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10 October, Little Flowers XCVII: About the Stigmata

It seems that the brothers did not know what to make of the stigmata, any more than most of us today would. None of them are reported to have believed that the wounds were self-inflicted, while Francis himself was embarrassed by them, as well as suffering from them.

Now, as hath been said above, albeit Saint Francis, as much as in him lay, strove to hide the most holy Stigmata, and, from the time when he received them, always went with his hands bandaged and with stockings on his feet, yet, for all that he could do, he could not prevent many of the friars from seeing and touching them in divers manners, and particularly the wound in his side, the which he endeavoured with special diligence to hide. 

Thus a friar, who waited on him, induced him, by a pious fraud, to take off his habit, that the dust might be shaken out of it; and, since he removed it in his presence, that friar saw clearly the wound in his side; and, swiftly putting his hand upon his breast, he touched it with three fingers and thus learned its extent and size; and in like manner his Vicar saw it at that time. 

But more clearly was Friar Ruffino certified thereof; the which was a man of very great contemplation, of whom Saint Francis sometimes said that in all the world there was no more holy man than he; and by reason of his holiness he loved him as a familiar friend, and was wont to grant him all that he desired. 

In three ways did this Friar Ruffino certify himself and others of the said most holy Stigmata. The first was this: that, it being his duty to wash the breeches of Saint Francis, which he wore so large that, by pulling them well up, he covered therewith the wound in his right side, the said Friar Ruffino examined them and considered them diligently, and found that they were always bloody on the right side; whereby he perceived of a surety that that was blood which came from the said wound; but for this Saint Francis rebuked him when he saw that he spread out the clothes which he took off in order to look for the said token. 

The second way was this: that once, while the said Friar Ruffino was scratching Saint Francis’ back, he deliberately let his hand slip and put his fingers into the wound in his side; whereat, for the pain that he felt, Saint Francis cried aloud: “God forgive thee, O Friar Ruffino, that thou hast done this”. 

The third way was that he once begged Saint Francis very urgently, as an exceeding great favour, to give him his habit and to take his in exchange, for love of charity. Whereupon the charitable father, albeit unwillingly, yielded to his prayer, and drew off his habit and gave it to him and took his; and then, in that taking off and putting on, Friar Ruffino clearly saw the said wound. Friar Leo likewise, and many other friars, saw the said most holy stigmata of Saint Francis while yet he lived; the which friars, although by reason of their sanctity they were worthy of credence and men whose simple word might be believed, nevertheless, to remove doubt from every heart, sware upon the Holy Book that they had clearly seen them. 

Moreover, certain cardinals, who were intimate friends of Saint Francis, saw them; and, in reverence for the aforesaid most holy Stigmata, they composed and made beautiful and devout hymns and psalms and prose treatises. The highest pontiff, Pope Alexander, while preaching to the people in the presence of all the cardinals (among whom was the holy Friar Buonaventura, who was a cardinal) said and affirmed that he had seen with his own eyes the most holy Stigmata of Saint Francis, when he was yet alive. 

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6 October, Little FLowers XCIV: A Cold Night

Francis gets under way again, accompanied by Brother Leo. Once Francis would have walked but his condition, after a rigorous life and the suffering he was now enduring from the stigmata, meant that he had to ride on a donkey, and the donkey’s owner came to look after man and beast.

Jesus had walked through Palestine for three years before he took to riding on a donkey as he came to Jerusalem for the last time. I am sure we are meant to see the parallel with Francis’ last journey to Assisi. He, too, knew that he was riding to his death.

Image from Strasbourg Cathedral.

Saint Francis departed Città di Castello, to go unto Santa Maria degli Angeli with Friar Leo, and with a good man, who lent him his little ass, whereupon Saint Francis rode. 

Now, it came to pass that, by reason of the bad roads and the great cold, they journeyed all day without being able to reach any place where they might lodge; so being constrained by the darkness and by the bad weather, they took shelter beneath the brow of a hollow rock, to avoid the snow and the night which was coming on. And, being in this evil case and also badly clad, the good man, to whom the ass belonged, could not sleep by reason of the cold; wherefore he began to murmur gently within himself and to weep; and almost did he blame Saint Francis, who had brought him into such a place. Then Saint Francis, perceiving this, had compassion upon him, and, in fervour of spirit, stretched out his hand and touched him. 

O marvellous thing! as soon as he had touched him with that hand of his, enkindled and pierced by the fire of the Seraph, all the cold left him; and so much heat entered into him, both within and without, that he seemed to be hard by the mouth of a burning furnace; whence being presently comforted in soul and body he fell asleep; and, according to that which he said, he slept more sweetly that night, among rocks and snow until morning, than he had ever slept in his own bed. 

