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February 14, Little Flowers LXIV: a Reflection on Brother Conrad’s prayers.

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We read yesterday how the prayers of Brother Conrad, an early Franciscan, opened the gates of heaven for a dead brother through his prayers. It was tempting to miss out this story from the Little Flowers, because the soul of that young brother who died went to Paradise through the merits of Jesus Christ, according to the Theology I was taught. I wasn’t looking for an argument! It comes naturally to Catholics to pray for the dead, but even so, where does Brother Conrad come in?

Firstly, it was his young friend who sought out Brother Conrad and asked him, not just to pray but to pray the Pater Noster – the Our Father – given to us by the Lord

‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,          and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’

It is as members of Christ’s body, the Communion of Saints, that the two Franciscan brothers come together in Conrad’s vision. It is as members of Christ’s body that they pray together: if the young brother requested that Conrad should say the Lord’s prayer for him, then that same prayer was at the front of his mind and heart: he was praying it himself, alongside Conrad; and where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. So the youth, Brother Conrad, and the Lord himself were praying together to the Father.

Conrad had a gift of being able to encourage the lad and help him to fit into the earthly community where he had chosen – and been called – to live. Perhaps, then, that same gift exercised by 100 Pater Nosters recited within the Communion of Saints, helped the brother to free himself from his remaining pains of fear and guilt to be fit for heaven.

Conrad’s merits? I’m still not sure, but if you suggested that Conrad’s gifts as mentor on earth to this young man were still effective after the young man’s death, I would not argue with you. Let’s place before Jesus all those who relied on us in this life, and would ask for our sympathetic prayers, could they speak to us now; and with Jesus let us pray:

OUR FATHER …

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8 February: The Attempted Abduction of Jemma

A longer posting than usual for the Feast of Saint Josephine Bakhita, the saint saved from slavery. Fr. Shay Cullen, who wrote this, works in the Philippines, alongside other Christians who care for the ravaged environment, and also for children ravaged by the sex industry. Both ministries are part of the bigger picture of the Church’s mission.

It’s a case of child abuse and human trafficking that has caught much media attention. It is being held in the court of Honorable Judge Maria Angelica T. Paras-Quiambao, Regional Trial Court Branch 59, Angeles City, a judge of known integrity. It concerns a US national, John R. He is accused of sexually abusing two young girls, call them Sybil and Jemma (not their real names).The younger Jemma is 13 and Sybil is 14 years old. John R. allegedly paid his pimp CM to recruit them and bring to his apartment where he sexually abused them many times.

The two children were rescued by the social workers of Mabalacat, Pampanga and of the Preda Foundation. The children were brought to the Preda home for girls in Zambales where they were successfully undergoing recovery.

The US investigative service at the US Embassy has taken a serious interest in the case and they have already interviewed Jemma and Sybil. They will eventually file charges against John R. in the USA under the US extra-territorial jurisdiction law and perhaps his supporter, Lilian May Zimmer. He is presently in hiding and Philippine arrest warrants have been issued against him.

Last March 6, there was a large rescue operation in Mabalacat and twenty children were rescued from the Golden Victory Hotel and another resort. There, the twenty children had been lured and recruited to engage in sexual relations with local and foreign sex tourists. The twenty girls were referred to the Preda home for girls where they were welcomed and assisted in every way with kindness and understanding. They were given emotional support, shelter, clothes, and personal needs. Their parents were invited over to be with them. There were many emotional scenes as the parents embraced their rescued children and they were reunited.

In the days and weeks that followed, they slowly recovered and began to realize how they had been exploited and abused and that it was detrimental to their lives. Their futures were being destroyed and their chances of finishing school were dashed.

In the Preda Foundation home for girls, they had group dynamics, art and crafts, training sessions, games, sports, karate, dance and counseling. Above all and most importantly, they had the Emotional Release Therapy. In the padded therapy room away from the central house, they shouted, screamed and punched and pounded the cushions in releasing their anger, hatred and anguish at what had been done to them by the sex tourists, recruiters and pimps. Some even blamed their parents for neglecting them and not showing them love and care. In the Preda home, not all were happy at being taken from the life of exploitation and abuse. There were three girls that wanted to go back to the sex industry placed there by corrupt parents.

Preda respects the dignity and rights of the youth and children and it is an open center. There are no high walls, fences or guards. Most of the children go to a regular school in the community and many activities are conducted outside. The children are not prisoners and confined. They are there by free choice.

