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14 January: An old missionary’s ecological musings

bins

Passers by set Gerard Manley Hopkins thinking for yesterday’s post, and Otto Mayer for today’s. He was a fellow student of mine, but now works in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have adapted this from an article he wrote. It seems the litter problem is not confined to Canterbury. But if Otto can keep litter picking in Central Africa, I can do my bit in East Kent!

Whenever I pick up plastic wrappers or papers dropped in front of our house in Ruzizi, Congo, passers by look at me as though I’m crazy. The children make fun of me, although the little ones will pick up litter and put it in my bag. But no-one makes fun of the people who drop papers, bags, plastic bottles, tissues…

Sometimes a passer-by will ask why I am cleaning up. I explain that in my home village in Germany, every Saturday afternoon we would take pride in sweeping the footpath beside our house, ready for Sunday. Everything should be ready for the Lord’s day.

Telling people that story starts a conversation, regretting how Goma has become a dirty town, and Kinshasa la belle has become Kinshasa-Poubelle – dustbin city. Everybody wants the council to sort it out. I always say that I can do something. At least in front of my house I can make a difference.

The first principle of ecology is to produce as little waste or pollution as possible. Heineken beer from Holland is an ecological sin when you can get local beers. What a waste, transporting it all the way to Africa.

Buying locally and consuming the products of the region is an ecological obligation. There are seasons when mangoes, cauliflowers, strawberries are chea and readily available. Out of season the price increases as the products are brought in from far away, and the transport costs must be paid for.

The local bus service where I live is cheaper than using a private car; it may take a little longer but means less pollution and less expense. And walking up to half an hour seems to me both reasonable and desirable: Pollution zero, expense zero and more surprises to be met en route. An old priest I remember used to say, ‘Since we got mopeds we’ve lost touch with the people.’ And what progress we’ve made since then!

Père Otto Mayer, M. Afr.

 

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January 6: Pope Francis visits the Franciscans.

flowers.francis.illustration

While he was in Dublin Pope Francis visited the Capuchin Franciscans at their centre for homeless families and spoke to the friars as well as the people who turn to them for help. This seems an appropriate reading for the Epiphany, when the Wise Men visited the baby born in a stable, and destined, like so many before and since, to flee into Egypt.

Dear Capuchin brothers, and all of you, my brothers and sisters!

You have the grace of contemplating the wounds of Jesus in those in need, those who suffer, those who are unfortunate or destitute, or full of vices and defects. For you this is the flesh of Christ. This is your witness and the Church needs it. Thank you.

It is Jesus who comes [in the poor]. You ask no questions. You accept life as it comes, you give comfort and, if need be, you forgive. This makes me think – as a reproof – of those priests who instead live by asking questions about other people’s lives and who in confession dig, dig, dig into consciences. Your witness teaches priests to listen, to be close, to forgive and not to ask too many questions. To be simple, as Jesus said that father did who, when his son returned, full of sins and vices. That father did not sit in a confessional and start asking question after question. He accepted the son’s repentance and embraced him. May your witness to the people of God, and this heart capable of forgiving without causing pain, reach all priests. Thank you!

And you, dear brothers and sisters, I thank you for the love and the trust that you have for the Capuchin brothers. Thank you because you come here with trust! Let me say one thing to you. Do you know why you come here with trust? Because they help you without detracting from your dignity. For them, each of you is Jesus Christ. Thank you for the trust that you give us. You are the Church, you are God’s people. Jesus is with you. They will give you the things you need, but listen to the advice they give you; they will always give you good advice. And if you have something, some doubt, some hurt, talk to them and they will give you good advice. You know that they love you: otherwise, this Centre would not exist. Thank you for your trust. And one last thing. Pray! Pray for the Church. Pray for priests. Pray for the Capuchins. Pray for the bishops, for your bishop. Pray for me too … I allow myself to ask all this. Pray for priests, don’t forget.

