This week’s message from the synod office looks at what is happening in schools and colleges around the world. We highlight one example below, but you can find more by following the link above.
As part of the local synodal process, the Diocese of Palmerston North in New Zealand has developed a series of resources for school communities. The coordination group welcomes the participation of children and young people.
Prayer for the meeting of the synod’s commissions in Rome
Let us keep in mind in our personal and community prayer
next week's meeting of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops
with the members of the four synod’s commissions in Rome.
Enlighten, O Lord, the hearts of the participants,
who represent the diversity and richness of the Church.
Dispose their minds to listen to the Spirit of truth
so that their work and their reflections may best
serve Your Church.
Let them discover how to transmit
in the best way the experience of being a listening Church
and promote the participation of God's people.
On this journey, to which we are all called
to be enthused by the fire of the Spirit
that gives the necessary gifts at the right time,
we want to open ourselves, together with Mary
to the newness of a life of faith
which is built in communion
on the paths of love and hope.
The eighteenth century poet Edward Young seems to have been a poor sleeper! Did he lie awake in the dark, composing and memorising his verses to write them out in the morning, or keep a lit candle at his bedside, or fumble with flint and tinder box to strike a light? It’s clear that he did not trust solitary philosophising, but counted on discussion with friends to arrive at truth.
And if you raise an eyebrow at calling this post ‘my vocation today’, go back and read about the humble generosity of books. Writers’ vocation can live on after death, awaiting a new companion when a book is opened. Let’s read what Edward Young has to say to us about flesh and blood friendship and its challenges to see through another’s eyes. Lorenzo is an imaginary friend.
How often we talk’d down the summer’s sun,
And cool’d our passions by the breezy stream!
How often thaw’d and shorten’d winter’s eve,
By conflict kind, that struck out latent truth,
Best found, so sought; to the recluse more coy!
Thoughts disentangle passing o’er the lip;
Clean runs the thread; if not, ’tis thrown away,
Or kept to tie up nonsense for a song.
Know’st thou, Lorenzo! what a friend contains?
As bees mix’d nectar draw from fragrant flowers,
So men from friendship, wisdom and delight;
Twins tied by Nature, if they part, they die.
Hast thou no friend to set thy mind abroach?
Good sense will stagnate. Thoughts shut up, want air,
And spoil, like bales unopen’d to the sun.
Had thought been all, sweet speech had been denied;
Speech, thought’s canal! speech, thought’s criterion too!
Thought in the mine, may come forth gold, or dross;
When coin’d in words, we know its real worth."
From " Night Thoughts" by Edward Young.
The other day I called on a friend who had a few worries on her plate, ‘thoughts shut up’ began to ‘disentangle passing o’er the lip’. We draw wisdom and delight from friendship because of the trust between us, the safe space we can offer each other, the chance to reflect on a bigger picture of whatever is worrying us.
To you, my friends, I say: Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more (cf. Lk 12:4).
Jesus’ words here are bold words. I imagined myself there, at the scene, part of that huge crowd of thousands. I am hungry for Jesus’ truth. How would I have reacted to his words? Sure, I would have liked well enough being included among those whom Jesus calls his ‘friends’. But I must confess that I would also have felt a subtle resistance to the rest of that sentence, I think. He says, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but after that can do no more. I don’t think I would have wanted to hear about killing and being killed.
But Jesus, in this passage, is determined to challenge us, and to make his audience face the deepest of mysteries. He is going straight for what we most fear, straight for the most horrific thing we can imagine: our death. The very subject of death touches the rawest of raw nerves. In the face of death, if we are honest about our feelings, our sense of bewilderment, horror, loss, grief, disorientation, fear and even injustice and outrage surfaces – usually overwhelmingly. And this is the subject Jesus raises. Then, with simplicity, and without a hint of melodrama, he says that we have no reason to fear death, or to fear those who, out of malice, may cause our death. Recall: there are thousands listening to this speech. He wants everybody to know.
