Tag Archives: society

October 23. Month of Mission: Thoughts from my cell.

Another example of Mission is the Irish Chaplaincy. Here Eddie shares some thoughts on the prison ministry side of that work. Enough to read his article to know how important it is.

I awoke in my cell having had an interesting dream in which I was in a kind of social club with my guitar (the one mentioned in the last blog) playing ‘Country roads’ with lots of people singing along.

                 

It’s one of the songs I’d sung at a prison event a couple of days before, after one of the guys said he liked American country songs and sang a couple himself. He had a really good voice and wasn’t at all shy. None of the others, though, seemed too interested in singing and were happy to sit and chat with one another and with those of us from the Irish Chaplaincy, away from their cells for a blessed couple of hours.

I should explain that the cell I was in was at a monastery where I go regularly to spend 24 hours in silence, and I was particularly curious on that occasion why the monastic tradition gives the same name to the room of the monk as that used in prisons for the place of confinement. It was an interesting link to our Traveller event at Wormwood Scrubs, so too the dream.

Our event at Scrubs was surprisingly relaxed, especially considering that it was one of the hottest days of the year, when the tiny, airless cells must be like infernos. We were in the multi-faith room, with doors wide open (exceptionally) and fans whirring, and the space was laid out café style, with tables and easy chairs. There was a lot of pleasant conversation, a little bit of singing (not too much, and that was fine). And then there was the food: a feast of bacon and cabbage and potatoes, with lots left over for the guys to take back to their mates who hadn’t been able to attend (or to eat again themselves in their cells!). And after the meal there was chocolate and other treats that Breda and Ellena had brought. Several of the prisons staff came along, for they also enjoy and value our events, and it’s probably a bit of light relief for them too from the major challenges in running a prison today. Sarah the governor was there, with several of her senior staff, plus Zahid the head of Chaplaincy and Fr. Chima the RC chaplain. They’re all good people doing a good job, and I was a little sad to read in the news the following day that Wormwood Scrubs is on a list of 16 prisons judged by the MOJ to be of ‘serious concern’ (the Irish Chaplaincy has a presence in a few of those on the list). Years of under-investment and over-crowding have taken their toll; and when availability to drugs is thrown into the mix and prisoners locked in their cells for large parts of the day then there are some very dangerous and volatile situations created.

Following the food there was a group photo outside with everybody in great spirits, and then there was time to help people with a questionnaire about our ‘Travelling Forward Resettlement Project’. I was struck that in answer to the question about previous education most of the guys ticked ‘1’ (the lowest score), whilst for the questions about interest in training and in being helped to get a post-release job most ticked ‘5’ (the highest). And the majority of the guys needed somebody to write down the answers for them.

I don’t know what these men have done to end up in prison, and I don’t need to know. I simply enjoy the time with them; to share a meal together and a bit of craic. And they’re so appreciative of these events. For Travellers (people who are used to moving around and being out of doors) being confined to a small cell for prolonged periods must be a particular hardship.

As time was called on the gathering (the two hours having flown by) there were multiple handshakes and ‘thank you’ was said repeatedly. And then it was back to the cell. In my monastic cell, from which I could hear the gentle sound of rain through the open window and look out at the woods surrounding the monastery (and from which I could leave whenever I wished), I thought of those guys.

Eddie Gilmore

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Mission, PLaces

September 5: In praise of rain IV.

ams.fountain1

I trust I’ll be forgiven for using two photos from Amsterdam to accompany GKC’s thoughts on cold showers for the English. These young people were enjoying a public and communal shower-bath in April and sharing their enjoyment with family and friends! And I guess an craftily programmed computer controlled the flow. Social media if not a socialistic institution.

If the Englishman is really fond of cold baths, he ought not to grumble at the English climate for being a cold bath. In these days we are constantly told that we should leave our little special possessions and join in the enjoyment of common social institutions and a common social machinery. I offer the rain as a thoroughly Socialistic institution. It disregards that degraded delicacy which has hitherto led each gentleman to take his shower-bath in private. It is a better shower-bath, because it is public and communal; and, best of all, because somebody else pulls the string.

