Tag Archives: weakness

23 May: Spreading the light.

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During the Easter Vigil every year we light our candles from the great Easter Candle, spreading that light in the darkness across the Church. This simple act reminds us that we are called to bring the light of God’s joyful love to everyone around us. The Holy Spirit himself fans into a flame a faith which may seem rather weak and fragile at times, echoing the words in the Gospel, ‘Lord I do believe, help my little faith.’

Through Confirmation, Jesus himself, through the gift of his Holy Spirit, strengthens that faith so that we can share it with others, boldly and with great courage.

‘Go out to the whole world, proclaim the Good News!’

+ Michael Evans, Bishop of East Anglia, 2003-2011.

Paschal or Easter Candles from past years, preserved at Canterbury Cathedral.
Words of Bishop Evans c/o Canon Anthony Charlton, Canterbury.

 

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15 March: How Many out of Ten?

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Members of different L’Arche communities processing into Canterbury Cathedral to celebrate 50 years of L’Arche and 40 years of L’Arche in the UK.

Tony Gibbings  was a founder member of L’Arche Kent and is now leader of L’Arche in Ipswich. He has shared with us his reflection on L’Arche as seen by an Irish comedian, Tommy Tiernan. 

As Tony says, the writer speaks to the Irish context. So he has a few things wrong for the rest of us. In most of the world L’Arche is not just a “Catholic community”… and there is not “a chapel in every house”. We can pray around the shared table, or in the sitting room.

Tony writes:

This column (see link below) was handed to me by a friend. Apparently Tommy Tiernan is an Irish comedian and as foul-mouthed as they come these days. I, for one, do not find it easy that all real political resistance in our Western culture seems to only reside in the entertainment industry, rather than politicians or journalists. Recent news reports that some 30 0r 40 journalists have died in 2017 while reporting in war zones or because they exposed corruption or anti-government views shows the danger of challenging oppressive aspects of our world. Comedians sometimes seem to be the only remaining pockets of resistance, limited by being mere entertainers, but perhaps protected from being targeted themselves.

L’Arche was founded as a resistance and alternative to a society based on power-play. In this article Tommy Tiernan brings that dynamic vision to life and up-to-date for 2018. He has said in one of his other regular columns that “I like going to Mass – it’s all about the losers”. Touché. L’Arche’s prophetic message for the church is just that. We are not made more human by our strength or our success: We are made human by acknowledging our vulnerability and failures. We all need a bit of strength and success, but that is not what brings us into true relationship with ourselves, each other, or God. Community helps us to re-connect with our whole self – this is why those who taste L’Arche and the people at the heart of it cannot get away from the promise of authenticity that it holds out to us.

My prayer for 2018 is that all those with responsibility in the Church will grow in their understanding that what we need to see reflected in the Mass is the compassion of God, not what we have had in recent years – a distasteful attempt by the power-players in the Church to use the Mass to attempt to “correct” those who recognise that God is a God of relationship, not of power-play.

My other prayer is, ironically, for personal strength for each of us, in whatever form it is needed!
Best wishes for 2018.

Tony Gibbings,

Director/Community Leader
L’Arche Ipswich, 3 Warrington Road, Ipswich IP1 3QU
Tommy Tiernan 4 out of 10

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24 February: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XIII: A sense of humour helps 2.

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Hearing this Saint Francis, all overjoyed in spirit, lifting up his face unto heaven, stood for a great while with his mind uplifted in God; anon returning to himself again, he knelt him down and rendered thanks and praises unto God: and then with great fervour of spirit turned him to Brother Masseo and said: “Wilt thou know why after me? wilt thou know why after me? wilt thou know why after me? that the whole world doth run? This cometh unto me from the eyes of the most high God, which behold at all time the evil and the good: for those most holy eyes have seen among sinners none more vile, none more lacking, no greater sinner than am I: wherefore to do this marvellous work the which He purposeth to do, He hath not found upon the earth a creature more vile, and therefore hath He chosen me to confound the nobleness and the greatness and the strength and the beauty and wisdom of the world: to
the intent that men may know that all virtue and all goodness come from Him, and not from the creature, and that no man may glory in himself; but whoso will glory, may glory in the Lord, unto whom is honour and glory for ever. and ever.”

Then Brother Masseo, at so humble a reply uttered with so great fervour, was afraid, and knew of a surety that Saint Francis was rooted and grounded in humility.

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January 16: Reflections from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis. II.

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Of Brother Bernard of Quintavalle, 2.

Saint Francis, thinking truly that Bernard was asleep, in his sleep rose up from his bed and set himself to pray, lifting up his hands and eyes unto heaven, and with exceeding great devotion and fervour said : “My God, my God.” And thus saying and sorely weeping he abode till morning, alway repeating : “ My God, my God,” and naught beside; and this Saint Francis said, while musing on and marvelling at the excellence of the divine Majesty, which deigned to stoop down to a perishing world and through his poor little Francis purposed to bring a remedy for the salvation of his soul and the souls of others.

