Tag Archives: tears

29 April: The deaths of Gerontius and others

Passion flowers speak of the resurrection

A little while ago on BBC Radio the composer, Sir James MacMillan, was discussing Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, based on Saint John Henry Newman’s poem. In his exploration of the oratorio he recalled his experiences as a young altar server, experiences I could share. Gerontius, he said, lays out the Catholic attitude to death and the world to come in ‘most beautiful music’.

He and I, in Scotland and England, served at funerals where there were many mourners, and in a few cases where there were one or two, even none; so many of our fellow Catholics then had left home and family to come to the United Kingdom. (Thank God for today’s regular parish midday Mass in Canterbury, where there is always a good-sized congregation to support the bereaved!)

Most of the people Sir James and I helped to bury would have been hurt by the Second World War, and knew suffering and death intimately. Loss of faith and friends, great sorrow, compounded in this new bereavement. The First World War had undermined Elgar’s faith, said MacMillan, yet he still composed this searingly beautiful music, giving form to the feelings of mourners.

Children had been more aware of death, even in the 1950s and 1960s. I can see myself, holding the processional cross beside an open grave, as a red-headed Irishman, tears streaming down his face, laid to rest the tiny coffin of his twin babies.

It’s no use saying I should have been protected, prevented from witnessing that. I disagree: I am sure Fr MacDermott was wise to ask me to serve, to represent the Church, the body of the second Adam, the Crucified whose image I was carrying. Far rather having to cope with that intimate vision than the callous slaughter of the innocent of Ukraine.

The hymn ‘Praise to the Holiest in the height’ is taken from the Dream of Gerontius; the oratorio can be found on Youtube.

1 Praise to the Holiest in the height,
and in the depth be praise:
in all his words most wonderful,
most sure in all his ways.

2 O loving wisdom of our God!
When all was sin and shame,
a second Adam to the fight
and to the rescue came.

3 O wisest love! that flesh and blood,
which did in Adam fail,
should strive afresh against the foe,
should strive and should prevail;

4 And that a higher gift than grace
should flesh and blood refine,
God’s presence and his very self,
and essence all-divine.

5 O generous love! that he, who smote
in Man for man the foe,
the double agony in Man
for man should undergo;

6 And in the garden secretly,
and on the cross on high,
should teach his brethren, and inspire
to suffer and to die.

7 Praise to the Holiest in the height,
and in the depth be praise:
in all his words most wonderful,
most sure in all his ways.

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10 April: Palm Sunday, The Passion and I.

Good Friday

Am I a stone and not a sheep
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy Cross,
To number drop by drop Thy Blood's slow loss,
And yet not weep?

 Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;
 Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon,--
I, only I.

 Yet give not o'er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

Christina Rossetti

This post card was sent home by a man who himself never came home from the Great War. Ironically, it was produced in Munich, sent home to Manchester from Poperinghe in Belgium, and saved by the recipient and her descendants.

Christina Rossetti puts herself with Mary, Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene and other women who stood weeping, next to the Cross, owning a lack of tears on her own part. Poetic licence, I feel. Her heart in this poem is full of sorrow and self-accusation, but she is also repentant, asking God to strike her stony heart, as he commanded Moses to strike to rock in the desert:

“Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” (Exodus 17:1-7).

If the Lord makes our hearts run with tears, whether physical or inner tears, will we give the people living water to drink?

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24 November: The Stars of Heaven, Creation XXXV

Image from NASA
He in the evening, when on high 
The stars shine in the silent sky, 
Beholds th' eternal flames with mirth, 
And globes of light more large than Earth; 
Then weeps for joy, and through his tears 
Looks on the fire-enamell'd spheres, 
Where with his Saviour he would be 
Lifted above mortality. 
Meanwhile the golden stars do set, 
And the slow pilgrim leave all wet 
With his own tears, which flow so fast 
They make his sleeps light, and soon past. 

from Poems of Henry Vaughan, Silurist, Volume II via Kindle

Eddie was writing about the stars yesterday, so an opportunity presents to complement his reflection with a poem. I was talking to a friend who had been moved to tears by a television drama, and remarked that certain saints had written of 'the gift of tears'. My friend was grateful that the fountain had welled up within her. 

Here we have a 17th Century poet, writing in English though living in Wales. He was twenty years old when Galileo died. Science did not erode his faith but enhanced it, intellectually and emotionally, the sight of the 'fire-enamell'd spheres' moving him to tears of awe at creation.

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18 August: The Virgin Mary to the Child Jesus, IV.

Elham Church, Kent, with Easter lilies.

