A few years ago L’Arche celebrated fifty years of life on this earth and forty years in the UK. The big celebration in Britain was a pilgrimage to Canterbury, home to the first British community, L’Arche Kent. Hundreds of people gathered at the University of Kent, before an invigorating walk down to the Cathedral for refreshment as well as prayer. Transporting hundreds of people to this corner of Britain, finding accommodation to suit everyone’s needs – we had a few wheelchair users – and learning prayers and songs, all required tight organisation.
Even so, I managed to raise an eyebrow when I led my small group off piste. I was spotted by the chief organiser who wondered what I was up to. He was relieved when we showed up in good time. Quite simply, one of us was a wheelchair user who needed the bathroom, and my family had a new wet room which suited her fine; it was pronounced ‘an excellent bathroom’ and was right beside the back door.
There will always be the unexpected, and often enough the solution to the problem will be at hand:
Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, neither money; neither have two coats apiece. (Luke 9:3)
We could not get away with that in XXI Century Kent, and with so many people with so many special needs, we had to plan and the plan did its job. And the staves came in useful when we reached the Cathedral, for banging on the floor and raising the roof with their percussion! This part of the percussion procession had hand drums and tambourines.
We wish you a joyful and companionable Lenten Pilgrimage!
Give us the mind of Jesus,
something of his brave heart,
as we sail over the waters of experience.
And days of sunshine.
And favouring winds.
And stars to be our guide when the sun is set.
Yet this is but half our asking.
Lord of pity,
when trouble rises, as a storm,
turning our trust to fear,
bring us into the quiet place of thy presence
and be our haven.
From Hebridean Altars by Alistair Maclean.
Wherever we are, let us follow the guidance of a star as surely as the fisherman away up in the islands. Let us pray for the grace to be quiet in God's haven, letting him turn our fears into trust.
There is a tradition for the Pope to greet pilgrims at Angelus time, around midday, and share a few thoughts, often on the readings for the day. We are glad to offer a selection from Pope Benedict XVI’s reflections, aimed at a general audience rather than academic theologians. Sometimes there are interesting asides addressed to particular groups of pilgrims, showing Benedict’s human side. Our last selection for this series is from the end of Benedict’s Apostolic visit to Germany, after Mass at the Airport, Freiburg im Breisgau, Sunday, 25 September 2011
At the end of this solemn celebration of holy Mass we now pray the Angelus together. This prayer constantly reminds us of the historical beginnings of our salvation. The Archangel Gabriel presents God’s plan of salvation to the Virgin Mary, by which she was to become the Mother of the Redeemer. Mary was fearful, but the angel of the Lord spoke a word of comfort to her: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God.” So Mary is able to respond with her great “yes”. This “yes”, by which she accepts to become the handmaid of the Lord, is the trusting “yes” to God’s plan, to our salvation. And she finally addresses her “yes” to us all, whom she received as her children entrusted to her at the foot of the Cross (cf. Jn 19:27). She never withdraws this promise. And so she is called happy, or rather blessed, for believing that what was promised her by the Lord would be fulfilled (cf. Lk 1:45). As we pray this Angelus, we may join Mary in her “yes”, we may adhere trustingly to the beauty of God’s plan and to the providence that he has assigned to us in his grace. Then God’s love will also, as it were, take flesh in our lives, becoming ever more tangible. In all our cares we need have no fear. God is good. At the same time we know that we are sustained by the fellowship of the many believers who are now praying the Angelus with us throughout the world, via radio and television.
The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary: And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it done unto me according to Thy word.
And the Word was made Flesh: And dwelt among us.
Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray:
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord,
Thy grace into our hearts;
that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son,
was made known by the message of an angel,
may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection,
through the same Christ Our Lord.
The challenge was to describe a moment spent with another L’Arche community member, and it was issued days after news of Tim Hollis’s death, so this is what came to mind. Tim’s funeral is today, 31 August. MB.
We got to know Tim and Marion Hollis quite well in those early days of L’Arche; they were almost part of the furniture, they came so often. It was good to witness how greatly they respected every core member and assistant, an example to us all. When we went on pilgrimage to Walsingham, they welcomed us to their home in Beccles, with its little oratory in the attic, lit by a custom-made glass roofing tile.
Two or three years after leaving L’Arche I was working in a London adult training centre and was asked to accompany a small group on holiday quite close to Beccles, so I wrote to ask if we might visit Tim and Marion; of course a warm welcome was extended.
After tea and visiting the oratory, Tim invited us for a voyage on the River Waveney, the southern end of the Norfolk Broads. Tim, Geoffrey Morgan and Jean had been in the Royal Navy together, and Tim now had his own boat, big enough to take us all.
