Tag Archives: suffering

15 October, Little Flowers of Saint Francis LXXXVI: that exceeding love.

Cross in cave at Zakopane, Poland; Greyfriars’ chapel, Canterbury.

Saint Francis caused the book of the Gospels to be brought unto him; for God had put it in his mind that, by the opening of the book of the Gospels three times, that which it was the will of God to do unto him should be revealed. And, when the book was brought unto him, St. Francis betook himself to prayer; and, when he had finished his prayer, he caused the book to be opened three times by the hand of Friar Leo, in the name of the Most Holy Trinity; and, as it pleased the Divine Providence, in those three times ever there appeared before him the Passion of Christ.

The next day came, to wit the day of the most Holy Cross, and St. Francis, betimes in the morning, or ever it was day, betook himself to prayer before the entrance of his cell, and turning his face towards the East, prayed after this manner: “O my Lord Jesus Christ, two graces do I beseech Thee to grant me before I die: the first, that, during my lifetime, I may feel in my soul and in my body, so far as may be possible, that pain which Thou, sweet Lord, didst suffer in the hour of Thy most bitter passion; the second is that I may feel in my heart, so far as may be possible, that exceeding love, whereby Thou, Son of God, wast enkindled to willingly bear such passion for us sinners”.

And, when he had continued long time in this prayer, he knew that God would hear him, and that, as far as was possible for a mere creature, so far would it be granted to him to feel the aforesaid things. Having this promise, St. Francis began to contemplate with very great devotion the Passion of Christ and His infinite charity.

We were celebrating the Season of Creation during September, so these posts are about a month later than the events they record.

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11 October, John XXIII: I live and suffer willingly.

In 1927 then-Bishop Angelo Roncalli was Pope Pius XI’s representative in the predominantly Orthodox kingdom of Bulgaria. As there were very few Catholics in the country, it was largely his responsibility to organise and unite the Church, scattered as it was in small groups in far-flung districts, travelling often on poor roads, beset with bandits. Roncalli was often lonely and in danger; he was regarded with suspicion when he first arrived. He wrote to a priest friend:

It is not that the reasons for my troubled mind last year have ceased to exist; no, they are all still there, almost as powerful as before. But I found a reason for life and a reason for suffering; and so I live and suffer willingly…

From the outset of my episcopacy I have recited one of the prayers of the Exercises of Saint Ignatius, and I still say it. Well, one morning when I was suffering more than usual, I became aware that my state indicated precisely that my prayer had been granted.

Receive, O Lord, my whole liberty,
receive my memory, my intelligence,
and all my will.
All that I have and possess
was given to me by you,
I give it back to you entirely.
Do with it as you will.

Give me only thy love with thy grace
and I am rich enough
and ask for nothing more.

From John XXIII by Leone Algisi, Catholic Book Club 1966, p77.

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15 July: An energetic life.

A kneeler at Aberdaron church, Wales, where the poet RS Thomas was parish priest.

In another age, in another life, Thomas Traherne might have made a monk. In another age, in another life, another Thomas found his vocation as a Cistercian monk and writer. That’s how it was beginning to look in 1947 when Merton wrote the following journal entry. The message of the kneeler above contrasts with Traherne’s message in the last two days, ‘The soul is made for action, and cannot rest till it be employed’; at least superficially. But Traherne was also counselling the practice of meditation which begins with stillness. How that is achieved depends on the individual to a great extent; the fact that I came to stillness when cutting the grass was not appreciated by all my superiors… Over to Merton, who had chosen, been called to, a life of silence but not necessarily one of stillness.

The Cistercian life is energetic. There are tides of vitality running through the whole community that generate energy even in people who are lazy… We go out to work like a college football team taking the field.

Trappists believe that everything that costs them is God’s will. Anything that makes you suffer is God’s will. If it makes you sweat, it is God’s will. But we have serious doubts about the things which demand no expense of physical energy. Are they really the will of God? Hardly! …

If we want something, we can easily persuade ourselves that what we want is God’s will just as long as it turns out to be difficult to obtain.

Reading the two Thomases together, I wonder that any of us ever find any stillness in modern life. I no longer have access to a big, noisy, green, ride-on mower. But I do have the garden to turn to: news from there tomorrow.