Our final selection from EBB’s verses on The Virgin Mary to the Child Jesus. I disagree with the poet’s suggestion that Jesus never smiled, nor had the heart to play: that’s not a real human child, unless one that has learned not to through cruelty. Perhaps the poet is suggesting that Jesus in his earthly, human life had access to divine knowledge of his death by cruelty. That is to deny his humanity altogether. But we can no longer interview Barrett Browning, and we know that Simeon told Mary that a sword would pierce her heart, and she would have pondered these things in her heart.

XI.
It is enough to bear
This image still and fair,
This holier in sleep
Than a saint at prayer,
This aspect of a child
Who never sinned or smiled;
This Presence in an infant's face;
This sadness most like love,
This love than love more deep,
This weakness like omnipotence 
It is so strong to move.
Awful is this watching place,
Awful what I see from hence—
A king, without regalia,
A God, without the thunder,
A child, without the heart for play;
Ay, a Creator, rent asunder
From His first glory and cast away
On His own world, for me alone
To hold in hands created, crying—Son!
XII.
That tear fell not on Thee,
Beloved, yet thou stirrest in thy slumber!
Thou, stirring not for glad sounds out of number
Which through the vibratory palm-trees run
From summer-wind and bird,
So quickly hast thou heard
A tear fall silently?
Wak'st thou, O loving One?—

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18 June: Today this is my vocation V, Getting old with good Pope John

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is john-xxiii.jpg
Good Pope John XXIII

In March 1945, Archbishop Angelo Roncalli was sent from Istanbul to become the new Papal Nuncio or Ambassador to France, a country on its knees after years of occupation. A heavy and unexpected responsibility. A few years later, on the death of Pius XII, he would be elected as Pope John XXIII. This reflection is from his Spiritual Journal.

I must not disguise from myself the truth: I am definitely approaching old age. My mind resents this and almost rebels, for I still feel so young, eager, agile and alert.But one look in my mirror disillusions me. This is the season of maturity; I must do more and better, reflecting that perhaps the time still granted to me for living is brief, and that I am drawing near to the gates of eternity. This caused Hezekiah to turn to the wall and weep. (2 Kings 20:2) I do not weep.

No, I do not weep, and I do not even desire to live my life over again, so as to do better. I entrust to the Lord’s mercy whatever I have done, badly or less than well, and I look to the future, brief or long as it may be here below, because I want to make it holy and a source of holiness for others.

 John XXIII (1965), Journal of a Soul, London, Geoffrey Chapman, p264

‘Leave it in the hands of the Lord’ is a good motto at any age, so long as you have something to leave there. Maybe the older we get, the more aware we are of our shortcomings and the wilted state of our offerings. We lose the spontaneity of the toddler who gives mother a daisy flower, just picked with no stem but accompanied by a beatific smile. He knows she will accept his gift; the old man can see the imperfection in both gift and giver, yet he gives back to the one who gives all.

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17 June: Today this is my vocation IV: filial piety.

Bataille_de_Bantry_Bay_(1689).png (562×385)
from Wikipedia

Here is another consecutive post from Sussex, and another reminder of what our vocation might consist of, today, this minute. There are people we cannot visit in person, but an email or postcard would be appreciated, and would have pride of place on the bookshelf or in the frame of the mirror, or under a fridge magnet, where it can give light to the whole house.

Among the inhabitants of the old town of Hastings was the mother of Sir Cloudesley Shovell, the admiral. A charming account of a visit paid to her by her son is given in De la Prynne’s diary from the end of the XVII Century.

I heard a gentleman say, who was in the ship with him about six years ago, that as they were sailing over against the town, of Hastings, in Sussex, Sir Cloudesley called out, ‘Pilot, put near; I have a little business on shore.’ So he put near, and Sir Cloudesley and this gentleman went to shore in a small boat, and having walked about half a mile, Sir Cloudesley came to a little house [in All Saints Street], ‘Come,’ says he, ‘my business is here; I came on purpose to see the good woman of this house.’

Upon this they knocked at the door, and out came a poor old woman, upon which Sir Cloudesley kissed her, and then falling down on his knees, begged her blessing, and calling her mother (who had removed out of Yorkshire hither). He was mightily kind to her, and she to him, and after that he had made his visit, he left her ten guineas, and took his leave with tears in his eyes and departed to his ship.

From Highways and Byways in Sussex, by E. V. Lucas.

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2 April: Good Friday

Here is Christina Rossetti’s meditation on Good Friday. The reference to a stone and a rock being struck goes back to Exodus 17; see below.

Good Friday

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon –
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

Christina Rossetti

So the people were thirsty there for want of water, and murmured against Moses, saying: Why didst thou make us go forth out of Egypt, to kill us and our children, and our beasts with thirst? And Moses cried to the Lord, saying: What shall I do to this people? Yet a little more and they will stone me.