Baptism is also public and communal, since all Christians are called to be baptised, either as infants or as believing adults and anyone may attend a baptism in a public church. The churches recognise each other’s baptism and do not re-baptise people who were Christened before joining a particular church.

ams.fountain2

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, PLaces, Spring

10 February: Not through vainglory: a response to Virginia Woolf

heart.of.pebbles

Saint Paul never tramped the byways of Palestine with Jesus, but he knew the Jewish Scriptures – to love the Lord your God with your whole being and your neighbour as yourself. He put it this way:

If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassions, make full my joy, that ye be of the same mind, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through faction or through vainglory, but in lowliness of mind each counting other better than himself; not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others.

Philippians 2:1-4.

You don’t have to be a Christian believer to look to the things of others, to work towards being of one accord with your neighbours. In a diverse society such as the United Kingdom today, that should be obvious. But that sense of solidarity does not predominate in everybody. I feel that it was what Virginia Woolf missed by trying to live the illusion – her own word – that she was somehow superior to others. Vainglory sums it up precisely.

And realising that it was vainglory to affect such superiority – or so I read her ending – she filled her pockets with stones and waded into the river. Woolf was certainly struggling with despair in her last months. The Hamilton Star recently told how researchers from Canada and Brazil created word clouds from her writings in happier times and those last months.

In the cloud created from her final months, the words include: little, miss, war, nothing, never, can’t and don’t. The researchers write that these “negative words” may indicate Woolf’s “thoughts of lack of efficacy, self-criticism, worthlessness, nostalgia, melancholy and mainly hopelessness.”

This is not to deny the mental illness that blighted Virginia Woolf’s life, which surely contributed to her thoughts of melancholy and hopelessness, despite her many privileges. Nor is it possible to compare her suffering with Paul’s time in chains and prison, nor to deny the power of God’s grace to work in her heart. Suicide is an extreme form of repentance, and Woolf was aware, perhaps morbidly aware, of causing suffering to others, and as her last letter shows, she wanted to end that. Let us, for every one who takes their own life, 

be … confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Jesus Christ.

Philippians 1:6.

 

And let us remember, with thanks, that there is now formal and informal help for those in great distress that was not available to Virginia Woolf.

MMB.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

10 November: This Wreck.

hoar-frost-2-640x220

Henry James’s true country, Azar Nafisi assures us, was the imagination, in a Blakean sense, meaning the life of the spirit.  At the start of the Great War, James wrote to Rhoda Broughton:

Black and hideous to me is the tragedy that gathers, and I am sick beyond cure to have lived to see it. You  and I, the ornaments of our generation, should have been spared this wreck of our belief that these long years we had seen civilisation grow and the worst became possible.

From ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’ by Azar Nafisi, Harper Perennial, 2007, p216.

We must remind ourselves of the danger of anaesthetising the imagination too much, to the extent where those caught up in fighting are merely ‘little brown men killing little brown men’, as one US General memorably said. No doubt he was making the world safer, in his own mind. But as Blake reminds us:

Caiaphas was in his own mind

A benefactor to mankind.

The Everlasting Gospel.

We are brothers and sisters of the same dust, the dust of Earth, the dust of the stars, formed by the breath of God.

WT.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

September 2: L’Arche and Care VII -The roots of L’Arche.

Larmes de silence: Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier’s Tears of Silence (DLT, 1973) is the earliest book about L’Arche that I know, As an appendix he has a speech given at Church House in 1972, from which this is an extract.

This is the problem. We have created a society that rejects the weak. This is a terrible indictment of any society. It is a wonderful thing when you put your arms out in a welcoming attitude to a handicapped person; then something happens: his eyes begin to believe and his heart begins to dance and he begins in some way to become our teacher. . .

I begin to discover something: that this wounded person, a distorted face, a crippled hand, that the way the handicapped person looks at me, approaches me – all this does something to me, the wounded person calls me forth. And being called forth, I discover that I can bring him up some tiny little way.