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23 June, Today this is my vocation, IX: Practise the humble works.

This book was given to my grandmother by my aunt who predeceased her.

Today’s post is from The Imitation of Christ, chapter LI. I thought we might look at a traditional work on the Christian life while developing the subject of ‘my vocation today’. Any of us who carry out even the most cursory examination of conscience know only too well that we must bear the burden of this daily life and suffer weariness and heaviness of heart. And there just is not the time or opportunity to give myself unceasingly to spiritual exercises and divine contemplation. Someone has to do the necessary tasks around the home or go out to work to be able to feed the family. It can get to be drudgery at times, but let’s get on with our humble, outward works, and Christ will come to us and give us peace among the cooking, gardening, washing and nappy-changing; and in the toils of work that is not always fun.

The Imitation imagines what we could hear from

THE VOICE OF CHRIST

MY CHILD, you cannot always continue in the more fervent desire of virtue, or remain in the higher stage of contemplation, but because of humanity’s sin you must sometimes descend to lower things and bear the burden of this corruptible life, albeit unwillingly and wearily.

As long as you wear a mortal body you will suffer weariness and heaviness of heart. You ought, therefore, to bewail in the flesh the burden of the flesh which keeps you from giving yourself unceasingly to spiritual exercises and divine contemplation.

In such condition, it is well for you to apply yourself to humble, outward works and to refresh yourself in good deeds, to await with unshaken confidence My heavenly visitation, patiently to bear your exile and dryness of mind until you are again visited by Me and freed of all anxieties. For I will cause you to forget your labours and to enjoy inward quiet. I will spread before you the open fields of the Scriptures, so that with an open heart you may begin to advance in the way of My commandments. And you will say: the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the future glory which shall be revealed to us.

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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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30 April: Make me wise, Traherne XL.

Traherne is addressing Christ directly in this passage, acknowledging and rejoicing in his closeness to Christ, accepting that suffering unites Men – he of course means men and women – and Christ, now suffering on the cross for me.

What shall I do for Thee, O Thou preserver of Men?

Live, Love, and Admire; and learn to become such unto Thee as Thou unto me. O Glorious Soul; whose comprehensive
understanding at once contains all Kingdoms and Ages! O Glorious Mind! Whose love extendeth to all creatures! O miraculous and eternal Godhead, now suffering on the cross for me: As Abraham saw thy Day and was glad, so didst Thou see me and this Day from all Eternity, and seeing me wast Gracious and Compassionate towards me. (All transient things are permanent in God.) Thou settest me before Thy face forever. O let me this day see Thee, and be united to Thee in Thy Holy Sufferings. Let me learn, O God, such lessons from Thee, as may make me wise, and blessed as an Angel of GOD!

First Century 62.

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29 April: Our Jacob’s ladder, Traherne XXXIX

More Eastertide reflections from Thomas Traherne, Who makes the bold claim, ‘he was the son of God as you are’, but he was heir of the whole world’, meaning the whole of creation. As with all of Traherne, the passage repays slow, repeated reading.

The Cross of Christ is the Jacob’s ladder by which we ascend into the highest heavens.

There we see joyful Patriarchs, expecting Saints, Prophets ministering, Apostles publishing, and Doctors teaching, all Nations concentering, and Angels praising. That Cross is a tree set on fire with invisible flame, that Illuminateth all the world. The flame is Love: the Love in His bosom who died on it. In the light of which we see how to possess all the things in Heaven and Earth after His similitude. For He that suffered on it was the Son of God as you are: tho’ He seemed only a mortal man. He had acquaintance and relations as you have, but He was a lover of Men and Angels. Was he not the Son of God; and Heir of the whole world?


To this poor, bleeding, naked Man did all the corn and wine, and oil, and gold and silver in the world minister in an invisible manner, even as He was exposed lying and dying upon the Cross.

See also Francis Thompson on Jacob’s ladder.

