Tag Archives: suffering

21 January: Church UnityWeek, Unusual Kindness IV

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This year’s reflections for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity were prepared by the Churches in Malta and Gozo. We are sharing elements of their prayers, but follow the link for the full resources for personal or community prayer.

Naturally, the Maltese Christians draw our attention to the story in Acts 27-28 of how Paul, a prisoner in chains, was among a group who survived being shipwrecked on Malta.

An angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, stood by me this night, saying: Fear not, Paul, thou must be brought before Caesar; and behold, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer; for I believe God that it shall so be, as it hath been told me.And we must come unto a certain island. (27:23-26)

Adrift

I am floating and at sea

Without direction and fearful of what lies ahead

I come to You, known and yet unknowing

Unfathomable God

Rising and falling

Without bearings

bring me to a safe haven

a place where I can begin

to hope again

to trust again

in You and others.

Prayer

Almighty God, our personal suffering leads us to cry out in pain and we shrink in fear when we experience sickness, anxiety or the death of loved ones.

Teach us to trust You. May the churches we belong to be signs of Your providential care. Make us true disciples of Your Son who taught us to listen to Your word and to serve one  another.

In confidence we ask this in the name of Your Son, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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9 January, Book Review: My book for Lent 2020, ‘It’s good to be here’.

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It’s Good To Be Here by Christina Chase

Review by Maurice Billingsley

Regular readers will remember the thought-provoking posts that our friend Christina Chase has allowed us to share from her own blog, which you can visit from the link. You will understand how I had been waiting to see this book, and I was by no means disappointed on reading it. Christina weaves autobiography and a profound incarnational theology with a love of language and clarity of expression. This will be my Lent book for 2020.

We were led, in my pre-Vatican II childhood, to look upon Jesus as the perfect human being: ‘Little children all must be / Mild, obedient, good as he.’ Our teachers apparently forgot that it was at his Transfiguration that the Apostles saw something more and Peter said, ‘It’s good to be here.’

There are those who would contradict Chase’s assertion that it is good for her to be here, since she is profoundly disabled – she readily uses the non-PC term ‘crippled’ – with a wasting disease that ought to have killed her years ago, and that renders her unable to feed, dress, or care for herself, depending on others for such needs.

But Christina has undergone her own transfiguration; this is her story. She had no need of a Franciscan stigmata, the wounded body was hers from birth, but she has had to come to terms with the human condition in her own self, with all the frustrations writ large. And so she can write: ‘The one astonishing fact of life is that suffering, like disease, war, murder, and abuse, cannot destroy the gift that God Almighty gives, because real love never fails.’ (p18) It’s good to be here; to be human here, as Christ was. After his Baptism, ‘He stood, rising to inhale deeply and shake the dripping wetness out of his hair and off of his drenched body.’ (p38)

And this from a woman who frequently finds breathing difficult, who cannot shake her head to dry her hair! This is not a book to buy out of pity for a ‘poor, disabled woman’, but for its deep insights into the divine light that wills to brighten our days. All our days. Christina’s vision is eternal: ‘What will life be like then?’ (p124) The glimmer of an answer is to be found in our earthly, earthy lives: it’s good to be here, breathing, getting wet, enjoying the sacrament of everyday in the wondrous life God has given us.

This will be my Lent book for 2020.

You can order it now from the publisher, Sophia Institute of New Hampshire, or  their UK agents, Gracewing, or via Amazon .

 

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5 January: To let go.

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Here is Thomas Merton in January 1966, writing from his snow-bound hermitage.* A challenge to us all to root our mission in our poverty; having first accepted that innate poverty as the norm.

In all these things I see one central option for me: to let go of all that seems to suggest getting somewhere, being someone, having a name and a voice, following a policy and directing people in ‘my’ ways. What matters is to love, to be in one place in silence, if necessary in suffering, sickness, tribulation, and not try to be anybody outwardly.

Yet daily we are encouraged to ‘get somewhere’ to be someone outwardly. Love can get pushed to the margins. We can get tied to policies, mission statements, and so on. Let go! 

Tomorrow we celebrate the uprooting of the Holy Family to go into suffering and tribulation. Merton had to let go in a different fashion to the man we hardly know: Joseph the carpenter.

  • Learning to Love, Journals Vol 6, Ed Christine M. Bochan, HarperCollins San Francisco 1999  p15

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14 November: Can a man be profitable to God?

In the Book of Job, 22, his friend, Eliphaz the Temanite says:

“Can a man be profitable to God?
Surely he who is wise is profitable to himself.
Is it any pleasure to the Almighty if you are in the right,
or is it gain to him if you make your ways blameless? “

Job’s comforters have a bad press, indeed Blake, who engraved our image calls them ‘tormentors’. But even if it’s the wrong time and place for it, Eliphaz has a point for us, if not for Job! As Rowan Williams puts it in his discussion on William Tyndale:

Any system of religious activity and thinking that tries to give us some leverage over God – I’ve never denied God a moment of my time, I hope he remembers that – such an attitude is poisonous to our faith. 