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20 November: Keeping Connected Across the Irish Sea

I thought it was a while since we’d heard from Eddie at the Irish Chaplaincy, but lo and behold, here are three Autumnal posts waiting to appear in Agnellus Mirror. We are grateful to Eddie for allowing us to share his wise words with our readers.

One of the most uplifting images I’ve seen recently was of a 100-year-old religious sister in Dublin looking at and listening to, via a screen, her 90-year-old sister in London.

Mamie, who lives in Archway in North London and who has been supported by the Irish Chaplaincy Seniors’ Project for many years, was one of the first recipients of a pre-programmed Tablet as part of our ‘Keeping Connected’ campaign. Back at the start of the pandemic I’d had a conversation with Paul, the Seniors manager, about how we might be able to use technology to help people who were going to become even more isolated in lockdown. We were both a bit dubious about it initially but it became clear that there was a need for something, with people telling us they would find it a comfort to attend Mass or to listen to their favourite Irish radio station. Along came Joe who had being involved in a project in his native USA whereby senior banking executives who were not very computer literate were enabled to use devices like Tablets. Declan was also instrumental in the project by, amongst many other things, helping us to get around the issue of no wifi facing most of those we were supporting by means of dongles and Giffgaff-activated SIMS!

The key, as with so much of life, is to keep it simple! And that’s precisely what ‘Keeping Connected’ has done. All that’s needed is a swipe or a touch of the screen and somebody can be watching Mass from anywhere in the world, or tuning into the radio, or speaking to a familiar face. Anne told us how she loved listening to her favourite (Drogheda-based) LMFM; and John from Galway told me every week when I called how he loved hearing Galway Bay FM in the evening and how the Tablet had changed his life!

Mamie was equally delighted with her Tablet and was far quicker than me to see the possibilities it offered. She declared that she was going to attend Mass at St Gabriel’s in Archway, as well as in Ireland, and she was going to speak via Google Duo to Fr Ugo, her parish priest. She also, in the event, joined Facebook on her own initiative. And she, a then 89-year-old woman who had never previously used a computer.

Mamie had said as well at the outset, “I’ll be able to speak to my sister in Dublin next September when it’s her 100th birthday.” She was true to her word. Joe was with Mamie in her flat on the big day, and a carer in the home where Sr. Joseph lives was on hand at the other end. I listened to a recording of the call, in which Mamie says to her sister, “I wish I could hold your hand. I love you; I always have, and I always will.” Sr. Noreen in Dublin wrote, “Sr Joseph’s niece and the four Good Shepherd Sisters who celebrated her 100th birthday with her yesterday all agreed that the highlight for Sr. Joseph was the video call which you facilitated with her only living sibling Mamie Williamson. Sr. Joseph (Rita to her family) became more animated when she saw Mamie and though she did not speak it was evident that she was touched.”

Whether it’s supplying phone credit and writing materials to prisoners so they can keep in touch with family in Ireland or by providing seniors with easy-to-use technology like Tablets, I’m so proud of how the Irish Chaplaincy team has, in spite of a pandemic, helped people to keep connected across the Irish Sea.

Eddie Gilmore

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17 April: What mask will he wear?

I was gathering the last few items for the Easter gardens when this pot caught my eye in the toolshed. Another symbol for the garden, Mary Magdalene’s pot of ointment for Jesus’s burial! I remembered this picture from York Minster, where her pot is shown in a golden yellow. She has put it down on the grass, and doesn’t seem to know where to put her hands. Maybe Jesus has just said, ‘Don’t touch me’, when that is what she really wants to do more than anything.

But look! He is reaching out to touch her. He has disguised himself as the gardener so as to let the revelation of his return come gently to her.

What neighbourly mask or disguise will he be wearing today to lead me gently to see him?

We revisit this scene tomorrow.

Mary meets the Lord: York Minster

and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

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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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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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10 December, Relics XXIX: Our Lady of Loreto

I wonder about this feast. This site is more than respectful of relics but angels carrying a house from Palestine to Italy? That does not move me to prayer.

Even, dare I say it, the chapel of the Portiuncula, where Saint Francis died, seemed lost in the basilica erected over and around it, and did not call me to my knees. Maybe I’d never make a Franciscan, and this site is more than respectful of Franciscans. And of Saint Francis.

It’s not just saints’ places that we value, and not just Christians that troop around palaces, or Gilbert White’s rectory, or the home of a teenaged Beatle to be, or even Dylan Thomas’s writing place overlooking the Estuary in Laugharne, as shown below. We may not touch the exhibits or sit on the chair but we breathe in the air, sort of.