Why is Jesus talking about death? It now comes home to me that he does this because he alone, as Son of the Living God, is the only human being – ever – with authoritative knowledge of death. His teaching about death, therefore, is an integral part of his mission – it is his mission. It is even the Good News. Jesus is, I realise with a new clarity, about death. Or that’s one way of looking at it. Granted, perhaps it is far better to say it the other way round: that Jesus is about eternal life. But this way of putting it is extremely difficult to maintain at every moment of our existence because eternal life can only be fully experienced once we have died. And dying, despite everything Jesus teaches, looks exactly the same as it ever did. Moreover, the human species, by God’s design, is hard-wired to perpetuate its existence on earth; it therefore has a God-given, spontaneous recoil from death in the workings of every human instinct, appetite, and mental process.
But Jesus cannot NOT talk about death to us – not only because he knows that he will be put to death, but most importantly because death is our most fearsome enemy. He must tell us what he knows to be true about death. And he must give the example. How? By speaking the truth, even if it enrages the religious establishment to the point of wanting to kill him. And then by going courageously toward his own death on the Cross.
What are my personal feelings now as I ponder this episode from Luke? I am lingering over the idea of Jesus’ authoritative knowledge of death, trying to trust it. I want to trust it, but it is hard. My brain keeps thinking of arguments against this being true. How does he have this knowledge of death? Then I realise that we will never have the full answer to the question of Jesus’ knowledge – of anything. That is not information to which we have any access. Nevertheless, the gospels record that Jesus does know about death. He even foretells both his death and his resurrection long before it happens. We cannot know how he knows, but we can deduce from the things he does and the miracles he works that he is Lord, and that he speaks the truth.
Shall we stop for today, leaving these deep ponderings in the hands of the Holy Spirit, asking that we may be led to a new understanding? We will continue tomorrow.
Let us continue raising our consciousness this Lent! Our Proverb takes up an idea from yesterday’s prayer from Eastern Vespers.
A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.” Proverbs 11.1.
This Nineteenth Century kitchen balance was an heirloom from our next-door neighbour, Kay; it would have been interesting to hear the story of how she came to have it! It came with an incomplete set of iron wights, each one marked underneath with a crown and ‘VR’ to tell that they were trustworthy because they had been tested by officials representing Queen Victoria. Grandson Abel and I use them quite often. Abel takes delight in these just weights, because we get good results when we follow a recipe to cook using them – and I take delight in his delight. A false balance is an abomination to society for obvious reasons. You can read here how Channel Island farmers used big stones chipped down to useful weights to measure produce for sale.
Their old French quintal weights would be no use to Abel and me, and nor would the few pounds and ounces that came with the scales, since he will think in grams and kilos – though his mother and auntie speak about their children’s weights in stones!
Just weights are a form of speaking the truth; the different British, Jersey-French and Metric systems may differ, but by carefully comparing them and using them consistently, we can always get delightful results.
And where Bible texts differ, as in the two versions of the Lord’s Prayer,* we can enjoy carefully and prayerfully puzzling out the differences and so take delight in them.
Today is the feast of Gregory the Great, first pope of that name, who sent Augustine to Canterbury, arriving here in 597. He was inspired to establish the English mission when he came across young Saxons on sale in Rome’s market. Gregory was also a theologian and spiritual writer, here in his book Moralia (XXVIII 47), commenting on the Book of Job (12.4), where Job is answering his critics:
I am one mocked by his friends, Who called on God, and He answered him, The just and blameless who is ridiculed.
Window, St Thomas’ church, Canterbury, England.
Worldliness dictates to her followers to seek the high places of honour, to triumph in attaining the vain acquisition of temporal glory; to return manifold the mischiefs that others bring upon us; when the means are with us, to give way to no man’s opposition; when the opportunity of power is lacking, all whatsoever he cannot accomplish in wickedness to represent in the guise of peaceable good nature.