Everyone was comfortably enjoying the trip when Tim asked the student beside him, ‘Mervyn, would you like to steer?’ Mervyn proudly took the wheel and soon grasped how to use landmarks to steer by. Everyone else got a turn, even Maurice.
I expected Tim to be wary of Eric, who spent all day head bent, looking down. Could he possibly steer a boat with eight people on board? Tim felt my tension, but said simply, ‘watch’. I watched. Eric stood at the wheel, hardly raising his head, but plying the course that Tim set him. Eric did not have the speech to say how he felt, but the pleasure and recognition he experienced were palpable.
That moment has informed so much of my work with people with learning and behaviour difficulties: so often they are not trusted and respected, even by those entrusted with their care, education and well-being.
It’s a bit late to tell Tim how much that one moment means to me still, but never too late to share such good news. Thank you Tim, and thank you, Eric.
Yesterday we advocated butterfly’s days: no set agenda, no targets, no business, no busy-ness. Today we open the Book of Common Prayer to read a collect that is complementary to Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘The Butterfly’s Day’. It makes explicit that we are passing through this life, and need God’s guidance and rule to survive passing through things temporal, but we can keep a hold on things eternal with Our Father’s mercy.
Our picture from Saint David’s Cathedral invites us to be still – Emily might say ‘idle’. And knowing that Our Father is God will follow; we will be given a hold on things eternal
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that with you as our ruler and guide we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not our hold on things eternal; grant this, heavenly Father, for our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
This Lily Crucifix is striking. The figure of Christ is bleeding yet not broken; indeed he looks vigorous. The cross, too, is not dead wood but a lily of the field, full of sap and flowering. It’s not a canna – the one we usually call an Easter Lily – but an Easter Lily for all that. Christ, the wounded Christ, is risen! Immediately below the lily cross the church has placed the tabernacle or aumbry, housing the wafer that Christians recognise as the body of Christ.
Scattered across the wall are five-petalled pink flowers, surely wild roses like the one below. Or are they stars, their numbers counted by Him alone? Earth’s astronomers keep on counting more and more of them as their instruments look ever further, but they seem to have given up on names, instead allotting numbers to the innumerable golden grains they perceive and whose vastness they measure from light years away. They know they will never reach the end of the numbers but they trust that their work is valuable. It is valuable, for it is awe inspiring.
Here is Christina Rossetti, saying all this and more, with greater eloquence than your correspondent!
Leaf from leaf Christ knows; Himself the Lily and the Rose
Leaf from leaf Christ knows; Himself the Lily and the Rose:
Sheep from sheep Christ tells; Himself the Shepherd, no one else:
Star and star He names, Himself outblazing all their flames:
Dove by dove, He calls To set each on the golden walls:
Drop by drop, He counts The flood of ocean as it mounts:
Grain by grain, His hand Numbers the innumerable sand.
Lord, I lift to Thee In peace what is and what shall be:
Lord, in peace I trust To Thee all spirits and all dust.
If you are just joining this blog today, I hope you will go back to the beginning of these posts (12 March) to find out how we’ve arrived at this point today. We’re looking at Jesus’ message about death. Today I’d like to finish our reflection with the question, What must we do to be fully receptive to Jesus’ reassuring and loving message about eternal life? How can we really and truly make it our own, so that we, too, can say, Be not afraid?
First, I think it is a matter of trust, simple human trust. We must trust in Jesus, believe that what he says is true, be filled with faith.
Second, it’s about how we live. What does Jesus teach us on this point? Jesus wants to show us how to live in this life in order to be happy with him in the next. We are meant to be about Jesus, as Jesus is about the Father. We are to cleave to him now, pondering his teachings and praying to him, living as he teaches us to live, keeping the Commandments, and the Beatitudes.
Third, it’s about full commitment. We are meant to do this wholeheartedly, to embrace everything about Jesus, and whenever we are feeling mortally threatened by anything, we are to recall that he has hold of us. We will die one day, but he teaches us not to fear death because death, as he promises, is not the end of our life – despite all appearances to the contrary.