Therefore illumined by the Holy Spirit, or the spirit of prophecy, foreseeing what great things God would do through him and his Order, and minding him of his own insufficiency and little worth, he cried unto God and besought Him that by His pity and almighty power, without the which the weakness of man may naught avail, He would supply his lack, aid and fulfil what of itself was nothing worth.

Bernard seeing, by the light of the lamp, the most devout acts of Saint Francis, and devoutly
pondering in his mind the words that he spake, was touched and inspired by the Holy Spirit to change his life; in the morning therefore he called Saint Francis and thus bespake him: “Brother Francis, I am wholly purposed in my heart to leave the world and follow thee in whatsoever thou rnayest bid me.” Hearing this, Saint Francis rejoiced in spirit, and said: “Bernard, this that thou sayest is a task so great and difficult, that thereof must we seek counsel of our Lord Jesu Christ, and beseech Him that He be pleased to show us His will therein, and teach us how we may bring it to pass: wherefore let us go together to the bishop’s house, wherein is a good priest, and let us let say the Mass; then let us continue in prayer until Tierce, beseeching God that in thrice opening of the missal He may reveal to us the path it is His will we should elect.” Bernard made answer that this pleased him right well.

Photo from the Missionaries of Africa. Here is a bishop of today, teaching from the Missal. Good grant Wisdom to all teachers and preachers!

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12 January, Temperance VI: Temperance, Restraint and Anger.

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One of the important aspects of the virtue temperance is that it is not just about our physical appetites. It is about all our appetites, and develops our ability to handle such emotions as intense fear, desire and anger. And so, it complements moderation with something that uses perhaps more ‘muscle’ – and that something is restraint. Restraint is that power of soul whose act is to choose. In so doing, it curbs the desire for immediate gratification by showing us that we may fulfil our being more truly by making a reasoned choice than by gratifying an impulse that is coming (as in the case of anger) from a hidden desire for vengeance.

Restraint has particular relevance to the passion of anger. Anger can be a very strong passion indeed, and it is worth dwelling on it for a moment. St. Thomas grants that some forms of anger are useful: the anger that surfaces in regard to injustice, for example, and any kind of abuse. Anger is a necessary passion in these circumstances. I would go even further and say that there are some situations to which anger is the only healthy response. But, once again, anger must be directed by the light of reason. Intemperate anger can be destructive and abusive itself, and St. Thomas would not allow that it is good to fight violence with violence. This is where restraint comes in. Blind wrath, bitterness of spirit, revengeful resentment: these forms of anger are highlighted by St. Thomas as being the most dangerous aspects of anger and therefore most in need of the curbing powers of restraint. Blind wrath, he says, is anger that is immoderately fierce and destructive. Bitterness of spirit is to do with a state of anger that lasts so long that it becomes a part of one’s very character and personality. In this case the offence remains in one’s memory, and gives rise to what Thomas calls ‘lasting displeasure’ that does not stop until punishment has been inflicted. Revengeful resentment is an aspect of this ongoing bitterness in which the disposition becomes chronically sullen and the mind is endlessly preoccupied with taking revenge.

When these aspects of anger are delineated here in writing, it is easy to see how harmful they can be – to ourselves and to others – but let’s face it: we have all been there and probably done it. I don’t doubt that many of us have at times been swept away by the intensity of our feelings and indulged in precisely the kind of angry behaviour Thomas describes. These temptations are part of the weakness we have as fallen beings. But the virtue of temperance brings good things to bear on this state of affairs. Through gentleness, justice and charity we can restrain the onslaught of anger.

Gentleness, contrary to what we might think, does not mean that we never feel angry, or that if we do, we can get over it almost before we feel the full force of it. Rather, gentleness is what makes a person master of herself, and therefore master of the power of anger, according to St. Thomas – for anger is a power, and as such is capable of accomplishing something good. Gentleness is about channeling that power rightly, dealing with the cause of the anger fairly, addressing the whole situation that gave rise to the anger in such a way as to change it for the better.

In order to do this, of course, we need to enlist the aid of our reason. We are back to the need to think. Our reason then, brings justice and charity to bear upon the situation that has caused our anger. Justice and charity working together with gentleness enables us to focus on something other than our own pain. We become able to focus on the feelings of the one (or ones) who offended us, on seeing the situation from the other side, and on effecting the changes that will lead to the establishment of peace – even if some of those changes are changes that need to take place within our own heart.

SJC

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September 2: L’Arche and Care VII -The roots of L’Arche.

Larmes de silence: Jean Vanier

Jean Vanier’s Tears of Silence (DLT, 1973) is the earliest book about L’Arche that I know, As an appendix he has a speech given at Church House in 1972, from which this is an extract.

This is the problem. We have created a society that rejects the weak. This is a terrible indictment of any society. It is a wonderful thing when you put your arms out in a welcoming attitude to a handicapped person; then something happens: his eyes begin to believe and his heart begins to dance and he begins in some way to become our teacher. . .

I begin to discover something: that this wounded person, a distorted face, a crippled hand, that the way the handicapped person looks at me, approaches me – all this does something to me, the wounded person calls me forth. And being called forth, I discover that I can bring him up some tiny little way.

