Tag Archives: story

9 January: Praying with Pope Francis: Educators.

Brocagh School, Leitrim, 1969

This January Pope Francis asks us to pray for Educators

We pray that educators may be credible witnesses, 
teaching fraternity rather than competition  
and helping the youngest and most vulnerable above all. 

I shared this picture on the Pelicans Website in 2011. It shows the children of Brocagh School, Co. Leitrim in 1969, with their educators, head teacher Mrs McCormack, to the right, and her assistant teacher, then, I think, called Miss Byrne, but wearing an engagement ring.

Sometime after this, in 1970-72 the little local 2 classroom schools were all closed down and a new central school built in Glenfarne village. We students at nearby Saint Augustine's College visited the little schools to deliver an RE lesson each Wednesday morning.

It was Mrs McCormack who gave me a valuable lesson, in the qualities Pope Francis proclaims. This was thanks to Joe McHugh, down there in the front row wearing a green jacket. During the time after Easter we had John's story of the barbecue by the lake after the miraculous catch of fish, and Peter's final declaration of faith. 

I think the lesson went well. The children drew some remarkable pictures, but Mrs McCormack drew my attention to Joe's in particular: come here now, Joe, what's this in the corner? - It's Saint Peter's lorry, Miss, come to carry away the fish. I'd missed the lorry completely; I'd not interpreted the shapes he'd drawn in 20th Century terms.

What Mrs McCormack knew, but I did not, was that Joe's family had recently acquired a lorry which was Joe's pride and joy, so of course St Peter would have had his lorry ready to take the fish to market. The story made sense to Joe, and had always made more sense to me as a consequence; thank you Joe, wherever you are. And thank you to Mrs McCormack, that credible witness!You used Joe's lorry to teach him and me that fraternity between the generations means allowing the child to teach himself, and his (or her) teachers.

Olivia O'Dolan and other local people managed to identify many of the children whose names appear on the Pelicans Website.
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22 December, Advent Light XXII: A Great Story.

Jesus told stories. His disciples kept some of them alive, as we do to this day. They also told stories about him and his travels through Palestine, but, as John’s Gospel tells us (21.25) there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen. Stories – or ‘Salvation’s Story’ – are the basis of Christian belief, not the writings of scholars. St Paul refers back to the message he had received even as he tries to put the meaning of it into words that satisfy the mind as well as the heart.

A 20th Century writer of theology and of stories puts it like this:

Story – or at least a great Story of the mythical type – gives us an experience of something not as an abstraction but as a concrete reality. We don’t ‘understand the meaning’ when we read a myth, we actually encounter the thing itself. Once we try to grasp it with the discursive reason, it fails.

CS Lewis, in Humphrey Carpenter, The Inklings,  George Allen & Unwin, London, 1978, p143.

Or we could turn to a poet, one who dithered, kneeling at the threshold of belief in his ‘Christmas’, but stressing the tangible, not just tissued fripperies, but the Baby in an ox’s stall, and God alive in Bread and Wine. A concrete reality.

And is it true? And is it true,
    This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
    A Baby in an ox’s stall?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true? For if it is,
    No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
    The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
    No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
    Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

John Betjeman, Christmas.

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22 August, Saint Edmund III: A Story from a Cross.

Sometimes a pause in our pilgrims’ or tourists’ way can be enlightening; sometimes a photograph yields a more than passing thought when looked at anew in the armchair. Here is a processional Cross in Saint Edmundsbury Cathedral which we did not follow in procession; however, a closer, leisurely look tells a story.

The arrows that killed Edmund, King of the English, surround the Cross on which Jesus, the King of the Jews, the King of Glory, was killed. The Cross itself seems alive, aflame, reminding us that Jesus made the one sacrifice on Calvary, burning away sin, leading us to heaven.

Edmund’s arrows are subordinate to the Cross. This does not belittle his martyr’s sacrifice, but  puts it into the context of Saint Paul’s bold assertion in Colossians 1:24: in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

The Church itself is represented by the diocesan coat of arms, including the triple crown of Edmund’s kingdom of East Anglia. This Cross is not just a decorative object but also a statement of faith at both a local and universal level.

What emblem would you choose to symbolise yourself and your life after your death? What would you choose for a loved one? Here is one example I really like.

We adore you, O Christ and we praise you, for by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.

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1 July 2022: Praying with Pope Francis: Old People.

