Tag Archives: sorrow

29 June: I shall forget the drop of anguish

.
 I shall know why, when time is over,
And I have ceased to wonder why;
Christ will explain each separate anguish
In the fair schoolroom of the sky.


 He will tell me what Peter promised,
And I, for wonder at his woe,
I shall forget the drop of anguish
That scalds me now, that scalds me now.


XXXIX from Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete, via KIndle

Peter, whose feast we celebrate today, famously went out and wept bitterly. His woe was put behind him by Christ’s forgiveness (John 21) which gave him the grace to preach the good news far from the Sea of Galilee, the grace to be Saint Peter. But that was after the Ascension, when the Good News was totally entrusted to Jesus’ followers.

Tomorrow and the next day we welcome back Sister Johanna from Minster Abbey, who opens up the disciples’ first taste of ministry and what they learned from Jesus’ reaction to their experience. Let us remember all those who will be ordained priest or deacon this Petertide.

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4 May: To die for one’s beloved (English Martyrs), Traherne XLII.

Saint Edmund Campion, English Jesuit Martyr, Holy Name, Manchester.


That a man is beloved of God, should melt him all into esteem and holy veneration. It should make him so courageous as an angel of God. It should make him delight in calamities and distresses for God’s sake. By giving me all things else, He hath made even afflictions themselves my treasures. The sharpest trials, are the finest furbishing. The most tempestuous weather is the best seed-time. A Christian is an oak flourishing in winter.

God hath so magnified and glorified His servant, and exalted him so highly in His eternal bosom, that no other joy should be able to move us but that alone. All sorrows should appear but shadows, beside that of His absence, and all the greatness of riches and estates swallowed up in the light of His favour. Incredible Goodness lies in His Love. And it should be joy enough to us to contemplate and possess it. He is poor whom God hates: ‘tis a true proverb. And besides that, we should so love Him, that the joy alone of approving ourselves to Him, and making ourselves amiable and beautiful before Him should be a continual feast, were we starving. A beloved cannot feel hunger in the presence of his beloved.

Where martyrdom is pleasant, what can be distasteful. To fight, to famish, to die for one’s beloved, especially with one’s beloved, and in his excellent company, unless it be for his trouble, is truly delightful. God is always present, and always seeth us.

Notice how the all-seeing God is, for Traherne, a cause for rejoicing, not a threat from an angry, fearsome avenger of sin, such as many were led to believe. Would martyrdom have been possible or honourable if you believed in a god who hated his own creation?

Tudor times were wintry for men and women of conscience who dissented from whichever variety of Christianity was politically expedient at any time, yet they accepted the sharpest trials even unto death, out of loyalty to God’s love.

We can rejoice in all English and Welsh martyrs, not just the Catholic ones, and may we all meet merrily in heaven, as Thomas More said.

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1 May: The fools that we were.

wild plum blossom

The First of May

by A. E. Housman

 The orchards half the way
From home to Ludlow fair
Flowered on the first of May
In Mays when I was there;
And seen from stile or turning
The plume of smoke would show
Where fires were burning
That went out long ago.

 The plum broke forth in green,
The pear stood high and snowed,
My friends and I between
Would take the Ludlow road;
Dressed to the nines and drinking
And light in heart and limb,
And each chap thinking
The fair was held for him.
 
Between the trees in flower
New friends at fairtime tread
The way where Ludlow tower
Stands planted on the dead.
Our thoughts, a long while after,
They think, our words they say;
Theirs now's the laughter,
The fair, the first of May.
 
Ay, yonder lads are yet
The fools that we were then;
For oh, the sons we get
Are still the sons of men.
The sumless tale of sorrow
Is all unrolled in vain:
May comes to-morrow
And Ludlow fair again.


From Last Poems by A. E. Housman.

It is as well to acknowledge the other side of the coin. Not everyone accepts the Christian or any other religious view of life. Housman was an atheist, and here seems close to despair: the sumless tale of sorrow is all unrolled in vain. Sorrow is beyond calculation: May fair at Ludlow repeats May fair at Ludlow, repeats May fair at Ludlow; and the sons of men learn sense only when it is too late. The poet was writing in the years after the Great War, and like many of his lyrics The First of May alludes to the futility of war and the price of war in human suffering.

No skating over these questions of human sinfulness and apparent divine indifference!

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7 May, Little flowers of Saint Francis LXXII: no repose for Brother John.