Fourth, it’s about right-thinking. Let’s unpack this in some detail. In Jesus’ earthly life, he works miracles of healing, and even raises a few people from the dead. But he was anxious that these miracles not be misunderstood. We are not supposed to deduce from them that Jesus is some kind of holy magician. More importantly, we are not supposed to see his power as being directed toward the political machinations of this world; nor does he use his power to reward with prosperity those who are good and punish with suffering those who are wicked. He does not want us to think that as Christians we arrogate his power to ourselves and have it on tap whenever we snap our fingers. Nor, again, does Jesus use his miraculous power to enable us to live forever in this difficult world where human propensities and human principles are so often widely at variance with each other. In answer to prayer, and for reasons known to him alone, he sometimes even now heals the dying and prolongs their life by some years. Perhaps someone reading this reflection has been the blessed recipient of such astonishing grace. But every time Jesus manifests power over the laws of nature this is meant to strengthen our belief in his divinity, and in the truth of every word he uttered. The miracles are meant to assure us that we can believe what Jesus says about eternal life because he is Lord of the living and the dead, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, all time belongs to him and all the ages, as the priest proclaims over the Easter Fire at the Easter Vigil.
In many ways, Jesus’ message is stunningly simple. Even a child can understand it. He is God. He loves us. He wants us to be with him now, through our life of faith and through our efforts to lead a life that is in accord with his teachings. He wants us to be with him in eternity. He is even now preparing a place for us with him. Am I enough of a child to believe this?
To you, my friends, I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more (Lk 12:4).
Thank you Sister Johanna! Five reflections to see us well into Lent, Easter and Beyond. I never once mentioned consciousness, our Lenten theme, but you open our eyes and ears to a deeper awareness of who Jesus is, and what life and death are all about. Thank you once again. Will Turnstone.
It would be a good idea to read yesterday’s post if you haven’t already done so – today’s reflection builds on it. We began yesterday by saying that Jesus is doing more than one thing in Luke 12: 1-2. Today we’ll continue by pointing out that in addition to issuing a warning against the Pharisees, Jesus is also dangerously sealing his fate – and he knows it. His public criticism of the Pharisees will not endear him to them; on the contrary, it will eventually result in his execution. Therefore, Jesus takes this conversation way out into deep waters, and he takes his thousands with him. Jesus is talking about death.
Jesus never had any illusions about the risk he was taking in his preaching. He knew before he even began his public ministry that he would be killed. What the crowd thought of him at this point in his career is difficult to fathom. It is unlikely that they were aware of the danger he was in. But certainly to us, who have access to more than two thousand years of Christian history, it should be clear: Jesus is saying to those who have ears to hear, both then and now, that although the religious authorities will want him dead, he is not afraid to criticise them. Then, he goes on to tell us not to be afraid of them either. He is saying this to an extremely large audience – he wants as many people to know this as possible. It is vital information. This is how he puts it:
To you, my friends, I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more (Lk 12:4).
We are doing lectiodivina in these posts – and lectiois traditionally the very slow reading and praying over sacred scripture. We are not trying to find out what happens next, we are pondering each word of our scripture passage, giving it time to yield up its meaning in relation to our personal life. Let’s give this line twenty-four hours to work on our hearts and return tomorrow to continue this meditation.
Second right in the bottom row: this could sum up the experience of the widow in Jesus’ parable that Sister Johanna is reflecting upon. ‘I’ve never felt so powerless in my life.’ Or further up: ‘I feel there is nothing to look forward to.’ It’s not something new to the Covid experience that makes people feel this way. 2,000 years ago, they must have said similar things to Jesus, and he put their experience into this parable, now opened anew for us by Sister Johanna.
We are looking at Jesus’ parable of the unjust judge, from Luke 18:1- 8. I recommend that you scroll back to yesterday’s post to catch up with us. We’re looking at an unusually playful parable, starring a curmudgeonly judge, and we’re wondering what Jesus is really getting at by presenting his ideas in this way. We find out by listening to the lines he allows the judge-curmudgeon to say, ‘… I have neither fear of God nor respect for any human person….’ This phrase comes twice in the short parable – the first time Jesus himself uses it to describe the judge, and the second time, he lets the judge say it to describe himself. Repetition is a device used to drive home a home truth. Jesus wants us to hear these words. What is the truth that they contain, then?
I think, first, the words tell us that Jesus understands what it is like for us to pray and not feel heard. He understands how, in our life with God, it sometimes feels as though God himself is the uncaring one, who delays and delays to help us, even though we ‘cry to him day and night.’ When we are going through such an experience, we feel alone, and it seems to us that no one in the history of the world has been through this kind of desolation except us. But in fact, Jesus knows that this is an archetypal experience. Jesus’ listeners at the time would have had it, we have it, all praying people in between us and them have had it. So we can nod our heads as Jesus’ first hearers must have done. Perhaps some in his audience will have begun to cry as Jesus’ words went home and exposed a deeply painful wound or a long-standing problem that felt overwhelming. Jesus is saying here, “I know. It sometimes feels like this when you pray to God for help. He seems unheeding. Here’s me, praying night and day, and nothing changes. Does God care?”
