Tag Archives: vocation

8 February: Saint Josephine Bakhita


Saint Josephine Bakhita

Saint Josephine was born in Sudan in 1869 where she was kidnapped and sold into slavery as a child. She was a modern slave: in servitude despite laws forbidding it. After changing hands many times, she was sold to an Italian diplomat and taken to Italy, where slavery was indeed illegal, but it was only through the help of some sisters, the Canossian Daughters of Charity, that she gained her freedom from his family. She learned about God from the sisters and entered the congregation where she lived a life of love and service until her death in 1947.

Josephine Bakhita was canonised by John Paul II on October 1, 2000. He spoke of Josephine Bakhita as ‘a shining advocate of genuine emancipation. The history of her life inspires not passive acceptance but the firm resolve to work effectively to free girls and women from oppression and violence, and to return them to their dignity in the full exercise of their rights’.

Let us pray for all people caught up in modern slavery and those working to release them, often in grave personal danger to themselves.

You may also like to return to the Littlehampton Sisters’ reflection from last year.



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3 January: Feast of the Holy Family

Holy Family Window, Catholic Church, Saddleworth

Holy Family Window, Catholic Church, Saddleworth

Just recently I watched a video which truly melted my heart. The story was of a married Christian couple in the US who, unable to conceive naturally, and desperately wanting to raise a child, enquired as to the possibility of adopting one of the many thousands of babies (‘embryos’) frozen in time as a result of IVF procedures. The video was in fact narrated by their daughter – now 15 years old – who movingly described her happy childhood and the gradual process of coming to know her early history, beginning with her conception in a laboratory and her being suspended in storage for more than ten years. As she spoke she was radiant with healthy self-love and self-knowledge. She refers to herself as a ‘Snowflake’ child – and her witness and that of others in her situation is giving added momentum to the Snowflake movement, raising awareness of this wonderful way to welcome life previously unwanted.
Adoption is extremely beautiful. For a husband and wife to choose a child as their own with the overriding motivation of showering them with love, of creating a home with them, a place of safety and refuge, peace and joy, is to be celebrated. In a sense, we are all adopted. All adopted into the faith of Abraham, and into the great Reward that was being prepared through his earthly descendants: that reward being Jesus Christ. The true Gift of Christmas, Who comes to raise our earthly identity to that of a heavenly identity.
We all yearn to belong. Whatever our state of life, our duties, gifts and responsibilities, we all need to know and experience that we belong somewhere – and with others.
Today the value of independence and of ‘doing it my way’ is more than ever promoted as the ideal state of life. But the reality of our need to belong cannot simply be brushed aside: because no individual, unique human person is brushed aside by God. God who honours every conception by breathing His own Image into the tiny developing life – even if conceived in a way outside His plan.
Family: is the place, above all, where the growing child knows without question their intrinsic worth; their identity as beloved child of God. Where they hopefully discover that they have, in fact, a heavenly Father and heavenly Mother as well as their earthly parent or parents.
Family is where the Gift of Bethlehem and Nazareth takes flesh here and now. Jesus Christ chose to be born into a family because the family was – and remains – at the heart of His Saving Plan for Humanity. He wanted to belong in a human family – so that in receiving Him into our own hearts and homes we would know our worth, our true identity. God’s taking on our humanity in the infant Jesus not only confirms the goodness of the human family, it directs it to its fulfilment and perfection: that the human family might take-on godliness!
We live, however, and despite our best efforts, in an imperfect world – and Almighty God is well aware of it! He chose to be born into a human family knowing that ‘the family’ would one day suffer the attacks and trials that it is going through right now. Simeon prophesied to Mary and Joseph that their Son Jesus was destined to be rejected – and so it is to be expected that his greatest gifts would also in time be rejected – the priesthood, the family, the Church itself. The answer to the attack against the family is not to abandon it but to deepen our commitment to it. God gives a very special grace and strength to those who do their best to enshrine Jesus Christ in their homes, marriages, and families, especially when circumstances are less than ideal. And in this our models are Mary and Joseph.
At the heart of the Holy Family’s hidden life in Nazareth was Purity, self-sacrifice, hard work, simplicity, joy, humble service, perseverance (and, above all…) prayer and worship.
Although Jesus was God, and so totally incapable of anything other than perfect love, He had to be taught and guided as He learned to show forth that Love in His words, gestures and actions. Imagine: the Son of God being taught to pray, sing and worship God by a humble carpenter and His young wife!
It is the privilege of every Christian parent to endeavour to form their children, over time, to grow in the likeness of Christ. And so prayer and worship have to be at the heart of life if a child’s true destiny is to be fulfilled. Pope Francis has confirmed the Tradition of 2,000 yrs by calling the family the ‘Domestic Church’. And rightly so. We come to Church each Sunday so that Christ’s sacrifice of perfect Love – made present in the Mass – is then made manifest in the home. And the family alive in the love of Jesus is the answer to a society so quickly losing its heart – and is the building-block of the New World of true peace and love.
It is a joyful but not at all easy duty to speak about the family. So many of us are from broken homes, or had traumatic childhoods, or, find ourselves separated or widowed, perhaps with few or no family members. In truth, wherever Jesus Christ is welcomed into a human heart there is family, because there He makes His home, with His Father and the Holy Spirit. In God’s loving plan the Parish and the Home were always meant to reflect and feed each other…whether the home is made up of one soul or a dozen or more.
Abraham’s openness to God resulted in the promise of countless offspring. In a life of prayer and communion with Jesus Christ, He will reveal to each of us our unique call to become generators of spiritual life. For those who live alone that might mean contributing to the life of the parish in a more active way than would otherwise have been possible, or in a life of profound prayer on behalf of the parish family and, indeed, the world. Simeon and Anna are forever held before us as an example to emulate.
Abraham did not live on earth long enough to see the fulfilment of God’s promise in all its glory – but from heaven he rejoices every time a soul comes to discover – or re-discover – God’s love for them.
Whatever our circumstances, let us resolve to welcome the Living Jesus into our hearts, and do all we can to bring his Love to life – at home, in the Parish and in the world.