On the other hand it is the wisdom of the righteous, to pretend nothing in show, to discover the meaning by words; to love the truth as it is, to avoid falsehood; to set forth good deeds for nought, to bear evil more gladly than to do it; to seek no revenging of a wrong, to account opprobrium for the Truth’s sake to be a gain. But this simplicity of the righteous is ‘laughed to scorn,’ in that the goodness of purity is taken for folly with the wise men of this world. For doubtless every thing that is done from innocency is accounted foolish by them, and whatever truth sanctions in practice sounds weak to carnal wisdom.
For what seems worse folly to the world than to shew the mind by the words, to feign nothing by crafty contrivance, to return no abuse for wrong, to pray for them that speak evil of us, to seek after poverty, to forsake our possessions, not to resist him that is robbing us, to offer the other cheek to one that strikes us?
Much of this passage could serve as a manifesto for Agnellus’ Mirror and for the Season of Creation:
It is the wisdom of the righteous, to pretend nothing in show, to discover the meaning by words; to love the truth as it is, to avoid falsehood; to set forth good deeds for nought.
We hope we live up to that, in the blog and in daily life.
The story of the boarding schools for indigenous children in Canada does not make easy reading. It’s an horrific affair, with racism and a lack of respect for children among the contributing evils.
It’s also confusing to attempt to find the truth of what happened then and what is happening now. Many records were lost or destroyed, many events were not recorded. The Archdiocese of Toronto, which had none of these these schools, has produced this very clear account, which may not answer all the questions, but perhaps may help us to identify the right ones and begin to answer them – and see where to go next. Click to read the report.
The trouble with memory is that often it plays us false. We may not remember an event exactly as it happened. Another witness may remember it differently. Here is Dr Johnson’s view of the matter, written well before we had such conveniences as camera phones to help – a little.
There is yet another cause of errour not always easily surmounted, though more dangerous to the veracity of itinerary narratives, than imperfect mensuration.
An observer deeply impressed by any remarkable spectacle, does not suppose, that the traces will soon vanish from his mind, and having commonly no great convenience for writing, defers the description to a time of more leisure, and better accommodation. He who has not made the experiment, or who is not accustomed to require rigorous accuracy from himself, will scarcely believe how much a few hours take from certainty of knowledge, and distinctness of imagery; how the succession of objects will be broken, how separate parts will be confused, and how many particular features and discriminations will be compressed and conglobated into one gross and general idea.
To this dilatory notation must be imputed the false relations of travellers, where there is no imaginable motive to deceive. They trusted to memory, what cannot be trusted safely but to the eye, and told by guess what a few hours before they had known with certainty. Thus it was that Wheeler and Spon described with irreconcilable contrariety things which they surveyed together, and which both undoubtedly designed to show as they saw them.
from “Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland” by Samuel Johnson.
George Wheeler and Jacques Spon rediscovered the site of ancient Delphi, using an old description from Pausanias, and published their findings in 1682. I wonder, what will be the effect of all those video recordings of himself that my 20 month-old grandson likes to watch?
From a homily of Saint Oscar Romero, 1978, as relevant now as then.
Today the universal church celebrates World Communications Day. Let me say a few words to make all Catholics mindful of the importance of using the media of social communication in a critical and conscientious way. Through these marvellous means of communication—such as newspapers, radio, television, cinema—many ideas are communicated to large numbers of people, but often the media serve as tools of confusion. These instruments, as creators of public opinion, are often manipulated by materialist interests and are used to maintain an unjust state of affairs through falsehood and confusion. There is a lack of respect for one of the most sacred rights of the human person, the right to be well informed, the right to the truth. Each person must defend this right for himself or herself by using the media critically. Not everything in the newspapers, not everything in the movies or on television, not everything that is heard on the radio is true. Often it is just the opposite, a lie.