The vocabulary has changed over forty years, but the message is clear. And although big subnormality hospitals are largely consigned to history, our society still rejects the weak, to the extent that parents will be put under tremendous pressure to abort a baby known to have Down’s syndrome.

We need to return, not so much to the 2oth century roots of L’Arche, but to the 1st Century roots of L’Arche, the Joyful Good News we are sent to proclaim to all nations.

(Tears of Silence is on sale in French and English through Abe Books.)

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

June 9: Justice V: The Fruits of Justice

 serre eyraud

Because ‘the object of justice is to keep men together in society and mutual intercourse’, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, then when justice succeeds the result must surely be that society enjoys the blessing of peace. And on the personal level, holiness must be one of the fruits of this virtue. There is even an element of voluntary self-sacrifice in the virtue of justice, according to St. Thomas. He says justice ‘disregards its own profit in order to preserve the common equity’ (Q 58:11).

Perhaps one wouldn’t expect ‘justice to ‘disregard its own profit’. Doesn’t self-sacrifice go beyond justice? Wouldn’t it make more sense to place sacrifice under the virtue of charity, maybe? But, no. Not in St. Thomas’s thinking. For him, since justice deals with the rights of others, all the virtues pertaining to life with others are part of justice and enable one to exercise justice. So kindness, mercy, liberality, succouring the needy and so on are all ascribed to justice. The good person is above all the just person, says Josef Pieper, commenting on St. Thomas. ‘Justice reaches out beyond the individual subject’, he says, in order to ‘pour itself out, to work outside itself, to be shared with others, to shine forth. A thing is more eminently good the more fully and widely it radiates its goodness’ (see Josef Pieper’s book, The Four Cardinal Virtues, part 2:3). Yet, we were not wrong in seeing the close connection between the outpouring of justice and the outpouring of charity. The Catechism underlines this in the remark, ‘It is characteristic of love to think of the one whom we love’ (no. 2804). It is likewise characteristic of justice to think of the other, whom we love.

SJC.

Photo MMB, 1970, Le Melezin, Serre Eyraud.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

1 April: “Is Christianity Dead?”- Our Response to BBB: VII – the Human and Christian Vocation.

warsaweve1-800x457

Dear BBB,

I’m sure you’ll feel your questions have not been answered this week. Do the crowds on the street, as here in Warsaw, no longer believe? Is the faith dying? Are we looking in or looking out? I was wondering if the Synod preparation document would acknowledge the vast majority of us who are not priests or nuns or ‘official’ Catholics, but trying to live our lives with God.

Well, it does. And it encourages us to look out.

Many Catholic teachers are involved as witnesses in universities and schools in every grade and level. Many are also ardently and competently involved in the workplace. Still other believers are engaged in civil life, attempting to be the leaven for a more just society. Many engaged in volunteer work in society devote their time for the common good and the care of creation. A great many are enthusiastically and generously involved in free-time activities and sports. All of these people bear witness to the human and Christian vocation which is accepted and lived with faithfulness and dedication, arousing in those who see them a desire to do likewise. Consequently, responding generously to one’s proper vocation is the primary way of performing pastoral vocational work.

We must also acknowledge that other people bear witness to the human vocation with faithfulness and dedication. This afternoon I met a group of volunteers clearing rubbish from a path. One is a professed atheist, two never darken the doors of a church, the fourth represents a political party I could never vote for.

And there entered a thought into them, which of them should be greater. But Jesus seeing the thoughts of their heart, took a child and set him by him, And said to them: Whosoever shall receive this child in my name, receiveth me; and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth him that sent me. For he that is the lesser among you all, he is the greater.

And John, answering, said: Master, we saw a certain man casting out devils in thy name, and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said to him: Forbid him not; for he that is not against you, is for you.

Luke 9:46-50

We are not greater than others because we call ourselves Christian but we have to take care of how we witness the Gospel in our lives. Preaching in the workplace is likely to be a breach of contract as well as annoying and counter-productive, but hiding our Christian faith is not necessary for survival, as it was not so long ago in much of Europe.