DW, Fr Daniel Weatherley.

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August 10: Francis Thompson IX: In Darkest England.

In Darkest England

Thompson, a century ago, saw conditions that needed addressing. Having been homeless, he knew the life from inside. Here he compares the Salvation Army with the Franciscans, lamenting that there are not more of the latter. In view of the closure of the Franciscan Study Centre and the diminishing numbers of professed religious Franciscans, we can learn from the Salvation Army, and stand shoulder to shoulder with them with the Food Banks and other ecumenical ventures. The state of ecumenism, at least, is an advance on Thompson’s day.

Tomorrow is the Feast of Saint Clare, friend of St Francis and founder of the Franciscan sisters known as Poor Clares. Happy Feast to all our sisters!

Consider what the Salvation Army is. It is not merely a sect, it is virtually a Religious Order, but a Religious Order of a peculiar kind. It consists of men and women living in the world the life of the world, pursuing their businesses, marrying, bringing up families; yet united by rule and discipline, and pushing forward active work of charity and religious influence among the forsaken poor. It possesses, moreover, the advantage of numerous recruits from the ranks of the poor, through whom it can obtain intimate knowledge of the condition and requirements of their class.

May it be that here, too, the Salvation Army has studied St Francis? Here, too, the Assisian has left us a weapon which but needs little practice to adapt it to the necessity of the day. Even so… The Franciscan Tertiaries are this army. They are men and women who live in the world the life of the world – though not a worldly life: who marry, rear their families, attend to their worldly vocations; yet they are a Religious Order, with rule and observance.

Not all of us are called to join the Franciscan Tertiaries, but there are many openings for us to ‘meet the necessities of the day’. Something to ponder on.


See The Works of Francis Thompson, Prose: Volume III, p57-58. Burns Oates, 1920.

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July 3, Readings from Mary Webb, II: Unless latent loves are developed …


We listen, hearing a faint call from afar. It is this sense of mystery – unfading, because the veil is never lifted – that gives glory to the countryside, tenderness to atmosphere. It is this that sends one man to the wilds, another to dig a garden; that sings in a musician’s brain; that inspires the pagan to build an altar and the child to make a cowslip-ball. For in each of us is implanted the triune capacity for loving his fellow and nature and the Creator of them.

These loves may be latent, but they are there; and unless they are all developed we cannot reach perfect manhood or womanhood. For the complete character is that which is in communion with most sides of life – which sees, hears, and feels most – which has for its fellows the sympathy of understanding, for nature the love that is without entire comprehension, and for the mystery beyond them the inexhaustible desire which surely prophesies fulfilment somewhere.