God bless you all, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

 

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January 5: Some Gifts of Community Life.

plowden.madonna

A LETTER FROM DAVID BEX, COMMUNITY LEADER, L’ARCHE KENT.

David came to L’Arche after belonging to an Emmaus Community. The gifts he received and developed there will be good for us and help us grow, but it is also good for us to be reminded of what our gifts and strengths are as a community. I can vouch for friendships that have lasted forty years and more! 

MMB.

The year 2018 is drawing to a close and it has been a year of change. We have had assistants go back to their home countries after a year with us, taking with them a piece of L’Arche Kent in their hearts and creating friendships that continue.

Sadly, we have had Core Members die this year, Emma and Denise.

We have seen long term assistants move on to a new chapter in their lives, which has meant that they have finished as employees but not as members of our Community.

When Core Members and assistants who have been our friends and companions change their roles or move away I sense and share a feeling of loss within the Community and a period of reflection about our relationships with them. There is a time to recognise what we have learnt from each other, the joy and laughter that we shared together.

As part of these times of reflection there comes a time when we are able to recognise that we need to prepare ourselves for welcoming new community members, new assistants and new core members. I feel these two celebrations, departing and arriving, are embraced by our Community and I see the effort and care that goes into them. As a Community we do celebrations very well, and for me, being involved gives me a sense of belonging which deepens my passion for L’Arche.

We may not always realise it but we do cope with change really well. We allow time for it to happen, we talk about it, we reflect upon it and we share our emotions about it. These traditions within L’Arche help us to be a Community, to be strong, to be able to care and have the confidence to show that we care. These traditions, these behaviours are often talked about in the world around us, but from what I see rarely practised in such a meaningful way as can be found in our Community and L’Arche as a whole.

Christmas is a time of change, a time of hope, a time when the deepest part of winter has been reached, when we look forward to brighter and lighter days. As a Community we have lots to look forward to, such as our newly arrived assistants and the ones to come, bringing with them the gifts of new relationships. I see our Community in the future having many opportunities to be a role model to those around us. We are a vibrant Community with lots of ideas, creativitydavid bex and kindness.

I see all of you playing a vital role in L’Arche Kent, in showing to the world around us what Community can look like. Thank you for what you do for each other and for the Community. Thank you for the acts of kindness and caring and being wonderful role models.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

 

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30 December: The Holy Family

flight.egypt.amsterdam

Before Amsterdam had numbers for houses, people used plaques on their walls to identify their home or business premises. Perhaps this one belonged to one of the many exiles living in what was then a small city on a marshy riverside. Here is Joseph taking a watchful Mary and Baby away to Egypt; He has his tools with him, including one very long saw. Perhaps he cut his own planks from the tree, or maybe it pleased the artist’s eye to show it at the pinnacle of the picture. Joseph may have given up his business but he was not giving up work.

Exile was a serious business, true enough, but Joseph was able to start work in Cairo and support his family. (The Franciscan church there that bears his name is said to be near the Holy Family’s home.)

Here is a prayer from USPG.

O God, who made your home among us in Jesus of Nazareth, we pray for those who have been forced from their homes and now live as migrants and refugees. Bless them and all who work to bring them relief, comfort and a new home.

Amen.

We could pray, too, that refugees may be allowed to find work and education in their exile, that they may be better equipped to help restore their homeland when they are able to return.

 

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5 December: The local pilgrim.

As the old missionary said, ‘once we began riding mopeds we had fewer ‘chance’ meetings with people who need to hear the Good News.’ Jesus of course walked about teaching his disciples both before and after his resurrection, a good example for all of us tempted to make the shortest journey by car. And that’s before we think of the environmental issues.

This morning walking out meant I could greet three neighbours. I also had a lesson in walking as pilgrimage. We’ve spoken before of how walking into Canterbury is a daily pilgrimage, if we think about it that way. This was a new aspect of that idea.

