Tag Archives: suffering

5 June, Praying with Pope Francis: The Way of the Heart.

Pope Francis’s prayer intention for this month is:

May all those who suffer find their calling in life and allow themselves to be touched by the heart of Jesus.

I invited Christina Chase to share this reflection; Thank you Christina for offering it to Agnellus’ Mirror. Will.

Suffering is something that people complain about far and wide. As a Catholic, however, I have heard people speak about the gift of suffering. Those people look at me, a faithful, joyful, uncomplaining person crippled and crumpled in my wheelchair, and they believe that I have been given this gift by God. I am a believing and practicing Catholic, through and through, but I don’t believe what those well-meaning, goodhearted people seem to believe.

I don’t believe in the gift of suffering.

I believe in the gift of life.

I believe profoundly and unconditionally in the absolute and terribly beautiful gift of life.

Life naturally includes limitations, imperfections, and hardships — life naturally includes suffering. Everyone who has received the gift of life will suffer at one time or another, or even chronically.

But we don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, do we?

© 2019 Christina Chase

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Going viral XIX: Where is God?

It was a headline in another website: ‘Where is God in a pandemic?’ followed by ‘We don’t know, but can you believe in a God that you don’t understand?’

I wonder, can I believe in a God that I do understand? S/He would hardly be a God – or a god – if I could understand him or her! Faith seeks understanding, says Saint Anselm, faith does not depend on understanding.

The Passion – that is, the life and death of Jesus – tells us that God is here in our suffering as he is in our joys. We pray for all suffering from illness, those caring for them in any way, and those who have been bereaved, and all who have died.

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March 25: Rejoice!

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Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favour!

Luke 1:28

These are the words spoken by the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary when he first appears to her at the annunciation. He commands: “Rejoice!” In a fallen world, where her holy Child will suffer, where he will die, in a world which will never easily or fully accept the story now beginning to unfold before the young woman’s eyes, and in which her own role will be very nearly as dangerous, crucial and sorrowful as the Messiah’s own role, in this circumstance Mary is commanded by a heavenly messenger to rejoice.

Doesn’t this raise an important issue for us, the faithful? It is easy to dismiss these words, and not allow their full impact to echo in our mind. It is easy to see them as applying to the Mother of Jesus, but not to us. But her joy should be ours. Why isn’t it?

There is a rather punitive undertow to received spirituality that is suspicious of joy, that labels Christian joy out of touch with reality, insufficiently engaged with the world’s suffering victims of poverty, disease, hunger, disaster, war, injustice. That says accusingly, ‘The Messiah has not eliminated any sufferings. What good is he? Why rejoice?’

Yet the angel commands the young Mary to rejoice. He doesn’t merely invite, or suggest. His words are much stronger than that. He utters a divine injunction, a non-negotiable absolute. He is an angel, after all. He can’t be wrong about this. He knows what he is doing and saying. Let this fact settle for a moment or two.

Doesn’t this divine imperative to rejoice, therefore, release something in the heart? Isn’t this truly Good News? The Angel Gabriel not only commands that Mary rejoice, he commands us to do so, also. And in so doing, He gives us permission to release that joy which is hidden in our heart, always just below the surface, always wanting to come out, and which our lugubrious self is always scolding back into hiding. But, just for a moment now, allow this joy to surface. Now, see where it takes you.

SJC

Sister Johanna has returned like a breath of fresh air! Can we whisper an alleluia in Lent? REJOICE anyway!

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23 February: Cardinal Lavigerie’s Campaign against Slavery, 2.

Pope Leo XIII

Fr Lourdel became influential at the royal court of Buganda, the main kingdom of what would shortly become the British protectorate of Uganda. He and the other missionaries, including the Protestant Alexander Mackay, would successfully lobby King Mwanga to have the abolition of slavery and freedom of religion enshrined in the treaty he signed with Great Britain in 1890.

Slavery was not a matter of abstract theology. Pope and cardinal were well aware of the real flesh and blood suffering and determined to bring it to an end. Lavigerie therefore left his diocese of Algiers and travelled through Europe, stirring up support for justice towards the victims of violence and abuse.

Instead of returning to Africa, I am going to Paris, not to ask for funds, but rather to finally tell what I know about the crimes without name which are destroying the interior of our Africa, and then to let out a great cry, one of those cries which shakes up to the bottom of the soul, of all that is still worthy the name of man and Christian in the world. What I have to do is nothing other than bringing into the light what Leo XIII has just written about African slavery.”