We would not encourage a child to make a cowslip ball today, though there seemed to be an abundance along the motorways this Spring, but that’s not a place to set a child gathering flowers!

Interesting how Mary Webb sees a complete human as having a triune nature, being ‘in communion with most sides of life’, not denying illness, frailty or failing. Let us not exclude the unfading sense of mystery, but be open to our sisters and brothers, our fellow creatures and the One who created all.


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11 May: Getting in the Way

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There are times when life doesn’t go our way. We make plans, and unanticipated events unmake them. It can be as simple as a delayed train, or as devastating as sudden ill health. We are going along, with some idea at least of what shape our day might take, or what form our life might take, but then everything unravels in the face of something we didn’t expect. We are left asking, ‘Where am I? Where do I go now?’

The unexpected happening gets in the way. If it’s a pleasant surprise we’re happy to be diverted, but even then we might feel a little thrown. But when something painful, difficult or threatening crashes in, we can be shaken to the core, bewildered by the turn of events and left with no clear sense of our bearings. I remember sitting down on a London bus and looking up to see the notice by the door: ‘NO WAY OUT’…not the sort of message you hope to receive when life feels uncertain!

There is another sense in which we sense something or someone stands in our way. We have a good intention, even one we sense comes as gift of the Spirit; but we also see an obstacle and it seems formidable. Perhaps it’s about finding work that is meaningful and makes a difference but the jobs don’t seem to be there. Or perhaps we sense we have something to give but doubt that it will be valued by others. Or perhaps it is a persistent call we sense to place our daily life more deeply in God, but we can’t seem to find the time or the means to pray.

Seeing the barrier on our mental map we might not even begin the journey. Or when we walk right up to it and see its size and hear its noise we might give up the task for hopeless. But what if the pull to make the journey continues to be strong? And what if this desire seems to come not just from our self-will but from some inner place where God’s Spirit dwells? Then we might be willing to go on walking trusting that in time we will arrive. But where will this arrival point be? It might be the place we imagined or somewhere entirely different and surprising. God knows.

I recently went for a walk, having planned my route on a map showing all the footpaths, I knew where I wanted to get to. But what stood in the way was a busy dual carriageway. The map showed a footpath running up to its edge and another starting on the other side immediately opposite. There had to be an underpass or a bridge… There wasn’t…

I understood how Moses and the Egyptians must have felt when faced by the waters of the Red Sea. There are no zebra crossings on motorways…

I might have turned back, but the lure of the destination was strong, and so I trudged along the road’s noisy edge for a long mile, searching for a crossing point and finally – when almost at the point of giving up – reached a turning that took me to the other side. I wasn’t on the path I first thought of but now new possibilities for the journey opened up for me. This, rather than the route I had imagined in the beginning, was now my path.

Jesus says, ‘I am the Way’. The Way moves on from where we are, and not from some other place. We don’t know where in detail it will lead us, but it will lead us somewhere. The obstacles we perceive are not barriers to this way; in Jesus they become the Way. All that has happened to us is part of the Way. All that might happen in the future – wanted or not – will also takes its place within the Way. Our part is to pluck up our courage and take hold of our desire and walk: a Way has to be travelled.

This Way might not after all, follow the path we envisaged and may not lead to the destination we imagined. But a Way that can lead someone through the dead ends of betrayal, ridicule and death on a cross, and yet lead to unbounded risen life, is always to be trusted.


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10 May : From Fear to Love

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In love there is no room for fear, but perfect love drives out fear [1 John 4.18]

Fear is disabling. It makes us shrink from the risk of trust. It closes us off from relationship. Fear binds us in a narrow life. The work of God’s Spirit is to lead us from fear to love. But how can we co-operate with the Spirit and overcome those fears that hold us back from wideness of heart?

Name your fear

When I was a small child I was afraid of the dark. I couldn’t sleep. I imagined I could make out the shadowy outline of a gorilla in the darkest corner of the bedroom – not the best inducement to sleep! Then one night inspiration came: I named my gorilla ‘Charlie’. Somehow I wasn’t afraid of ‘Charlie’ in the same way as my looming, nameless gorilla- shaped terror. Sleep came more easily, and in time Charlie no longer seemed to be around. It helps to pin down just what it is you fear so that you can see it for what it is. For example, ‘if I try something new I will inevitably fail’. Naming your fear helps in beginning to address it: ‘I own I am afraid of this, but I don’t have to be held by this fear’.