And

We create religious institutions that are designed to preserve that divine indebtedness to us, and while we are doing that, we largely ignore the concrete forms of indebtedness toward other human beings to which we should be attending.*

ALL IS GIFT!

Accept the gift of your life, accept that it is a gift, be thankful for every breath! God did not have to bring you into being, and if you suffer, remember that so too did Jesus, his Son. Suffering is shared by God.

Alfred Joyce Kilmer put it this way in his Prayer of a Soldier in France:

My shoulders ache beneath my pack 

(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back). 

Please follow this link to our post from July last year for the whole poem, written shortly before Kilmer’s death in battle. He concludes:

So let me render back again 

This millionth of Thy gift. Amen. 

The gift is the redemptive suffering of Jesus; allying our suffering to his is to set ourselves in sympathy with Jesus; so if personal suffering is a gift, that is because of how we receive it, endure it, live it: through him, with him and in him. Him being the one who prayed: O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. (Matthew 26:29)

Image from William Blake’s Illustrations for the Book of Job, via Wikipedia
* Rowan Williams:  Luminaries: Twenty lives that illuminate the Christian Way, London SPCK 2019. p54

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September 14: Before the Cross XXV: Cease to complain!

 

 

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This post is taken from The Imitation of Christ, Book 3, Chapter XIX. I am using the copy my late Aunt Margaret gave to my Grandmother Evelyn sometime in the late 1930s. 

What is it thou sayest, my son? Cease to complain, and consider my Passion, and that of the other Saints. Thou hast not yet resisted unto blood. (Hebrews 12.14)

Thou oughtest to call to mind the heaviest sufferings of others, that thou mayest the easier bear the very little things that thou sufferest. And if to thee they seem not little, take heed lest this also proceed from thy impatience. But whether  they be little or great, strive to bear them all with patience.

He is not a truly patient man who will suffer nothing, only so much as he shall think fit, and from whom he pleaseth. The truly patient man … how much soever and how often soever any adversity happeneth to him from any creature, he taketh it all equally with thanksgiving as from the hand of God, and esteemeth it a great gain. For with God not anything, how trifling soever, suffered for God’s sake, shall go unrewarded …

Make, O Lord, that possible to me by grace, which seemeth impossible to me by nature. Thou knowest how little I can bear, and that I am soon dejected when a small adversity ariseth. Let all exercises of tribulation become lovely and most desirable to me for thy Name’s sake, for to suffer and be afflicted for Thee is very healthful for my soul.

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There is scriptural foundation for the Imitation’s position on accepting suffering: Here for instance is Ben Sirach, otherwise known as Ecclesiasticus, a late Jewish wisdom writer. (Ch2:3-10).

Wait on God with patience: join thyself to God, and endure, that thy life may be increased in the latter end. Take all that shall be brought upon thee: and in thy sorrow endure, and in thy humiliation keep patience. For gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of humiliation. Believe God, and he will recover thee: and direct thy way, and trust in him. Keep his fear, and grow old therein. Ye that fear the Lord, wait for his mercy: and go not aside from him, lest ye fall. Ye that fear the Lord, believe him: and your reward shall not be made void. Ye that fear the Lord, hope in him: and mercy shall come to you for your delight.  Ye that fear the Lord, love him, and your hearts shall be enlightened.

And here is Jesus in Luke 6:27-29:

But I say to you that hear: Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you. Bless them that curse you, and pray for them that calumniate you. And to him that striketh thee on the one cheek, offer also the other. And him that taketh away from thee thy cloak, forbid not to take thy coat also.

Nana’s little copy of the Imitation  was well thumbed and  could really  do with some repairs  to the cover. She had a great devotion to Christ crucified. Nana knew many trials in her life, but was a source of strength and fun to us, her grandchildren. (MMB)

 

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9 September: A Pilgrim from a distant land.

 

flight.egypt.amsterdam

Another extract from Maria Montessori’s ‘The Child in the Family’. Mary and Joseph had to treat Jesus in a less than ideal way, born in a stable, then a quick flight into Egypt. Parents should not feel too guilty if all is not ideal when the baby is born. But we should all feel guilty that we do too little to help and receive so many babies, such as those born every day,to start their lives as refugees.

At birth [the infant] is ejected from his home [in the womb] to live in the air. Without the least transition, he is pushed from perfect repose to the exhausting work of being born. His body is crushed almost as if he had passed between two millstones, and he comes to us wounded, like a pilgrim who has journeyed from a distant land.