And the Lord said to Moses: Go before the people, and take with thee of the ancients of Israel: and take in thy hand the rod wherewith thou didst strike the river, and go. Behold I will stand there before thee, upon the rock Horeb: and thou shalt strike the rock, and water shall come out of it that the people may drink.

Moses did so before the ancients of Israel: And he called the name of that place Temptation, because the chiding of the children of Israel, and for that they tempted the Lord, saying: Is the Lord amongst us or not?

Exodus 17: 3-7

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14 March, Mother’s Day: The Virgin Mary to Christ on the Cross

Winchester Cathedral.

Robert Southwell was a Jesuit missioner to England in the time of Elizabeth I; he was imprisoned, tortured, condemned and hung drawn and quartered. Paul VI canonised him as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.

Despite his religion, his poetry was respected in his lifetime. Much of it was overtly religious like this exploration of Mary’s feelings at Calvary. My apologies for presenting a less than sunny post today, England’s Mother’s Day, but there are mothers who will be forgotten this year, mothers who have lost children: let’s spare a thought and prayer for them. And give our own mothers a good day.

A sword will pierce your heart.

What mist hath dimm’d that glorious face?
What seas of grief my sun doth toss?
The golden rays of heavenly grace
Lies now eclipsèd on the cross.

Jesus, my love, my Son, my God,
Behold Thy mother wash’d in tears:
Thy bloody wounds be made a rod
To chasten these my later years.

You cruel Jews, come work your ire
Upon this worthless flesh of mine,
And kindle not eternal fire
By wounding Him who is divine.

Thou messenger that didst impart
His first descent into my womb,
Come help me now to cleave my heart,
That there I may my Son entomb.

You angels, all that present were
To show His birth with harmony,
Why are you not now ready here,
To make a mourning symphony?

The cause I know you wail alone,
And shed your tears in secrecy,
Lest I should movèd be to moan,
By force of heavy company.

But wail, my soul, thy comfort dies,
My woful womb, lament thy fruit;
My heart give tears unto mine eyes,
Let sorrow string my heavy lute.

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13 January. Going Viral LXII: Christina Rossetti, Day shall rise!

Christina Rossetti called the poem from which this is taken ‘Advent’. My working title for this post was ‘Noli me tangere: Christ’s ‘do not hold me’ to Mary on Easter morning, and I would have used it for Easter week had I not received the last two posts from Tim and Sheila; it fits in nicely here, on the day when the Sun peeps over the horizon in Greenland: winter is on his way out!

I’ve been careful these last weeks: as I write our county is a hotspot of Covid19 and my family want to hold me fast for a while longer. We do appreciate what a blessing touch is, with two young grandsons to ram the message home. But only essential shopping is being done in person and we have been attending Mass on-line, at our own parish except when our tech or the church’s was malfunctioning. As my wife says, perhaps the best thing we can do is to keep away from infection and not take up the health service’s time. And take the vaccination when offered. But it also means not attending the most popular Masses. That’s one of those things we have to accept. But the Mass is the one sacrifice; it can be said to have begun with the Nativity (or even the Annunciation) and continued through the passion that, as Rowan Williams reminds us, was Christ’s life, to the passion that was his death and resurrection. My attending on a computer screen instead of in the pew does not reduce its saving efficacy.

And as Christina Chase suggested to me, this absent-presence can lead to a greater desire to receive Christ sacramentally, making St Alphonsus’ Spiritual Communion a prayer powerful in our own lives. But here is that other Christina, Christina Rossetti:

We weep because the night is long,
We laugh, for day shall rise,
We sing a slow contented song
And knock at Paradise.


Weeping we hold Him fast Who wept
For us,–we hold Him fast;
And will not let Him go except
He bless us first or last.”

( Advent from “Poems” by Christina Georgina Rossetti)

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28 November, I think of the tears: Cardinal-elect Cantalamessa

The Capuchin Franciscan Father Raniero Cantalamessa is one of Pope Francis’s new cardinals. He has been the Preacher to Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. I thought we could learn from this extract from a piece published by The Tablet on May 28.

We must remember that the Eucharist is not just a banquet and communion; it is also “sacrifice”, that is, it is the same and only sacrifice of Christ that is “re-presented” (St Paul VI’s term), in the sense of “made present again”, on the altar.

Every Mass, even those celebrated these days privately or with a few people, is offered by the whole Church and for the whole Church. It is only in celebrating the Eucharist during the lockdown that I have fully understood this. At the moment when I pour the few drops of water into the wine glass, I think of the tears being shed, the sufferings, of all humanity.

https://www.thetablet.co.uk/features/2/18156/pentecost-and-the-pandemic

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