The next person I met was one of the local clergy, striding along our street. ‘I’m doing my prayer walk’, she told me. With the help of a mapping app on her phone, she walks the streets of her parish in turn, praying for the residents as she goes by. Over a few weeks she covers the whole parish, street by street, prayer by prayer, and starts all over again.

One of my friends always says to joggers, usually under his breath, ‘You’re going to die anyway!’ We share a scepticism about exercise as self-improvement, but exercise as prayer and pilgrimage is something altogether different.

I walked on with a spring in my step. I had heard the Good News that morning.

MMB

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L’Arche Advent Newsletter

We are happy to share this message from L’Arche. You may not be in a position to give to L’Arche just now, but please do follow the link to the Advent Appeal site for the interview with Jean Vanier. Whatever we can do to alleviate loneliness will be an act of grace: Happy Advent!

Maurice.

“Community is a road where every day we learn to accept the other with love.” Jean Vanier

For many people, this time of year raises important questions about exclusion and belonging. They are at the heart of the nativity story.

Our Advent Appeal this year focuses on L’Arche as a place of belonging in a time of loneliness and exclusion.

As part of our Appeal, we recently interviewed our founder Jean Vanier. He shared his moving reflections on loneliness and belonging, and his own experiences of ageing and loss.

The theme of belonging also emerges in a beautiful story, which came to light when we followed up last year’s Advent Appeal. In this story Amanda describes how, thanks to her daughter Laura, who belongs to the Manchester Community, she has become part of an “extended family” in L’Arche.

If you go to our Advent Appeal site you will be able to listen to Jean’s interview and read Amanda’s story in full.

If you can, please consider making a gift to L’Arche this Advent by following the link below. Your donation helps us create communities of belonging and transformation, in which some of our most vulnerable fellow citizens make a real impact on society, not just in the UK but around the world.

Thank you for any support you can give. I wish you a peaceful Christmas.

Peace,

John Sargent
National Leader, L’Arche in the UK

Donate to our Advent Appeal

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25 November. What is Theology saying, XL: Church teaching and common sense

Friar Austin is back, talking over what Theology has to say to us today in the area of morality and responsibility.

A similar development to that around original sin is found in Church teaching on personal sin, our understanding of morality. We have had to ask how to decide what is the right thing to do in matters as yet never experienced – organ transplants, ways of controlling the frequency of births – as well as questions concerning the morality of public life. In a society that doesn’t change much a code or commandments for people to obey suffices; even without people knowing why something must or must not be done. Obey the rules and you are in harmony with God.

In the past Christian theology compiled its code, and it became very elaborate and detailed. We had volumes of moral theology textbooks. First, they were intended for confessors, to help with actions already done. However, the manuals affected preaching. Preaching and teaching are very different from what happens in the confessional. The Church turned to two sources in compiling the manuals – one was the already existing Church teaching; the other was common sense or right reason. The reason they appealed to common sense [natural law] was because morality is not arbitrary. God doesn’t invent rules at whim. The right thing to do is what is always in harmony with the plan of creation. Life is not absurd and eventually everything will make sense. Because we have reason and practical common sense, we thereby share in the creative wisdom of God, and can figure out what to do.

What we call natural law is accessible to everyone because it is a matter of reason, but it became evident that highly intelligent people did not always agree on the right answers to moral issues. Catholic theology says that our intellects are clouded by Original Sin through our involvement with the sin of the world; an unbiased judgement is by no means always possible – uninfluenced by personal likes, convenience and sympathy. This is a matter of observation – and is another aspect of our need for redemption through Grace.

AMcC

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22 November: The Road to Emmaus V

Easter Sunday

The two disciples aren’t finished yet. They have a few more things to say to Jesus:

…[T]his is not all: two whole days have now gone by since it all happened; and some of the women from our group have astounded us: they went to the tomb in the early morning, and when they could not find the body, they came back to tell us they had seen a vision of angels who declared he was alive. Some of our friends went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had reported, but of him they saw nothing (Luke. 24:21-24)..