Saint Joachim, grandfather of Jesus.

Here is Pope Francis’s prayer intention for July.

We pray for the elderly, 
who represent the roots and memory of a people; 
may their experience and wisdom 
help young people to look towards the future 
with hope and responsibility.

Pope Francis has been speaking quite a lot about old age recently. Representing the roots and memory of a people is a quite responsibility for us oldies. It’s more important than you might think, until you realise that only two or three people remember events that were important at the time and helped shape our community or family today. And as for important people!

A couple of years ago a story popped into my head about a woman from Canada who helped shape our L’Arche community, back in 1975. I tracked down her brother who shared the story with her daughter – my friend had died between times. He wrote back, sharing his niece’s reaction, overjoyed to read about her mother, and a story hitherto unknown to her. ‘What a gift!’ she had said.

Yes, memory is a gift, not only for old persons but for those who are energised by the stories of beginnings and growth, prosperity and hardship. Maybe this July could be a month of sharing memories, sharing experiences and hope. Praying for the elderly might well include listening to them and recording their wisdom.

Follow this link to Independent Catholic News and Pope Francis’s video message for today.

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8 April, Stories of hope: Emma

Hope! You might well think it’s in short supply these days, with climate change and all the storms, with wars and threats of war, and terror and division. We can only do what we can, where we can. The Irish Chaplaincy was established to do what it can, where it is needed in England. Here comes a Hope-full story. As ever, it is told by Eddie Gilmore.

A conversation on a train station platform reminded me of both the power of stories and the power of hope, and it linked as well with a forthcoming campaign of the Irish Chaplaincy.

Francis, who spent his working life as a clinical psychologist in the NHS, told me excitedly that he was reading my book * and I was equally excited to learn that he had bought not just one but three of them (not all for himself)! “I like how you use narrative,” he explained and he recalled how years ago if he had only a short time to get across the details of a ‘case’ with a senior policy-maker he would usually choose to tell a story about the person in question. This was, in his experience, the most effective means by which change might occur.

When I told Francis about our #storiesofhope campaign to be launched in Lent he remarked, “Hope is about the power to make a difference.” Here is the first of those stories of hope. It is Emma’s story, as told by Breda who features strongly in it, and it is told with Emma’s permission.

A Reason to Live 

Our wonderful team is currently supporting a 35-year-old woman who in February 2021 just days after her release from prison was airlifted to hospital and put into a medical coma for 28 days. Emma had a rare but serious bacterial infection that affects the tissue beneath the skin and surrounding muscles and organs which resulted in the amputation of her left leg. Her mother was told that her daughter had a 2% chance of survival and was advised to turn off Life Support. She declined! Initially Emma had no use in both arms but this is slowly improving with intensive therapy at a care home; however she struggles with the use of her right leg as it remains severely damaged. Although Emma’s long-term prognosis isn’t yet fully known, what is certain is that she will need lots of care for many months if not years and will have to endure years of skin graft operations.

Thankfully, the team at the Irish Chaplaincy has been able to support both mother and daughter: practically, by advocating on their behalf to statutory bodies; financially, with small donations for telephone credit, travel assistance as well as essential sundries; emotionally, with visits from two of our caseworkers, who are also available at the end of the telephone anytime for either mother or daughter; and spiritually, through prayer. Additionally, with the help of our friends at Caritas, who when they heard Emma’s story provided a mobility scooter, she is now able to get around better, saying, “I feel like I have my legs back.”

Both mother and daughter are extremely remarkable and humbling; truly inspirational and doing their best to stay positive. They are an absolute pleasure to work with and the essence of our Chaplaincy’s purpose. We would be so very grateful for your thoughts and prayers to help them get through this difficult time and to help us continue in the work we love to do in supporting those most in need. Emma said to one of those who came to visit her: “You’ve given me a reason to live.”

The latest chapter in this story is that with the help of the Irish Chaplaincy Emma has managed to secure suitable accommodation where she can live with her mother after her mother is released from an open prison in a few months’ time. Now Emma not only has a reason to live, she also has her own place to live in!

More such stories of hope are coming soon…

* The link is to our review of Eddie’s book, Looking ahead with Hope; Francis was right, it’s a good read!

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10 December: Christianity means Stories, not Mechanical Rules.