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28 March: Palm Sunday

Vandalised altar piece, Saint David’s Cathedral.
All they that saw me have laughed me to scorn: they have spoken with the lips, and wagged the head.
He hoped in the Lord, let him deliver him: let him save him, seeing he delighteth in him. 
For many dogs have encompassed me: the council of the malignant hath besieged me. 
They have dug my hands and feet. They have numbered all my bones. 
And they have looked and stared upon me. 
They parted my garments amongst them; and upon my vesture they cast lots. 
But thou, O Lord, remove not thy help to a distance from me; look towards my defence. 
I will declare thy name to my brethren: in the midst of the church will I praise thee. 
Ye that fear the Lord, praise him: all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him.

Ps 22: 8-9; 17-20; 23-24.

In today’s Psalm it is clear that the malignant have set out to humiliate the writer. Stepping into his shoes for the moment, I think of moments when I’ve been in trouble, usually with other boys. Which was worse on these occasions – to be stared at silently by authority, or to be ignored while he or she finished the work on the desk before them? Either way, this was a theatrical act to arouse fear in the culprits.

But here authority goes further, parting the writer’s clothing, treating it like a set of raffle prizes, and leaving him naked, to be stared at. If they’d had electricity we can be sure they would have turned the floodlights on him, arousing even more primal fear.

And yet – ‘I will declare thy name to my brethren: in the midst of the church will I praise thee.’ So went the martyrs, singing and praising God to the scaffold, like William Richardson last month. They were following Jesus, confident that he would lead them through the Valley of Death that he had conquered. The martyrs witnessed to the truth of love and the love of truth. Neither Love nor Truth were conquered on Calvary.

But the suffering and death were real. We should not insulate ourselves from that, from the flesh and blood of Jesus that was ‘ill-used’, as perhaps those who defaced this altar piece were trying to do. Rather we must accept to carry each our own daily cross and follow him, declaring his name to our brethren.

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Pope Francis goes to Ur of the Chaldees

This is an extract from an article by Dominique Greiner, editor in chief of Croire-La Croix.

Pope Francis is due to visit Iraq from today.

Pope Francis’s journey has a strong interfaith element. It’s notable that he is going to Ur, the tradition starting point for the journey of Abraham the common patriarch of the three great monotheisms. Those who claim him as such cannot but recognise each other as brothers and sisters, and work together for the future of their country. This call to fraternity is an invitation not to remain prisoners of the sufferings of the past and to work for the material and spiritual rebirth of Iraq. It is a call which goes out to us too.

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23 January: Week of Prayer for Church Unity, Day VI, Welcoming Others.

Strasbourg Cathedral

“Go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” John 15:16

Genesis 18:1-5 Abraham hosts the angels at the Oak of Mamre

Mark 6:30-44 Jesus’ compassion for the crowds

Meditation

When we let ourselves be transformed by Christ, his love in us grows and bears fruit. Welcoming the other is a concrete way of sharing the love that is within us. Throughout his life, Jesus welcomed those he met. He listened to them and let himself be touched by them without being afraid of their suffering.

In the gospel account of the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus is moved with compassion after seeing the hungry crowd. He knows that the entire human person must be nourished, and that he alone can truly satisfy the hunger for bread and the thirst for life. But he does not wish to do this without his disciples, without that little something they can give him: five loaves and two fish.

Even today he draws us to be co-workers in his unconditional care. Sometimes something as small as a kind look, an open ear, or our presence is enough to make a person feel welcome. When we offer our poor abilities to Jesus, he uses them in a surprising way. We then experience what Abraham did, for it is by giving that we receive, and when we welcome others, we are blessed in abundance.

“It is Christ himself whom we receive in a guest.”

[The rule of Taizé in French and English (2012) p. 103]

“Will the people we welcome day after day find in us men and women radiant with Christ, our peace?”

[The Sources of Taizé (2000) p. 60]

Prayer

Jesus Christ, we desire to welcome fully
 the brothers and sisters who are with us. 
You know how often we feel helpless in the face of their suffering, 
yet you are always there ahead of us 
and you have already received them in your compassion. 
Speak to them through our words, 
support them through our actions, 
and let your blessing rest on us all.

Questions

  • When you meet new people do they find you “radiant with Christ”?
  • As we pray together for greater unity how are we showing Christ’s welcome to other Christians?
  • What are people hungry for in your community?

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