If our pastors are not inspiring us to call others to Christ through living our own vocation, through devoting time to the common good and the (Franciscan)  care of creation, they are letting us down and emptying the pews. Without vision the people perish.

Vision is for the whole people, not just for me or you who may have received it. We hope some of what we share in Agnellus’ Mirror reflects a true Christian vision. And we are not afraid, deep down, of what changes the future may bring to God’s church.

RoodEngMartyrsCamb (495x700)

This is my Son, Listen to him.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections, Laudato si'

January 7: Jesus was a Refugee.

hughes-cwl-picture2-el-tahagPhoto from Catholic Women’s League

This hut stood at the edge of a World War II army camp in Egypt called El Tahag. There were training grounds there for Allied troops as well as Prisoner of War camps housing Italian and German soldiers. The Catholic Women’s League ran a club for the Allied troops, with a small chapel which is marked by a cross above the right-hand window facing us. The women who served there were volunteers, mostly from Britain; they worked in other places in Egypt, including Saint Joseph’s Church in Cairo.

Holy Family Window, Catholic Church, Saddleworth

Holy Family Window, Catholic Church, Saddleworth

The sailors, soldiers and airmen they served may not have been refugees but they were far from home and were glad of the refuge offered by the women from home; a comfortable armchair and the secret weapon  of a cup of tea, with female company, even if they, too, were in uniform.

It’s believed that the Holy Family stayed somewhere near Cairo when they were refugees.

Unlike many refugees in Britain today, Joseph was able to work to support his wife and son, once others had helped him set up a new business. Joseph and Mary must have been a good team, working together to ensure Jesus was not traumatised by the experience.

I recommend this  article:

Jesus was a refugee

Dr Joan Taylor links Jesus’ experience as a refugee with the mission he set his followers to carry nothing, to accept what they were given, to shake the dust of enmity from their feet.

God Bless your family this year!

MMB

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections

10 June, Year of Mercy: What is freedom and what does it mean?

It is God and his merciful justice that compels us to face these very real issues. The Church’s social teaching rests totally on the inalienable dignity and freedom of the human person. What is freedom and what does it mean? Certainly not individualistic free licence. Licence in fact makes itself dependent on the current moods, interests and emotions. Individual licence is also politically dangerous, making itself vulnerable to propaganda and advertising.

Freedom that is aware of its own dignity will always respect the freedom of others. It is freedom for others, not freedom from. Freedom becomes real when justice gives each his/her due. Freedom presupposes that others respect their own freedom and bring about a justice that is at the same time freedom regulated. So – what is justice, what is a just society? The ancient Greeks’ [Aristotle] is the midway between too much and too little. Law cannot legislate for all diverse situations, so justice is dependent on goodness as the higher value.

LAW

Natural Law is the foundation for justice – which persisted late into the modern era – which abandoned it, and yet a consensus is not yet apparent. Some see the concept of justice and talk about as dealing with empty formulas if not cliché suited to political propaganda to use and abuse for the sake of power games. Democracy without values soon descends into tyrannical governance. Democracy lives on presuppositions – that it cannot guarantee – but if we lose them or displace them as stating the obvious we end-up with relativism, which doesn’t accept absolutes but makes decisions according to market and/or power structures. If in the end there is no final truth, no absolute value then even the noblest expressions of democracy are without foundation; and tolerance gives way to its opposite against all disagreement.

As human being we are damaged goods, whilst having an inbuilt leaning towards good, we interpret good as what we see as goo: I did it my way. All our relating is infected with injustice which preceded us and which we inherited. This means our healthy survival makes pardon for the injustices we have given and received a sine qua non. We need to pardon past injustices and be reconciled again and again. Reconciliation is the only way out of the vicious circle of guilt and retribution.

Justice flourishes where there is forgiveness, reconciliation and mercy. Reconciliation and mercy do something seemingly impossible – it pardons what from the standpoint of justice is unpardonable. Forgiving the unpardonable violates a sense of justice that seeks retribution. It is by acting against the demand for retributive justice that forgiveness becomes the rock foundation of the new way of being human. I am the way…

AMcC.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daily Reflections