simply, one of us was a wheelchair user who needed the bathroom, and my family had a new wet room which suited her fine; it was pronounced ‘an excellent bathroom’ and was right beside the back door.
There will always be the unexpected, and often enough the solution to the problem will be at hand:
Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, neither money; neither have two coats apiece. (Luke 9:3)
We could not get away with that in XXI Century Kent, and with so many people with so many special needs, we had to plan and the plan did its job. And the staves came in useful when we reached the Cathedral, for banging on the floor and raising the roof with their percussion! This part of the percussion procession had hand drums and tambourines.
We wish you a joyful and companionable Lenten Pilgrimage!
Father Peter shared this story in Missio magazine, Autumn 2022.
I was driving slowly in the countryside on one of Kenya’s dusty, gravelly roads.
Just ahead of me I saw a young girl walking by the side of the road carrying a chicken. As I drove past, the chicken jumped out of her hands and flew into the side of my car and was killed.
I stopped the car, got out, and apologised to the girl – although it was not my fault. The poor girl was distraught, looking down at her dead chicken lying on the road which would now not lay any eggs for the family.
Seeing her distress, I gave her 10 shillings. Her eyes lit up and a smile crossed her face. With that money she could go back to the market and buy not just one but two egg-laying chickens! Not only that, but she could also take the dead chicken home and she and her family could have a tasty meal. Best of all – she would not face the wrath of her parents!
To live a Christ-like life, one does not need to perform heroic acts of self–sacrifice! Small everyday acts of kindness, compassion and caring can turn sadness into joy and make us channels of God’s love.
FATHER PETER You can write to Fr Peter at: 41 Victoria Road, Formby, Liverpool L37 1LW
Mission Today Autumn 2022 published bu Missio -England and Wales Build a vibrant Catholic Church for the future
FATHER PETER You can write to Fr Peter at: 41 Victoria Road, Formby, Liverpool L37 1LW