Cleopas and his friend do not seem to be able to remember anything that Jesus had prophesied about himself during his lifetime. Maybe grief and shock had made them forget everything. Maybe Jesus’ prophecies had been so horrifying to the disciples at the time that they simply “blanked” them. But Jesus cannot be faulted for having failed to warn his disciples. He had, on numerous occasions, told them plainly that he would be crucified, and would die and be buried, and then, after three days, would rise from the dead. Neither of the disciples seemed able to recall this now. But Jesus, like the superb healer he is, listens intently in silence while they vent their feelings of confusion and disappointment.

At last, they pause. They have finished their tale. Maybe they are feeling a bit empty now, but surely they know they have been heard – you can always feel it when someone is listening with his whole heart. As a result, they themselves are perhaps better able now to listen than they have been all day. And Jesus does not fail to make use of this opportunity. He is bold and forthright:

You foolish men! So slow to believe all that the prophets have said! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer before entering into his glory?’ Then, starting with Moses and going through all the prophets, he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself (Luke. 24:25-27).

We are not told what the disciples did while Jesus spoke to them. Presumably, they continued to walk along as he talked. They seem to have been reduced at last to silence. What was this experience like for them? I imagine that they must have gone through a swift succession of feelings, beginning perhaps with dismay over being called foolish and slow. But no doubt they moved quickly to a state of some amazement at the stranger’s penetration into the situation they had described to him, and from there into a state of wonder, joy and even to a feeling of hope that they could not understand immediately. Here at last was someone who could make profound sense of everything that had happened. Here was someone who was picking up the shattered pieces of their lives and making them whole again.

Happily, this is an experience that I can say I know about also, even as I know of the distress and bewilderment that these two disciples had felt. Jesus never abandons those who love him and seek him sincerely, even if we seek him wrongheadedly. Perhaps especially then. Perhaps this endears us to him.

In my experience of discipleship, enlightenment does come. Eventually. Or, at least, partial enlightenment comes. And, by the time it comes, I am usually so happy to have it that I will accept it thankfully in any form. But, as is the case in this story, full enlightenment – the recognition of the Jesus himself in a new form – usually comes to me later, when reflecting on my experience through prayer. The disciples here are enlightened enough to be loath to part with this wonderful stranger, but that seems to be all they know. They don’t see yet that he is not a stranger.

SJC

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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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October 20, What is Theology Saying? XXXIII: Original Sin

path.charlottenberg.mausoleum

Welcome back to Friar Austin and his explorations of today’s thinking theologically. 

We have all heard of Original Sin – and there is abundant evidence that it is still with us. But what is it? Let us begin with recognising the fact that there is collective and social violence accompanying everyday living [starting with Cain and Abel]. It has been called humanity’s family secret [Sebastian Moore, OSB] – it is against this backdrop that one man shedding his blood becomes real.

Salvation through shedding blood has had every possible expression and meaning. To appreciate this better we need to be more aware not so much of how we get to God, as how God gets to us. Original Sin has things to tell us about ourselves in a way that highlights the wonder of salvation.

It is only natural to assume that what I desire starts and ends with me – I know what I want. But there is a prior question: do I make my desire or does my desiring make me? My desiring first comes through being aware of some other person desiring. This prompts me to follow, even imitate, until eventually and inevitably, imitation gives way to rivalry: I may like what you are wearing enough to do the same – but then seek to justify the choice as being mine only; it is in this way that I identify myself through being me against… [X has a big house I will get a bigger one] – And that is me.

Being passed-over causes resentment, and sets me against – what makes my desire mine is that it isn’t yours! The “me” is now in place through being opposed to the other [not me] as the fruit of my desire. By contrast, Jesus sees himself as only gift – given to me by Abba, to enjoy, and to know where I’m from and where I can go. This is the crux of the matter – not me through being opposed to any other… I’m me as only gift… Given by the totally other to me. And this is not just a personal reality it is social and cultural – waiting in the wings to be kick-started by any desire intense enough to do so. [Desire is what humankind has in place of animal instinct].

AMcC

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