Second: Jesus in this parable is giving us permission to admit that we have these kinds of thoughts and feelings about God. Sometimes it is very difficult not to think of God as anything other than an extremely unjust judge. But why should Jesus encourage us to admit that we feel this way? Because faith is not about pretending to possess a level of ‘holiness’ that we do not really possess. We will return to the subject of faith at the end of our reflections tomorrow. For now, we can say that our faith in God is what allows us to tell God exactly how it feels to be me right now, and, as such, to tell him what we think of him. God knows this already, of course. But perhaps we don’t. Faith is sometimes about discovering who we are, as much as it is about discovering who God is. So, the Lord wants us to tell God all about it, with as much honesty as we can summon, while still hanging on to God for dear life.
The last nine words of the previous paragraph are vital. In light of them, let’s look at the character of the widow in this parable. What role does she play? A widow, in biblical shorthand, represents those who are neediest in society, those who have few human resources, who are alone and must fight hard in order even to be noticed by the current power-base. In this parable we find just such a fighter – a woman in whom the curmudgeonly judge meets his match. Feisty and determined, and as crabby and calculating in her way as he was, she “…kept on coming to him and saying, ‘I want justice from you against my enemy.’” Do I detect a hint of falsetto in Jesus’ rendering of these words? Maybe we all know the type of character the widow represents. Possibly, if we know her well, we are a bit afraid of her. But, don’t we admire her when some film or television drama features a character like this, who refuses to be the victim of whatever or whoever is trying to make her one?
We’re going to pause again here and return tomorrow to continue our meditation.
Today and tomorrow we are glad to share two posts from Sister Johanna that follow on nicely from Emily yesterday.
Lord, even the devils submit to us when we use your name (Luke 10:17). The disciples were elated. Seventy-two men had been appointed missionaries by the Lord and had been given their first assignment: to visit towns in the area where the Lord himself would soon be visiting (Luke 10:1f). They were meant to prepare the people for Jesus himself. Jesus gave them explicit instructions about what to wear for this, their first official engagement: normal clothes – nothing to distinguish them from anyone else, and what to pack: nothing. Indeed, they were to bring no food, no money, not even a change of clothing. No place had been arranged for them to stay when they arrived in a town: they would have to work that out when they got there. They were not to equip themselves ahead of time with anything that would allow them to feel self-reliant.
We know this story so well that we can forget how this must have sounded to the seventy-two when they listened to Jesus telling them what to do. Perhaps it seemed exciting – but I should think, too, that when they actually set out, without food supplies and with their pockets empty, they must have felt vulnerable in the extreme. It was their very first journey for Jesus, after all. They had no experience of past successes to give them confidence. They were only told by Jesus to heal the sick and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” Some must have secretly worried that they’d become tongue-tied when they started to preach, or would fail miserably in their first attempt at healing. Maybe they’d even be laughed out of town.
But instead, the gospel tells us that their missionary journey was a smashing success. The actual stories of their successes are just a few of the many untold tales that lie hidden behind what is recounted in the gospels. The evangelist skips them all in this instance, and zeroes in on something else – something of greater depth and importance. Luke tells us what happens after their triumph, when they return to Jesus like conquering heroes. For, when they see him, the first thing out of their mouths seems to have been that “even the devils” submitted to them.
Now, this is truly success on a spectacular scale. Perhaps the hopes of the missionaries had been much more modest: maybe they felt that they’d be doing well if they could make the child with the tummy-ache feel better, and manage to interest a small audience in stories of Jesus’ healings and sayings. But to tangle with devils and come up trumps – would they even have imagined this ahead of time? They must have said to each other as they journeyed home, “Won’t the Lord be overjoyed when he hears! I can’t wait to see his face when we tell him!”
And Jesus is overjoyed, just as they had hoped. He affirms them. It seems that he already knew what had happened – this kind of sensational news must have spread from village to village like wildfire. He declares: ‘I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven.’ Hearing these words of Jesus must have felt good, very good to the disciples. And Jesus is generous, not only with his praise, but with his promises. He has more to say here about what they will be able to do. “Look, I have given you power to tread down serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you.” I like to think of the disciples’ silence as they bask for a few minutes in Jesus’ assurances – their sense of wonder and gratitude must have been profound. They would be taken care of by the Lord whenever they were doing his work. They have just had their first experience of this. They would be powerful in his name. This was an important moment for the seventy-two. Let us leave them for twenty-four hours in this state of glowing wonder, and come back tomorrow to continue our reflections.