Share your fear: Fear becomes magnified in size when we seek to hide it from others. Share your fear with someone you trust.

Look at where your actions take you

The inner voice of fear bids us be ‘safe’ but this safety is often illusory. Choosing the safe can lead us to be more trapped than ever. The pattern often repeats itself – so be aware of it. There are other responses we can make that will help us in the longer run to be happier, less constrained and more confident in our ability.

Don’t listen to discouragement:

In his advice to spiritual guides Ignatius Loyola notes how when we seek to overcome our fears and move to a greater trust in God, what is damaged and closed to the Spirit within us will ‘harass, afflict with anxieties’ and ‘put up false obstacles’. On the other hand the voice of the Spirit within is heard in ‘every interior joy that calls and attracts’ us towards wholeness, freedom and generous self-gift. Fear drives us, whilst the Love that is God invites.

One exercise that may be helpful is to divide a piece of paper into two columns. In the left column write down what the inner ‘voice’ of fear says. In the right column write down in answer what, in better moments, you have sensed God saying to you…’you are worthy, capable…there is a future for you…’

Act your way into a new way of thinking

If we wait until we feel total trust and freedom before we step out of a fearful pattern of behaviour we may wait a long time! But if we dare to step out when Love calls, ignoring the voice of fear, then trust and self-belief will grow.

Stay in the moment, for ‘now’ is where God is.

The rule is jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today’

[The Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s: Through the Looking Glass]

Fear usually concerns what has happened in the past or what might happen in the future. All our capacity to be gratefully present to the gift of ‘now’ and to work creatively within it is stripped away. Yet ‘now’ is where God is. Even if the worst we can imagine did happen, God would be within that ‘now’. Jesus invites his worrying disciples to ‘consider the ravens…consider the lilies, how they grow’. It’s impossible to ‘consider’ what is before us if we’re somewhere in the past or future. Jesus advises: be present to what is. Spend a minute or two giving all your attention to the sounds you can hear – voices in the street, rain against the window – listen to the texture of these sounds rather than getting tangled up in what they might signify. Or, absorb yourself in what you can see – the lines on the desk in front of you, the movement of clouds in the sky. Slowly you will find your heartbeat slowing. In this breathing space, God ‘is’.

Go with the flow

The movement from fear into love is a movement of the Spirit. It is like a stream we launch our boat into and then the current takes it along. It takes effort and courage and persistence to go with this flow. But the flow is love, and this love is life.

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1 April: “Is Christianity Dead?”- Our Response to BBB: VII – the Human and Christian Vocation.


Dear BBB,

I’m sure you’ll feel your questions have not been answered this week. Do the crowds on the street, as here in Warsaw, no longer believe? Is the faith dying? Are we looking in or looking out? I was wondering if the Synod preparation document would acknowledge the vast majority of us who are not priests or nuns or ‘official’ Catholics, but trying to live our lives with God.

Well, it does. And it encourages us to look out.

Many Catholic teachers are involved as witnesses in universities and schools in every grade and level. Many are also ardently and competently involved in the workplace. Still other believers are engaged in civil life, attempting to be the leaven for a more just society. Many engaged in volunteer work in society devote their time for the common good and the care of creation. A great many are enthusiastically and generously involved in free-time activities and sports. All of these people bear witness to the human and Christian vocation which is accepted and lived with faithfulness and dedication, arousing in those who see them a desire to do likewise. Consequently, responding generously to one’s proper vocation is the primary way of performing pastoral vocational work.

We must also acknowledge that other people bear witness to the human vocation with faithfulness and dedication. This afternoon I met a group of volunteers clearing rubbish from a path. One is a professed atheist, two never darken the doors of a church, the fourth represents a political party I could never vote for.

And there entered a thought into them, which of them should be greater. But Jesus seeing the thoughts of their heart, took a child and set him by him, And said to them: Whosoever shall receive this child in my name, receiveth me; and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth him that sent me. For he that is the lesser among you all, he is the greater.