After three years, it pleased God to take away from Brother John that ray and fire of love divine, and reave him of all spiritual consolation. Whereby Brother John remained without the light and love of God, and altogether disconsolate and afflicted and distressed. For the which cause, being in such anguish, he went through the wood running hither and thither, calling with cries and tears and sighs on the beloved spouse of his soul, who had hidden himself and gone away from him, and without whose presence his soul could find no rest and no repose: but in no place and in no manner could he find his sweet Jesu again, nor taste again those sweet spiritual draughts of the loye of Jesu Christ, as he had been wont.

This tribulation endured for many days, in which he abode continually weeping and sighing, and praying God that of His pity He would give back to him the beloved spouse of his soul. At the last, when it pleased God to have made trial enough of his patience and to have kindled his desire, on a day when Brother John was going through the wood in such affliction and distress, he sat him down for very weariness, leaning against a beech tree, and remained with his face all bathed in tears looking up to heaven, — behold! suddenly Jesu Christ appeared hard by him in the path, whereby Brother John had come, but spake naught. Brother John seeing Him and knowing full well that it was Christ, straightway threw himself at His feet, and with sore weeping besought Him very humbly, saying:

“Help me, O Lord, for without Thee, my most sweet Saviour, I am full of darkness and weeping, without Thee, most gentle lamb, I am full of anguish and pain and fear; without Thee, Son of God most high, I am full of confusion and shame, without Thee, I am bereft of all good and am blind, since Thou art Jesu Christ, the true light of souls; without Thee, I am lost and damned, for Thou art the life of souls, and the life of lives; without Thee, I am barren and dry, for Thou art the fountain of every gift and grace; without Thee, I am altogether disconsolate, for Thou art Jesu our redemption, our love, and our desire, the bread of comfort, and the wine that maketh glad the hearts of the Angels, and the hearts of all the Saints; enlighten me, most gracious Master, and most tender Shepherd, for I am Thy little sheep, unworthy though I be.”

The prayer that finishes this post was not composed by one who was mentally ill. But he was altogether disconsolate, and told Jesus so.

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23 April: Looking After Jesus

stmaurice.pilgrims

Sister Johanna finds treasure in Luke’s Gospel when she spots her own name and investigates further.

With Jesus went Mary, surnamed the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their own resources.                                                                                                                                      Luke 8: 2-3

This short passage from the Gospel of Luke is one that I have not really thought much about, until now. Today I was taken by the reference to Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and wondered why Chuza was mentioned, and what light this might shed on the text. After a bit or research, I discovered that this is the only reference to Chuza in the New Testament, and nothing is known about him except what is said here in this passage. But, surely, at the time Luke’s gospel was written, his name must have meant something. No one, not even St. Luke, name-drops without wanting to impress. And if I think about it, I can see what is probably being implied here.

Herod was not a man to be trusted. He was no friend of Jesus, and the term, ‘that fox’, was used by Jesus of Herod (Lk 13:32) as a put-down, and a bold one, for Herod was an important man and held power over Jesus – or at least, he held a certain kind of worldly power over him. He could, and eventually did, collude with the powers that crucified Jesus.

And Chuza was ‘that fox’s’ steward. As steward, Chuza was also rather important. Scripture scholars say that the exact nature of a steward’s job is no longer known, but it is thought that Chuza was probably a kind of chief administrator of Herod’s entire establishment, and not a mere domestic manager. He was in some way the man who made all the practical decisions at the palace and was responsible for its smooth running. The fact that Chuza’s name is dropped into this text would suggest that his name was well known by Luke’s audience. Eyebrows might rise on hearing that Joanna, wife of the famous Chuza, was known to be both a disciple of Jesus and one of his benefactors.

The text also suggests that Joanna was taking a risk, both on her own behalf and that of her husband, in publicly following this upstart Jesus – ever a controversial figure to those without faith, who had not yet learned to love and revere him. Herod would not approve. But, neither Joanna nor Chuza seem to be bothered by that. Jesus is worth the risk. What eventually happened to Chuza? The text doesn’t say. But we have established that his relative fame would not have been an advantage for Joanna. She carries on anyway, despite the risk.

What else do we know about Joanna? Joanna had been healed by Jesus. She is now dedicated to caring for Jesus and is one of those who provide for him and his companions. She gladly associates with Mary Magdalene, who had been freed from seven devils. Reputations linger, and surely Mary Magdalene was still regarded by many as a highly dubious character. Joanna doesn’t care about that either. Mary Magdalene had been healed, and so had Joanna. They were companions. Joanna was for Jesus and no one would stop her. Caring for Jesus was much more important than playing it safe. Caring for Jesus more important than caring for herself. She and the other women are loyal to Jesus and courageous.