I doubt the authenticity of the site at the top of this blog, the reputed house of the Visitation, where Elizabeth welcomed Mary, who had come to be a home-help for her pregnant cousin. But the shrine is a reminder that this story is about two flesh and blood women and their flesh and blood sons. The statues show them about to burst into song and dance, which they surely did: Luke 1: 39-56 is almost all poetry and song.

So today, let’s celebrate two real women who lived in real houses and raised real families. And may we heed Elizabeth’s son’s call to prepare the way for Mary’s son, however strange a Christmas we might be expecting.

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27 November. Review: The Book in the Cathedral

The Book in the Cathedral: Christopher De Hamel

Those who have read Christopher de Hamel’s Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts’ will attest that he is a delightful and informative guide to mediaeval thought and culture. This little book was produced for the postponed anniversary celebrations – Thomas was born in 1120, murdered in 1170, his remains translated into a new shrive in 1220. It is not a potboiler however, but a work of scholarly detection and a good read. It would be a perfect stocking-filler for anyone with more than a passing interest in Becket or Canterbury or mediæval art.

De Hamel loves manuscripts and tracking and tracing those who produced and owned them, with all their personal foibles, not to mention the scholars who study and care for them today. He brings a story teller’s art to an historical detective mystery, which includes two sainted martyrs and other archbishops of Canterbury, artists and scholars in Anglo-Saxon England and mediæval France – the Æ symbol is one of the clues – but I’ll spare the spoilers, except to pose the question, why is Thomas shown so often with book in hand, when he was not a writer like Dunstan or Anselm?

Not all will be revealed; Becket remains an enigma, was he a holy man, was he a scholar? Much of what remains of his library is in Cambridge, including manuscripts that de Hamel cared for. Of one he says, ‘I suspect that I handled it more often than Becket did. I used to show it to classes of students sometimes, and remarkably often one would furtively reach out a finger to touch the edge of a page, evidence that a sense of momentary encounter with Thomas Becket still carries a secret thrill.’ (p17) Yet for the mediæval monks, books were books, whosoever had owned them; they were not so personal as a lock of hair of a scrap of clothing. (My ‘reach out a finger’ moment came on a Cathedral Open Evening. Two ladies had a dish filled with sweepings of iron from the floor of a Saxon smithy in the precincts. From the time of Saint Dunstan, metal worker and one of the greatest of our Archbishops. Could it be metal he had worked? But that’s another tale.)

This little book should be bought in a touchable form, not an e-book. It is well presented, cloth-bound in martyr’s red, witness to the fascination of history. And it is eminently readable. You must know someone who would enjoy it!

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31 January: O if we but knew what we do

Corot.villedavray.750pix

We follow Alice Meynell’s reflection on felled poplars with Gerard Manley Hopkins’. Rightly he cries, ‘O if we but knew what we do’: and we ought to know more about the role of trees than he did 150 years ago. But he knew beauty; perhaps if we spent less time in brick or metal boxes, and got out and walked, then so might we know beauty at first hand. Corot again: his poplars do look vulnerable.

Binsey Poplars felled 1879

MY aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
  Of a fresh and following folded rank
              Not spared, not one
              That dandled a sandalled
          Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
O if we but knew what we do
      When we delve or hew—
Hack and rack the growing green!
      Since country is so tender
To touch, her being só slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
          To mend her we end her,
      When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
  Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
      Strokes of havoc únselve
          The sweet especial scene,
      Rural scene, a rural scene,
      Sweet especial rural scene.”
(from “Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins Now First Published” by Gerard Manley Hopkins, Robert Bridges)

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27 December: Look deeper than this pleasant scene.

pilgrimscrib4

Like me, you have probably heard tell of  Saint Francis and the crib but like me, you may never have heard the full story. Follow the link to Friar Jack Wintz’s excellent telling of the story. I won’t attempt to precis his account as I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. I leave you with Friar Jack’s final paragraphs. 

Peace be with you and yours!

Will Turnstone.

Francis would smile at our nice varnished cribs, though he would bless any home that has one. Probably he would prefer those set up outdoors with live animals. And if he were to stand by one and preach today, he might say something like this:

“Look deeper than this pleasant scene. See your God become your food for eternity in a feeding place for animals. See the simple bands wound around the helpless baby, not the embroidered dress. See a man and woman wearing the clothes of the poor. See and smell the animals. Feel the cold and dirt of the cave, lighted only by a little fire. And adore your God, who took a human heart that could know the greatest love and the sharpest pain, arms that could embrace the sinners, the neurotics, the lepers, and hands that could touch cheeks running with tears, and be pierced with nails. Adore your poor and humble God.”

 

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