In his encyclical In Plurimis of 1888, Pope Leo welcomed the abolition of slavery in Brazil. He reiterated how Jesus had come to set the captives free, and how the popes, from Saint Gregory the Great onwards had urged the breaking of the chains of slavery to restore all men and women to the dignity God intended. Leo made clear that, ‘The system [of slavery] is one which is wholly opposed to that which was originally ordained by God and by nature.’ He rejected outright the theory that some people were born inferior and so could be legally and morally enslaved.

This excuse had been used down the centuries from pre-Christian times to the conquistadores in Latin America; it was how the Portuguese had justified slavery in Brazil and the Spanish in the rest of the continent, and its poison can still be felt in racist attitudes today. Pope Leo made clear that from Saint Paul onwards the Church had striven to put an end to slavery. However, human greed, as well as war had caused it to linger in Christian as well as Muslim lands until the 19th century when the successors of Columbus were still avariciously abusing Africans as well as Indians in the Caribbean and Central and South America.

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20 February. Little Flowers LXVII: Brother John’s journey 3: Dost thou not remember?

Croix Rousse large

It is not our merits that win us eternal life, but God’s mercy that is greater than all the sins of the world, something even the saintly Brother John needs reminding of in his last illness, which was mentally as well as physically distressing and painful. But the One who was crucified is the resurrection and the life; Brother John’s suffering was the gate to his eternal life.

In his last illness, Brother John dreamt that a devil stood before him with a great scroll, whereon were written all the sins that he had ever done or thought, and said to him: “For these sins that thou hast done in thought, word, and deed, art thou damned to the depths of hell,” And he could not call to mind any good deed that he had ever done, either in the Order or elsewhere, and so he thought that he was damned, even as the devil said.

Wherefore, if any asked him how he fared, he would answer: “I am damned.” Seeing this, the brothers sent for an aged brother called Brother Matthew of Monte Rubbiano, the which was a holy man and a close friend of this Brother John ; and Brother Matthew coming to him on the seventh day of his trouble, saluted him and asked him how he fared. He replied that he fared ill, sith he was damned.

Then quoth Brother Matthew: “Dost thou not remember how thou hast oftentimes confessed thyself to me, and I have wholly absolved thee of all thy sins? Dost thou not remember also that thou hast served God continuously in this holy Order many years? Besides, dost thou not remember that the mercy of God is greater than all the sins of the world, and that the blessed Christ, our Saviour, paid an infinite price for our redemption? Wherefore be of good hope that of a surety thou art saved ”; with these words, since the time of his purification was accomplished, the temptation left him, and he was comforted.

strasbg.harrowhell (505x394)

And with great joy Brother John spake unto Brother Matthew : “Since thou art wearied and the hour is late, I pray thee go and rest thyself”; and Brother Matthew was loth to leave him ; but at length, at his much urging, he left him and went to lie down, and Brother John remained alone with a brother that did him service. And behold Christ, the blessed One, came with great splendour and with fragrance of exceeding sweetness, even as He had promised to appear to him a second time when his need was greater, and He healed him thoroughly of all his sickness. Then Brother John with hands clasped gave thanks unto God that he had made so good an end of the Jong journey of this miserable life, coming from this mortal life unto life eternal with Christ, the blessed One, whom he had so long desired and waited to behold.

And the said Brother John rests in the convent of La Penna of Saint John.

Cross by Constantina Wood;

Christ leading Adam and Eve out of Hell, Strasbourg Cathedral

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19 February. Little Flowers LXVI: Brother John’s journey, 2.

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As Brother John was praying devoutly one day, and weeping and lamenting that his life’s pilgrimage was so much prolonged, there appeared unto him Christ, the blessed One, and spake thus unto him: “My son, Brother John, ask of me whatsoever thou wilt”; and he replied : “My Lord, naught do I desire save Thee: but for this alone do I pray Thee, that Thou forgive me all my sins, and grant me grace to see Thee yet another time, when I have the greater need thereof.” Jesu said: “Thy prayer is granted.” And He was away, and Brother John remained altogether comforted.