What does Jesus think of their dedication? Does he thank them? Oh, yes. St. Luke’s gospel tells us later that Joanna and the other women received a reward from Jesus. In fact, we see that Jesus expresses his gratitude in the most profound way possible. After Jesus’ crucifixion, Joanna appears again; with her are Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James. They are the first visitors to the tomb of Jesus. They go there intending to carry out the ritual anointing the body. What actually happens to them there is that they become the privileged three who converse with angels. They – these women who took risks for Jesus, who were loyal to him, who provided for his material needs – they are the first recipients of the astounding news that Jesus was alive, risen from the dead. They are the first to know, the first ones to experience the joy of knowing. And not only that, St Luke tells us that they are the first ones who actually remembered Jesus’ own words about his resurrection which he spoke when he was alive. They are the first to understand those words.

And this tells us something else about Joanna and the other women: they were attuned to Jesus’ teaching all along. This understanding they have after his death will be the carry-over from their profound grasp of his teaching before his death. They are, therefore, well chosen to be the first messengers of the Good News to the Eleven. This is Jesus’ way of thanking them, honouring them, showing his love for them and healing them of the deep sorrow his death would have caused. He reaches the most profound places in their hearts with the reality of his resurrection. This is indeed a gift.

This short text, one that I had not really pondered before, has messages of joy. It tells us that Jesus sees everything we do for him, sees our loyalty, sees the risks we take for him, sees the understanding we have of his teaching, sees the way we remember his words. He is grateful every time we embrace his word, every time we give generously to him and his followers. He will repay in ways we cannot imagine now, any more than the women imagined that they would see angels when they went to the tomb. Jesus will repay with currency from his risen life and reach us, raise us up on the deepest possible level of our being.

SJC

Image: Missionaries of Africa.

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Going Viral XXIII: city pavements.

Some of us must take our permitted walks on city pavements, as HDGB did recently. He was not unrewarded.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry—and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter,
Cry–clinging to Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking on the water,
Not of Genesareth, but Thames!

Francis Thompson, The Kingdom of God. See our post, August 9, 2017 for the full text. Thompson knew great sadness, mental illness, addiction, but friends fund him and encouraged him.

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7 April, Desert XXXVII: Fear 6, the watches of the night.

Church and graveyard of St Mary, Nonnington, Kent.

My brother has a small business with just a few employees. One of them, a smoker with compromised lungs, phoned him in the early hours of the morning. This man had developed a cough which he was worried might be the Corona Virus and he was self-isolating at home.

What struck my brother most was the palpable fear in the man’s voice and his words: at 2.00 a.m. What thoughts went through his head? There are times when Faith is challenged in the face of death. Here is Sir John Betjeman among the mourners at Aldershot Crematorium.

But no-one seems to know quite what to say

   (Friends are so altered by the passing years):

“Well, anyhow, it’s not so cold today”—

   And thus we try to dissipate our fears.

‘I am the Resurrection and the Life’:

Strong, deep and painful, doubt inserts the knife.

Betjeman knew doubt and fear: so did Jesus in the Garden:

And they came to a farm called Gethsemane. And he saith to his disciples: Sit you here, while I pray. And he taketh Peter and James and John with him; and he began to fear and to be heavy. And he saith to them: My soul is sorrowful even unto death; stay you here, and watch. Mark 14:32-34.

Let us pray that all facing an unlooked-for death may face their end with due courage and may the Angels welcome them into Paradise.

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2 February: A meeting in the Cloister

simeon.2

Anna and Simeon, the old people forever in the Temple cloister, were blessed to see and to caress the Baby who was the Salvation of the Lord, the Light of the nations and the Glory of Israel.

Simeon knew this, and he was at peace. But he broke off his song of praise, lapsing into prose to warn Mary of the sword that would pierce her heart; as sharp a sword as any parent feels who sees a child die early or run off the rails through addiction, avarice or broken relationships.

But every child should be a sign of hope. By now, 40 days old, Jesus would be taking notice of the world he is being carried through by his loving parents. He will have felt safe in Simeon’s hands, but he would have registered the sudden emotional switch between the old man’s prayer and his warning advice to Mary; he would have been glad to return to her. She, too, would have been disturbed, but she surely made the effort to be positive for her son.

flight.egypt

She stored all these things in her heart; Joseph, meanwhile, was about to receive another dream, pick up his tools, and lead the family to safety in Cairo, because this child was a sign of hope in dark times.

2nd Image from Missionaries of Africa.

 

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25 November, Little Flowers of Saint Francis LVIII: Brother Simon 1, the distressed novice.

gatehedge1 (565x800)

ABOUT the beginning of the Order of Saint Francis and while he was still alive, there came into the Order a young man of Assisi, the which was called Brother Simon: him God adorned and endowed with so much grace, such depth of contemplation and elevation of mind, that all his life was a mirror of virtue.