Flowers and candles left after a bombing

Phil Klay is a young American war veteran. His 2020 novel Missionaries was selected by former president Barack Obama last December as one of his “favorite books of 2020” and was named one of the “The 10 Best Books of 2020” by the Wall Street Journal.

In the address Klay delivered upon receiving the Hunt Prize in 2018, he elaborated on the connection between the violence of the world around us and the life of faith. “Paul tells us ‘the Kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.’ And, at times, I think I can feel that power around me. Catholicism is not, or should not be, a religion of force. Not of hard mechanical rules, but of stories and paradoxes and enigmatic parables.

It is an invitation to mystery, not mastery, to communion, not control. It is a religion that fits with what I know of reality, that helps me live honestly, and that helps me set aside my dreams of a less atavistic world in which men follow rational orders and never rebel. Perfect obedience, after all, comes not from men, but machines. Fantasies of control are fantasies of ruling over the dead. And my tortured God is not a God of death, but of new life.

This post is abridged and adapted from an article in America magazine October 2021. Follow the link to read it all. ‘My tortured God is not a God of death, but of new life’: Christmas is part of that paradox.

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Advent with CAFOD

We have received this invitation from CAFOD to join them in prayer and reflections through Advent.


Dear Will,  

Advent is just one week away, and we’d like to invite you to join us as we seek to draw closer to God and our global family, during this meaningful but often busy time.

Each day, in our Advent Calendar, we will be sharing Bible reflections, stories of our global neighbours, prayers and practical ideas for action, as we create a space to prepare for the coming of Christ. The calendar is live now if you’d like to begin to explore the resource.

Join us on this journey by signing up now for our Advent Calendar email reminders. 
 Sign up now
Why not also encourage your family and friends to sign up too and share this Advent journey with us?

Wishing you every blessing, as the Church year comes to a close,



Catherine Gorman
CAFOD Theology Team

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March 4th: Let us now praise famous women.

4 St Kyneburgha

In recent years Mrs T and I have only seen Peterborough Cathedral from the train. Modern ticketing make it difficult to break a journey for a minipilgrimage or just to stretch your legs. So let’s join Cathedral guide Ann Reynolds as she tells the story of Saint Kyneburgha, who helped found the monastery on this site in AD 653. England and Wales had many redoubtable women church leaders in those times: surely the DNA is still in our women’s veins?

This way for Ann Reynolds’s article. It’s a good read.

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28 September, Relics XXVIII: Treasures of Saint David’s.

One part of St David’s Cathedral did not feature in our armchair pilgrimage – the Treasury. Strange, that, since we do like things that help tell the Story of Creation and Salvation, but thanks to Crispin Paine who visited for Religion & Collections, we can put that right now.

Dr Paine pays this compliment: the Treasury is a selection of things chosen to tell the story. Click here to read his post.

What story do your treasures tell? This cushion is not in the Treasury, but like so many of St David’s treasures is just doing its job in the Cathedral. But it invites us to sit and be comfortable in God’s presence and reminds us of the heavenly Jerusalem to which we are bound, a country as lovely as Wales but with better weather for camping! Can someone identify the tune, perhaps?

A note about the Charter mentioned by Dr Paine: ‘the City status of St Davids, while having ecclesiastical roots going back for centuries, was granted to all of St Davids by HM the Queen by Royal Charter on 1st June 1995’, according to the City Council. This charter put things to rights after it was discovered that there was no record of a city charter ever being granted. Rochester in Kent, however, lost its city status in 1998, when the city council was merged with Gillingham, and does not look like getting it back any time soon. Yet Rochester was the second English city, founded by St Justus in 604.

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July 28: St Francis and the Slugs – a modern legend, II

One wet morning, St. Francis entered a garden, sat down on a bird bath and prayed silently. Then, looking up, he saw those creatures in the garden and he called, “My sister slugs, come here to me and listen to a word from God. A group of them immediately made their way towards him and came up to his feet. At this, the saint said, “Sister slugs, I command you to stop”, and they stopped and pricked up their eye stalks eagerly. Saint Francis addressed the creatures thus:

“Blessed are you, my sister slugs because you are models of true humility. You do not try to be high fliers like other creatures but cling to the earth. You do not try to be anything other than what you are. You do not protect yourselves with hard shells like your cousins the snails, but leave yourselves vulnerable in the open and offer yourselves as food to other creatures. You are despised by cleverer creatures because you are simple and so, rejoice, since God who made you loves you greatly.”

FMSL

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