That is why critical people must know how to filter the media to avoid being poisoned with whatever falls into their hands. This is the type of awareness that the church wants to awaken today as we celebrate World Communications Day. We want people to read the newspapers critically and be able to say, «This is a lie! This is not the same thing that was said yesterday! This is a distortion because I have seen the opposite stated!» Being critical is a vital characteristic in our day, and because the church attempts to implant this critical awareness, she is facing some very serious conflicts. The reason is that the dominant interests want to keep people half-asleep. They do not want people who are critical and know how to discern between truth and falsehood. I believe that never before has there existed in the world, especially in a setting like ours, such a struggle—a struggle unto death—between the truth and the lie. The conflict at this time can be reduced to this: either truth or lies. Let us not forget that great saying of Christ: «The truth will set you free» (John 8:32). Let us always seek the truth!
There is a saying of Saint Augustine that I believe is very appropriate for these times: Libenter credimus quod credere volumus, which means, «We gladly believe what we want to believe». That is why it is so difficult to believe the truth: often we don’t want to believe the truth because it disturbs our conscience. But even though the truth may disturb us, we must accept it, and we must want to believe in it so that the Lord will always bless us with the freedom of those who love the truth. We should not be among those who sell the truth or their pens or their voices or their media to the highest bidder or to materialist interests. How sad it is to see so many pens being sold, so many tongues being fed through the slanderous words broadcast on the radio. Often the truth produces not money but only bitterness, yet it is better to be free in the truth than to have great wealth in mendacity.
St Oscar Romero, Ascension of the Lord. 7 May 1978 Read or listen to the homilies of St Oscar Romero at romerotrust.org.uk
‘Shall I ever,’ he asks on Easter Day, ‘receive the Sacrament with tranquility? Surely the time will come.’
from “Life of Johnson, Volume 2 1765-1776” by James Boswell
Doctor Johnson was staying with his friends the Thrales when he wrote this, well aware of his own sinfulness and the gulf that that could give rise to between himself and God, but also believing that salvation is ours: Christ has Passed-over through death to eternal life and so shall we. Believing does not mean being totally assured in my mind and heart that salvation is mine, and for the melancholic Johnson, all the theology in the world could not enkindle such certainty. Rather it is to accept the promise of salvation, even with a tiny part of myself, and forgive myself for my unbelief. Even a mustard seed faith can leaven the lump that I am; I can receive the Sacrament in fear and trembling, but at the same time, at a deeper level than my doubts, with tranquility.
Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1Corinthians 5:6-8)
All they that saw me have laughed me to scorn: they have spoken with the lips, and wagged the head.
He hoped in the Lord, let him deliver him: let him save him, seeing he delighteth in him.
For many dogs have encompassed me: the council of the malignant hath besieged me.
They have dug my hands and feet. They have numbered all my bones.
And they have looked and stared upon me.
They parted my garments amongst them; and upon my vesture they cast lots.
But thou, O Lord, remove not thy help to a distance from me; look towards my defence.
I will declare thy name to my brethren: in the midst of the church will I praise thee.
Ye that fear the Lord, praise him: all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him.
Ps 22: 8-9; 17-20; 23-24.
In today’s Psalm it is clear that the malignant have set out to humiliate the writer. Stepping into his shoes for the moment, I think of moments when I’ve been in trouble, usually with other boys. Which was worse on these occasions – to be stared at silently by authority, or to be ignored while he or she finished the work on the desk before them? Either way, this was a theatrical act to arouse fear in the culprits.
But here authority goes further, parting the writer’s clothing, treating it like a set of raffle prizes, and leaving him naked, to be stared at. If they’d had electricity we can be sure they would have turned the floodlights on him, arousing even more primal fear.
And yet – ‘I will declare thy name to my brethren: in the midst of the church will I praise thee.’ So went the martyrs, singing and praising God to the scaffold, like William Richardson last month. They were following Jesus, confident that he would lead them through the Valley of Death that he had conquered. The martyrs witnessed to the truth of love and the love of truth. Neither Love nor Truth were conquered on Calvary.
But the suffering and death were real. We should not insulate ourselves from that, from the flesh and blood of Jesus that was ‘ill-used’, as perhaps those who defaced this altar piece were trying to do. Rather we must accept to carry each our own daily cross and follow him, declaring his name to our brethren.