Brother Simon, when he set him down at table, before he took food for the body, would take for himself and for others spiritual food, speaking of God. Through his devout discourse on a time was converted a young man of San Severino, the which in the world was a youth exceeding vain and worldly, and was of noble blood and much delicate of body; and Brother Simon receiving the said youth into the Order, put his secular clothes aside in his own charge; and the youth abode with Brother Simon to be taught by him the rules of the Order. But the devil, that striveth to thwart all good, assailed him with so fierce a temptation and so grievous a thorn in the flesh, that in no wise could he resist the same; for the which cause he went to Brother Simon, and said unto him: “Give me back my clothes that I brought with me from the world, for I can no more endure this temptation of the flesh.” And Brother Simon having great compassion on him, said: “Sit here with me a little while, my son”; and he began to speak with him of God in such sort that all temptation left him: and when after a time the temptation came back and he asked for his clothes again, Brother Simon drove it away with speech of God. And when this had been so full many a time, at last one night the said temptation assailed him so grievously, even more than it was wont, that for naught in the world could he resist it, and going to Brother Simon, demanded of him again all his secular clothes, for that in no wise could he longer stay. Then Brother Simon, even as he was wont to do, made him sit down beside him; and as he spake to him of God, the youth leaned his head upon the breast of Brother Simon, for sorrow and distress of soul. Then Brother Simon for the great pity’s sake that he had, lifted up his eyes to heaven and prayed, and as he devoutly besought the Lord for him, he was rapt in God and his prayer was heard: whenas he returned to himself again, the young man found himself altogether freed from that temptation, as though he had felt it never a whit.

The fire of temptation being thuswise changed into the fire of the Holy Spirit, for that he had
drawn near unto the burning coal, to wit, unto Brother Simon, he became altogether inflamed with the love of God and of his neighbour; in so much that on a time a malefactor having been taken who was to have both his eyes put out, he, to wit, the youth aforesaid, for pity’ a sake went boldly unto the governor, and in open council, and with many tears and humble prayers besought that one of his eyes might be put out and one only of the malefactor’s, for that he might not be deprived of both. But the governor and the council beholding the great fervour of the charity of this brother, forgave both the one and the other.

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28 September, The Franciscans come to Mount Alvernia, I: Saint Francis and Orlando.

flowers.francis.illustration

 

Among the Little Flowers of Saint Francis are Reflections on his Holy Stigmata. The first of these, which we will read in series until his feast day, tells how the Franciscan order was given Mount Alvernia as a place of penance and solitude.

Ye must needs know that Saint Francis, being forty and three years of age, in the year 1224, being inspired of God, set out from the Vale of Spoleto for to go into Romagna with Brother Leo his companion; and as they went, they passed by the foot of the Castle of Montefeltro; in the which Castle there was at that time a great company of gentlefolk, and much feasting, by reason of the knighting of one of the same Counts of Montefeltro. And Saint Francis, hearing of the festivities that were holden there and how that many gentle folk of divers countries were there gathered together, spake unto Brother Leo: “Let us go up unto this feast, for with the help of God we may win some good fruit of souls.”

Among the other gentle folk from that country, that were of that knightly company, was a great and eke a wealthy gentleman of Tuscany, by name Orlando da Chiusi, of Casentino; who by reason of the marvellous things that he had heard of the sanctity and the miracles of Saint Francis; bore him great devotion, and felt an exceeding strong desire to see him and to hear him preach.

Coming to the castle, Saint Francis entered in, and came to the courtyard where all that great company of gentle folk was gathered together, and in fervour of spirit stood up upon a parapet, and began to preach, taking as the text of his sermon these words in the vulgar tongue:

So great the joys I have in sight,

That every sorrow brings delight.


Upon this text, as the Holy Spirit gave Francis utterance, he preached so devoutly and sublimely, of the divers pains and martyrdoms of the holy Apostles and the holy Martyrs, and the hard penances of the holy Confessors, and the many tribulations and temptations of the holy Virgins and the other saints, that all the folk stood with their eyes and their minds turned towards him, and gave such heed as though it were an angel of God speaking; among the which Orlando, touched in the heart by God through the marvellous preaching of Saint Francis, set it in his heart to confer and to have speech with Saint Francis, after the sermon, touching the state of his soul, Therefore, when the preaching was done, he drew Saint Francis aside, and said unto him: “O father, I would confer with thee touching the salvation of my soul.” Replied Saint Francis: It pleaseth me right well; but go this morning and do honour to thy friends, who have called thee to the feast, and dine with them, and after thou hast dined, we will speak together as much as thou wilt.”

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