At length, the brothers of the March hearing of the fame of his sanctity, prevailed with the General to bid him by holy obedience return to the March and he receiving this obedience, set out joyfully on his way, bethinking him that, done this journey, he needs would go to heaven, according to the promise of Christ, But when he had returned to the Province of the March, lie lived therein for thirty years.
Brother John, who was a man of cheerful and tranquil mind, spake but seldom, and was much given to prayer and devotion, and above all after Matins he would not return to his cell, but would continue in prayer in the church until daylight. While he was thus praying one night after Matins, the Angel of God appeared unto him, saying: “Brother John, now is finished thy journey, for the which thou hast waited so long; wherefore, in the name of God, I announce unto thee that thou mayest ask whatsoever grace thou wilt. And likewise I announce unto thee that thou mayest choose which thou wilt, — one day in Purgatory, or seven days’ pain on earth.”

And Brother John choosing rather the seven days’ pain on earth, straightway fell sick of divers infirmities; for a grievous fever seized him, and gout in his hands and his feet, and pains in his side, and many other ills but what was more grievous to him was that a devil stood before him and held in his hand a great scroll, whereon were written all the sins that he had ever done or thought, and said to him: “For these sins that thou hast done in thought, word, and deed, art thou damned to the depths of hell,” And he could not call to mind any good deed that he had ever done, either in the Order or elsewhere, and so he thought that he was damned, even as the devil said.

Here is Brother John’s vulnerability again, taking the devil’s word literally. I wonder if he’d be classed as autistic today, but clearly, to an onlooker, he is suffering from the temptation to despair over his own misdeeds. Tomorrow comes a friend-in-need.

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13 February, Little Flowers LXIII, Brother Conrad’s Prayers.

cross.st.nick.cathedral

A while after his conversion the youth aforesaid died, sith it was the will of God; whereof the said brothers were sore grieving; and a few days after his death his soul appeared unto Brother Conrad as he was devoutly praying before the altar, and saluted him devoutly as a father; and Brother Conrad asked him; “Who art thou?” He answered: “I am the soul of that young brother that died in these days,” Quoth Brother Conrad: “0 my son most dear, how is it with thee?” He answered: “By the grace of God and your admonishments, it is well; seeing that I am not damned, but for certain of my sins, whereof I had not time sufficiently to purge me, I suffer the grievous pains of Purgatory: but I pray thee, father, that even as of thy pity thou didst succour me whilst yet I lived, so now thou wilt be pleased to help me in my pains, saying a Paternoster for me; sith thy prayer is much acceptable in the sight of God.”

Then Brother Conrad consenting gently unto his prayers, and saying the Paternoster once for him and the Requiem Æternam, quoth that soul: “O father most dear, what blessedness and sweet refreshment do I feel! I pray thee that thou say it once again.” And Brother Conrad said it: and when that it was said, quoth the soul: “Holy father, when thou prayest for me I feel my pains assuaged; wherefore I do beseech thee that thou cease not praying for me.”

Brother Conrad, seeing that this soul was so much helped by his prayers, said for him a hundred Paternosters; and when that they were said, quoth the soul; “I thank thee, father most dear, in the name of God, for the love that thou hast shown me; for through thy prayers am I set free from all my pains, and now am I going to the celestial kingdom” and this said, the soul was away. Then Brother Conrad, for to give joy and comfort to the brethren, told them this vision in order. And thus the soul of that youth went to Paradise through the merits of Brother Conrad

We will reflect on this story tomorrow.

WT

 

 

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11 February: World Day of the Sick

francis.sick.blessing

The Catholic Church marks the Day of the Sick on 11 February, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.  The theme this year is “Come to me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28).

In his message, * Pope Francis  says that the mercy and comforting presence of Jesus embraces people in their entirety whatever their health condition, discarding no one, but rather inviting everyone to share in His life and to experience His tender love.

Jesus Himself became frail, endured human suffering and received comfort from His Father.  Only those who personally experience suffering  are able to comfort others. “What is needed is a personalized approach to the sick, not just of curing but also of caring, in view of an integral human healing.”

In addition to therapy and support they expect care and attention – “In a word, love”.  “At the side of every sick person, there is also a family, which itself suffers and is in need of support and comfort.”

Those who are sick, the Pope says, attract the eyes and heart of Jesus. “The Church desires to become more and more the “inn” of the Good Samaritan who is Christ (Luke 10:34), that is, a home where you can encounter His grace, which finds expression in closeness, acceptance and relief.”

As men and women with their own frailties and illnesses, healthcare workers show how true it is that “once Christ’s comfort and rest is received, we are called in turn to become rest and comfort for our brothers and sisters.”

*Follow the link to the original Vatican News article.

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21 January: Church UnityWeek, Unusual Kindness IV

misericord.boat.st.davids

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’.

christina cover.jpg

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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