The vocabulary has changed over forty years, but the message is clear. And although big subnormality hospitals are largely consigned to history, our society still rejects the weak, to the extent that parents will be put under tremendous pressure to abort a baby known to have Down’s syndrome.

We need to return, not so much to the 2oth century roots of L’Arche, but to the 1st Century roots of L’Arche, the Joyful Good News we are sent to proclaim to all nations.

(Tears of Silence is on sale in French and English through Abe Books.)

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Good News, not Good Advice.

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The word “Gospel” means “good news,” not “good advice.” The gospels are not so much a spiritual and moral theology book that tell us what we should be doing, but are more an account of what God has already done for us, is still doing for us, and the wonderful dignity that this bestows on us. Of course the idea is that since we are gifted in this way our actions should reflect that dignity rather than the opposite. Morality is not a command, it’s an invitation; not a threat, but a reminder of who we truly are. We become taller and less petty when we remember what kind of family we ultimately come from.

We all have two souls, two hearts, and two minds. Inside of each of us there’s a soul, heart, and mind that’s petty, that’s been hurt, that wants vengeance that wants to protect itself, that’s frightened of what’s different, that’s prone to gossip, that’s racist, that perennially feels cheated. Seen in a certain light, all of us are as small in stature as Zacchaeus. But there’s also a tall, big-hearted person inside each of us, someone who wants to warmly embrace the whole world, beyond personal hurt, selfishness, race, creed, and politics.

The world isn’t divided up between big-hearted and small-minded people. Rather our days are divided up between those moments when we are big-hearted, generous, warm, hospitable, unafraid, wanting to embrace everyone and those moments when we are petty, selfish, over-aware of the unfairness of life, frightened, and seeking only to protect ourselves and our own safety and interests. We are both tall and short at the same time and either of these can manifest itself from minute to minute.

For John of the Cross, this is the way we heal:

We heal not by confronting all of our wounds and selfishness head-on, which would overwhelm us and drown us in discouragement, but by growing to what he calls “our deepest centre.” For him, this centre is not first of all some deep place of solitude inside the soul, but rather the furthest place of growth that we can attain, the optimum of our potential. To grow to what our deepest DNA has destined us for is what makes us whole, makes us tall—humanly, spiritually, and morally.

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Thus, if John of the Cross were your spiritual director and you went to him with some moral flaw or character deficiency, his first counsel would be: What are you good at? What have you been blessed with? Where, in your life and work, does God’s goodness and beauty most shine through? If you can grow more and more towards that goodness, it will fan into an ever larger flame which eventually will become a fire that cauterises your faults. When you walk tall there will be less and less room for what’s small and petty to manifest itself.

But to walk tall means to walk within our God-given dignity. Nothing else, ultimately, gives us as large an identity. That’s useful also to remember when we challenge each other: Gospel-challenge doesn’t shame us with our pettiness, it invites us to what’s already best inside us.

AMcC.

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April 6, Station III: Our Own Hopes Had Been…

Our Own Hopes Had Been… [19-24]

We now come to the account the two disciples give to ‘the stranger’ of what happened. What the stranger/Jesus is doing is listening to their experience of what happened, and as we listen with him—which is what we try to do at this station—we can become aware of several things.

    • The first is that in pouring out their experience it is clear that they cannot understand it, still less accept that it makes any sense at all. It should not have been allowed. The unspoken question, their cri de coeur, is: Where was God? Why did God allow it to happen?
    • That’s not a million miles from the way we might have experienced it if we had been there. All the more reason then to pause a little longer at this Station.
    • If we pay closer attention to what they say we will surely recognise the Gospel story, only it is not ‘Gospel’/Good News! It is their experience of the story, told from ‘a purely human’ point of view, and it is heavy with the weight of failure and ‘loss of faith’.
      • First, there is the failure of the religious authorities [our chief priests and rulers] to recognise and accept Jesus of Nazareth as the prophet he had shown himself to be: ‘mighty in word and deed before God and all the people’. And not only that: They had delivered him up to be condemned to death.
      • And now they admit to a faltering in their own faith: ‘But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.
      • They then go on to talk about something else that has happened, something that seems to have disturbed them even more than the death of Jesus, and which has probably driven them to leave Jerusalem: ‘Some women of our company have amazed us’. They say they have been to the tomb and did not find his body but that they had ‘seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive’. Some others [presumably men!] had gone to check for themselves ‘and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see’.
  • It is at this point that the stranger ‘breaks in’, upbraiding them for their lack of faith, so slow to believe. But before going there we should allow ourselves to be questioned also, and to hear what we might say in reply.

What is this like for us today?

  • How do we try to ‘make sense of’ the crucifixion of Jesus, and of the apparent powerlessness of Jesus—and of God—to prevent it?
    • This is not about theology but faith, about trusting and accepting that God’s power, and way of doing things, is very different from ours.
    • Do we believe/accept that? What difference does it make to the way we actually live, and make decisions?
  • When we talk—argue, complain—about what is happening, or not happening, in the Church today do we hear ourselves like these two disciples, telling it as we see it: needing it to make sense [our kind of sense]; and, of course, finding someone to blame [our chief priests and rulers]?

 JMcC.

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