The three girls were hostile, one of them, call her Martha (not her real name), recruited Sybil to leave and join her on sex strip known as Fields Avenue in Angeles City where there are dozens of sex bars and foreign sex tourists paying money to have sex with young girls. Some are caught like John R. It is an open slave trading market on the streets and in the sex bars. They operate with city permits and inside is a fiery fiesta of young flesh, a sex carnival for cash.

Sybil left with Martha and fell under the power and influence of the family of Martha and the mother of CM. Jemma was happy at the Preda Home. One day, when Jemma was at the school sports parade, the mother of CM, the father and the aunt of Jemma and Sybil, rushed into the parade and grabbed Jemma, the key witness, to abduct her and carry her away to a waiting car. Jemma broke away and the Preda social worker was there to embrace and hold her safely from them. They ran away when the barangay tanods came over. The entire incident was caught on CCTV.

The attempted abduction was well-organized and funded as the participants are penniless. It must be presumed that John R., the American, is paying large sums of money for the abduction and prevent the witnesses from testifying in court. Then, the charges of human trafficking against CM might be dismissed against her. It’s an evil plan to thwart justice. The Preda Foundation filed charges of grave coercion against the father and aunt of Sybil and the mother of CM.

Supporting this sex mafia in Angeles City online from the USA is the alleged child sexual abuser, Lilian May Thompson Zimmer, a US national that is constantly criticizing the good work of Preda and making baseless allegations. In 2014, Preda reported Zimmer for child neglect and abuse done by her against five small children held by Zimmer in her house in Subic, Zambales. She has retaliated ever since.

They have testified that she tortured them and burnt one with cigarettes. They said Zimmer brought them to sex perverts on Baloy Beach, in Trader Ric’s, where they were sexually abused. A hateful, violent person, Zimmer attacked police and social workers when they came to rescue the children. She spent a year in jail but allegedly bribed her way out and escaped to the USA. She is now allegedly promoting the abduction of Jemma and supporting the abusers who are keeping Sybil from testifying in the court of Judge Paras-Quiambao.

More development are expected soon as the US authorities have been asked to investigate Lilian May Zimmer under the extra-territorial jurisdiction law where child trafficking for sexual abuse is a serious offense. One day, justice will be done to address her evil abuse of the children and CM and John R. will go to jail.

This and much more about the Preda foundation can be found here.

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5 February. Brownings XIX: struggling to communicate.

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Elizabeth again, on the process of writing. Where does the idea come from, how does the writer express it? Kathleen Raine would argue that certain poets, at least, had access to eternal springs that provided the light that led to their words. EBB has the same idea

“Yes, I quite believe as you do that what is called the ‘creative process’ in works of Art, is just inspiration and no less—which made somebody say to me not long since; And so you think that Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ was of the effluence of the Holy Ghost?’—rather a startling deduction, … only not quite as final as might appear to somebodies perhaps. At least it does not prevent my going on to agree with the saying of Spiridion, … do you remember?… ‘Tout ce que l’homme appelle inspiration, je l’appelle aussi revelation*,’ … if there is not something too self-evident in it after all—my sole objection!

And is it not true that your inability to analyse the mental process in question, is one of the proofs of the fact of inspiration?—as the gods were known of old by not being seen to move their feet,—coming and going in an equal sweep of radiance.—And still more wonderful than the first transient great light you speak of, … and far beyond any work of reflection, except in the pure analytical sense in which you use the word, … appears that gathering of light on light upon particular points, as you go (in composition) step by step, till you get intimately near to things, and see them in a fullness and clearness, and an intense trust in the truth of them which you have not in any sunshine of noon (called real!) but which you have then … and struggle to communicate.”

  • Whatever people call Inspiration, I also call Revelation.
(from “The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Vol. 1 (of 2) 1845-1846” by 8Robert Browning)

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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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23 December: Remember the Christmas workers!

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Abel’s mother and grandmother were both off work on Christmas day, which does not happen every year. Nurses are needed!

Abel was more interested in some other Christmas workers: the Orange Army of railway engineers. Far more interesting than whatever the grown-ups were doing indoors. There were twenty or more workers near his grandparents’ house, renewing track and the level crossing. They had a big crane and an assortment of other machines. After lunch he took grandad out to investigate. One of the men came and talked to us; railway workers are often friendly to youngsters who take an interest in their work.

The man was guarding the level crossing and two machines, including this one, caught in the last of the sun. Let it stand for all those working this Christmas, on the railway or in other ways, to make life better for the rest of us.