And John, answering, said: Master, we saw a certain man casting out devils in thy name, and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said to him: Forbid him not; for he that is not against you, is for you.

Luke 9:46-50

We are not greater than others because we call ourselves Christian but we have to take care of how we witness the Gospel in our lives. Preaching in the workplace is likely to be a breach of contract as well as annoying and counter-productive, but hiding our Christian faith is not necessary for survival, as it was not so long ago in much of Europe.

If our pastors are not inspiring us to call others to Christ through living our own vocation, through devoting time to the common good and the (Franciscan)  care of creation, they are letting us down and emptying the pews. Without vision the people perish.

Vision is for the whole people, not just for me or you who may have received it. We hope some of what we share in Agnellus’ Mirror reflects a true Christian vision. And we are not afraid, deep down, of what changes the future may bring to God’s church.

RoodEngMartyrsCamb (495x700)

This is my Son, Listen to him.

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30 March: “Is Christianity Dead?”- Our Response to BBB: V, ‘Going out’.

Dear BBB,

I promise you I did not know this Synod document was about to be published when I began answering your question,  Is Christianity Dead?  But there are good ideas in there to help address your concerns. I move on to the short paragraph entitled Going Out. I think we have to realise that when Pope Francis is talking about vocations he is by no meaning just the priesthood and religious life. 

Pastoral vocational care, in this sense, means to accept the invitation of Pope Francis: “going out”, primarily, by abandoning the rigid attitudes which make the proclamation of the joy of the Gospel less credible; “going out”, leaving behind a framework which makes people feel hemmed-in; and “going out”, by giving up a way of acting as Church which at times is out-dated. “Going out” is also a sign of inner freedom from routine activities and concerns, so that young people can be leading characters in their own lives. The young will find the Church more attractive, when they see that their unique contribution is welcomed by the Christian community.

The church porch is important; each one is a door of mercy where people, old and young, should feel welcome to come in and go out freely. If that is not the case, how can it be remedied? What ways of acting do we need to give up? Pope Francis does not promise it will not be demanding.


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29 March: “Is Christianity Dead?”- Our Response to BBB: IV, ‘A mature choice for a life of faith.’

Walking with young people builds up the community.

Dear BBB,

Today I’d like to share some thoughts from the preparation document for the coming Synod of Bishops. You ask: Are we experiencing the decline of faith and church as we know it?  Well, that’s one way of looking at it, but I agree with Doug that hardly means Christianity is dead.

Baptism, the Bishops remind us, is not the same as making a mature choice for a life of faith. Arriving at this point requires a journey which sometimes includes unpredictable paths and uncustomary places which are far removed from ecclesial communities. In this regard, Pope Francis said: “Vocational pastoral ministry is learning the style of Jesus, who passes through the places of daily life, stops without being hurried and, by looking at our brothers with mercy, leads them to encounter God the Father (Address to Participants in the International Conference on Pastoral Work for Vocations, 21 October 2016). Walking with young people builds up the entire Christian community.

Precisely because the proposed message involves the freedom of young people, every community needs to give importance to creative ways of addressing young people in a personal way and supporting personal development. In many cases, the task involves learning to allow for something new and not stifling what is new by attempting to apply a preconceived framework. No seed for vocations can be fruitful if approached with a closed and “complacent pastoral attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way’” and without people being “bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelisation in their respective communities” (Evangelii gaudium, 33). Three verbs from the Gospel, which describe the way Jesus encountered the people of his time, can be of assistance in adopting this pastoral style: “going out”, “ seeing” and “calling.”

If we want to be seeing young (and older) people in our church buildings, we have to go out to them; only then can we be used to call them.

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1 February: A week with Rabindranath Tagore: IV

mercy.carving. (328x640)

I cannot choose the best.

The best chooses me.

Stray Birds XX

I cannot always explain why a particular picture ends up with a post on this blog. Yesterday’s picture of the shadows was one I had on file, waiting for the right words. They came. Today’s jumped out of the file as I flicked through. ‘Of course! It’s about mercy!’ I said. The best chose me, even when I was not feeling at all capable of choosing the best. 

So, take courage. When all was about to fall apart, the best told his disciples:

You have not chosen me: but I have chosen you; and have appointed you, that you should go, and should bring forth fruit; and your fruit should remain: that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

John 15:16.

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