Death, like birth, is a law of nature, and one to which we must all submit. Why do we seek to ease that terrible moment of death in every possible way? Why, knowing that we cannot conquer death, do we at least want to render it less painful? Yet we never think to alleviate the suffering of birth. But what do we do to help and receive him?

Maria Montessori, ‘The Child in the Family, London, Pan, 1970, pp20-21.

 

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28 March. Before the Cross XIV, Conform me to your likeness, Lord.

It’s always a joy to receive a post from Christina Chase. Here is her contribution to our season of reflections ‘Before the Cross’.

Meditation upon a crucifix,

remembering an image at Ste. Anne de Beaupré

of Christ with St. Francis of Assisi,

while having my bedroom wall crucifix in sight

Christina.cross1

Conform me to your likeness, Lord.

Arms for work, so strong and sure,

are not dependable

unless they’re open wide in love.

They cannot hold dear wisdom close

or carry souls in need,

they cannot lift the sobbing low to soaring heights of joy,

until they’re held and pinioned fast

by love’s relinquishing embrace.

Conform me to your likeness, Lord.

Legs of strength, so swift and free,

are but weak and purposeless

unless they run the endless race of love’s pursuit

and stand upon the heart of God —

for flight is stronger, swifter, freer, when nailed down

into the power of love.

Conform me to your likeness, Lord!

See me, here, little and lacking,

my own body twisted thin,

limbs immobile, lungs slowly failing.

Teach me, Lord, mould me, shape me,

move me in your stillness

with emulating love,

tell me from the silence

of the Cross that you love me,

and I will be able to go every where that you are.

© 2019 Christina Chase
Christina.cross2

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March 24: Before the Cross XI: The Truest Love of All

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If clouds of doubt should ever fall,

A fog so thick that I should cry:

Is this the truest love of all –

Where men still suffer, bleed and die?

A quiet voice might ask of me

What other love I thought so true

What greater, deeper love I see

More heartfelt than the God I knew?

 

See there, beside the poor and weak,

Among the broken, there, he stands,

And with the voiceless, there to speak

With grieving heart and nail-pierced hands.

Abandoned once by dearest friends,

He meets the lonely, brings them near,

His mercy and gentle presence mends

Souls bound by bitterness and fear.

 

And he would show me in my prayer,

His woundedness, his cross, his shame:

The truest love of all was there –

There, even there, he knew my name.

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29 December: The Suffering of the Innocents

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Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury

There is nothing so devastating to bear as the suffering of children or animals, but it is no good letting oneself be made hopeless and helpless with sorrow. I often wonder how Our Lord’s Mother got through the time of the massacre of the Holy Innocents, which all came about really because of Him! What could she do? All she could do was what she did with regard to the doubt of S. Joseph and all else, just be silent and trust.

pieta.wfThat is all you or I can do. We know that the idea of making a little child stumble drew from Our Lord the most burning words of condemnation he ever spoke, and that, somehow or other, the little one’s suffering is also the suffering of the Babe of Bethlehem, and the Divine Life is inextricably bound up with our human life and our sufferings are really also His. It is a mystery which we cannot explain, and the best i can do is to help you or me or any other perplexed person to go without an explanation, to trust God’s love where we cannot trace his purpose.

Father Andrew SDC.

The life and Letters of Father Andrew, London, Mowbray, 1948, pp 245-246.

Pieta from Missionaries of Africa

 

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November 10: Remembering

poppy.OTTfigure

I came across this little Staffordshire souvenir figure under a church war memorial last November. A hundred years on, it’s difficult to understand who would design such an ornament, or who would have bought it. As boys I remember us getting more run-of-the-mill designs for my mother’s collection, but we once gave her a Great War tank model, not thinking of the loss of life and all the human suffering it represented.

But what does this figure represent, other than a present from Bishop’s Stortford? Is the soldier a killer or a victim? Brave or resigned, or hoping for a ‘Blighty’ wound to get himself sent home for a month or two? Did it remind its first owner of a loved one lost? And how did it feel to see it if you were a returned front-line soldier, after the War? Pure white was not very often seen amid Flanders mud.

Caught in that moment when he goes Over The Top to kill or be killed: how do we bring this to God? This is not man-for-man fighting – the machine gun that may get him will be many yards away, and unless it comes to bayonets he won’t see the one he kills.

Perhaps it is fitting to put him down, as the parishioners did, in front of the Cross on the War Memorial; without a word, with the poppies around him.

What can we say? With our current weaponry we have no right to feel morally superior. Piloting deadly drones from hundreds of miles away or threatening to press the red button; or indeed having others do so in our name: lives on ‘our side’ are not at risk as those going over the top were.

Father forgive us for we do not want to know what we do.

 

 

 

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