Thanks to them, all of them!

May they soon enjoy time with their dear ones!

 

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21 December: Don’t forget!

The sticker across the shop window read: Don’t forget yourself this Christmas!

Just what did it mean?

Was the mobile phone company advising passers-by to selflessly throw themselves into making the family celebrations enjoyable for all?

Or was it encouraging the great public to remember to buy themselves that expensive 5G mobile phone?

Or maybe suggesting that, like the man in the first photo, over the next few days we should text someone who would like to hear from us?

Or perhaps like Robert Walker, the Scottish anti-slavery campaigner, we should seize the moment to take time out in the fresh air and be one in our thoughts and prayers with our Creator?

If this were a proper questionnaire, it would now say, tick as many boxes as apply (to you!)

Please follow the link to learn more about the Skating Minister who was so much more than a skating minister.

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5 December: Through a glass darkly.

The Louvre Gallery in Paris has an exhibition of works by Leonardo da Vinci, marking 500 years since his death, and Jeanne Ferney went to review it for La Croix newspaper. But her visit was spoilt, not so much by the press of the crowd in the galleries as by the sheer number of cameras and phones pointed at every work.

Over the past few years I have deliberately taken my phone to capture some of the pictures in this blog, but the fact that Mrs T is often standing and waiting for me suggests that I am actually looking at objects rather than just notching up another dozen photos to add to the blog or impress my family. (They are rarely impressed by their father’s exploits.)

Any regular readers will have noticed that some photos reappear from time to time, while the connection between  picture and reflection can appear quite tenuous. Sometimes this is done  by the writer or the editor to give a totally different angle on the words, sometimes you may not see the world quite as we do! We do not always seek so much to illustrate as to elucidate. And sometimes the picture is the starting point, of course.

We hope not to give a contrary message to the day’s short reflection; nor do we want to spoil other people’s in-the-moment enjoyment of art works or landscapes or flowers by huffing and puffing over a picture and getting in their way; and we don’t want to lose the ability to see with our eyes because we are looking through a lens! Sometimes a mind’s-eye picture is a lasting joy, but a lens-eye picture can grow on you, as this one has on me; taken in a cavern in Poland, I did not expect it to come out at all. It still sets my mind wondering.

Let’s pray for the grace to see ourselves as others see us, especially that Other who is Our Father. And may we never get in his way by our dawdling and sightseeing. This Advent may we see and follow the star that leads us to the Child of Bethlehem.

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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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7 November: Threading a yarn.

See the source image

 

As part of their Week of Retreat in Daily Life the L’Arche Kent Community asked me to  read a Hans Christian Andersen story: I chose the Darning Needle which you can read by following the link. It’s a story with a few morals to it which we talked about afterwards, including the dangers of pride and the fact that we all need each other.

We also talked about darning and mending rather than throwing away. I had with me a coat that was coming apart at the seams. G and E suggested in Makaton that I could sew it, which I did when the story was told, but the needle had been threaded and passed around during the telling. J showed his tailoring skills and awoke a memory, which I shared, of my mother doing as he did, measuring the working length of thread from nose to extended fingertips.

G suggested using a machine, which led to my telling about my wife’s machine – hand turned, not treadle as he signed. This had been given to her 40 years ago from the community’s surplus. It had belonged to a friend of L’Arche in those early days, who was glad to see it in a good home. She could never use it; it was all that remained of her own home, which was destroyed in the Blitz, her family within it.

When I got home I realised another story could have been told. The yarn J threaded was branded ‘winfield’ – in lower case. It had come from Woolworth’s, via my wife’s mother’s mending basket, purchased perhaps in the 1970s. But thereby would hang yet another tale.

No man, or woman, is an island!

 

 

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November 2: Solitude

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The room is still but for the ticking clock
and like a snowfall stillness settles round,
and in come presences that needn’t knock,
familiar, homing souls, without a sound.

It isn’t always so – so calm, so quiet,
but now the gentle spirits take their ease
as afternoon melts into shadowed night
and birds seek shelter in the darkening trees.

As night advances, sky turns indigo
and slate-grey clouds in bundles fill the east.
I watch. I seem alone, but I’m with you –
my brothers, sisters summoned to the feast.

In solitude I know that we are one.
In solitude I hear the bridegroom come.

SJC

Definitely a poem for All Saints’ Tide. Thank you Sister Johanna! 

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