Tag Archives: witness

19 June: real Presence.

 

 

We visited a few churches on the L’Arche pilgrimage: here is Saint Pancras, Coldred, possibly 950 years old, a simple two-room stone-built structure, almost hidden away behind its high hedge. Christians have worshipped here since Saxon times at least; the church is set within an ancient earthen rampart which may mark the boundary of a  much earlier settlement.

God is present here in the worshipping community whose representative made us feel at home; he stood for thirty or more generations of people, gathered about the altar in the church; God is also present on the altar when the Eucharist is celebrated, and in many Anglican as well as Catholic churches, in the sacrament reserved for the sick and for visitors to focus their prayer as they kneel or sit and pray.

The icon was sent by one of our contributors – Brother Chris I think, and represents another real presence of the Lord: as a baby in the womb of Mary, but also in this world with us who witness this icon. It invites us to carry Jesus in our hearts and reveal him to the world: we are to be the image and real presence of Christ.

Tomorrow is the feast of Corpus Christi.

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24 May. Pilgrimage to Canterbury MMXIX, IV. Walking around Wales: a book review. (Relics XVI)

Before any planning for our walk, I read a book about pilgrimage. Anne Hayward’s A Pilgrimage Around Wales is subtitled in search of a significant conversation.1 Mrs Hayward set herself to have a significant conversation each day of her walk. In his foreword the Archbishop of Wales points out that the significant conversation can be a silent exchange with the people who made the place holy. He recalls a visit to Saint Peter’s in Rome, and being taken down to the niche holding the relics – beyond reasonable doubt those of the fisherman himself. ‘The presence of the Apostle, the witness of the Apostle, the courage of the Apostle, the love of the Apostle for the Lord, and much, much more were all around in an unspoken conversation.’(p7)

Measuring the significance of a conversation is surely impossible. Significant to me, or to the Other? At the end of her three months’ tramp, Mrs Hayward counted up more than 150 names of people she had such conversations with. That is not counting the conversations Archbishop Davies points us to, in the stones and windows of the churches she visited. (I wish she had identified some of the places, to let others find them.) She travelled alone, camping most nights; we will be in a group, with maybe 60 or 70 people walking anything from 100 metres to the full distance. A few people may camp out once or twice.

Tyndale the terrier will walk rather more than the rest of us. He may hold significant conversations with other dogs who leave messages for him, or who pick up his trail marks. We will hold conversations with each other, in words, in linked arms, or held hands, or a shared mint.

Mrs Hayward had conversations with bereaved people, worried mothers, campsite wardens, young hikers and churchwardens, among many others. We can expect significant conversations with the Lord that Peter loved, in song, in silence, in weariness, in landscape and seascape, in sky, tree, river and road. Even a ‘thank you’ to a bus driver may feel very significant at the end of a long walk!

She had but herself to consider when planning her walks, her rests, her meals, we must bear in mind the needs of all our walkers and riders in wheelchairs, buses, cars or trains. Different pilgrimages. Whether you want to walk around Wales or make for Rome or Canterbury, God speed! And any day’s journey can be a pilgrimage, if you remember to pray, ‘Stay with us, Lord.’ Anne Hayward’s book could help a would-be pilgrim to be clearer about the journey. A very human book, and a book for the armchair pilgrim as well as the footsore one. More about ours soon.

1Anne Hayward, A Pilgrimage Around Wales: in search of a significant conversation, Y Lolfa, Talybont, 2018.

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26 March. Before the Cross XII: the beatific vision.

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Rood, Our Lady and English Martyrs, Cambridge.

This Crucifix is like that of Tignes a couple of days ago in one respect: it is a representation of the Risen Christ, but in a different context, and equally valid.

This Victorian Rood, full of symbolism, is in the Catholic Church of Or Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge, England. It is challenging in a different way to some of the other images we have seen this Lent, but like the Welcoming Christ, it is essentially an image of resurrection. No way is this Christ dead or in agony!

So what is the Rood telling us?

Let’s start with the Christ figure. We see a man in the prime of life, vigorously alive, not hanging naked on the cross but standing tall and robed in majesty. No-one could say of him, he cannot save himself! The crown on his head is of royal gold, not thorns; the nails in his hands and feet are in gold also, but lest we forget the earthly reality of the cross, we see red blood on his palms and insteps. As well as a King’s crown, he wears the long white alb and the red scarf or stole of a priest vested for Mass.

The white scarf around his neck is called a pallium. These are woven from lambs’ wool and given to archbishops by the pope. One appears on the coat of arms of Canterbury Anglican diocese and that of Westminster Catholic diocese. As well as announcing Christ as high priest, the pallium is associated with the idea of the Good Shepherd who brings home the lost sheep, and with the sacrificial Lamb of God.

The alb is a symbol of purity – we see in the Book of Revelation all the saints in white garments. Christ’s here has red trimmings; together with the red stole they tell of blood shed in martyrdom or persecution. The priest celebrating Mass today wears an alb to show that he is representing Christ, the High Priest, and seeks to be as saintly as the white garment implies. Christ, of course, has every right to wear the white garment, and each baptised Christian is given a white garment at Baptism: so we are crucified and risen with Christ: a thought to sustain us in times of hardship.

At the foot of the Cross stand Mary – the dedicatee of the Church, and John the Apostle and Evangelist. They are not mourning in this Resurrection Crucifixion but are absorbed in the beatific vision: this cross presents the artist’s interpretation of the true meaning of the Crucifixion.

Angels adore the Lord from around the Cross: again sending us to Revelation and pointing out the one-ness of Creation, of our world of time and space where Jesus died in Jerusalem with the heavenly Jerusalem where he is Priest and King; King of All Creation, not just of the Jews.

At the foot of the Cross and along its trunk and arms are stylised leaves and grapes: in John’s Gospel Jesus says, I am the Vine, make your home in me as I make mine in you. The wine pressed from the fruit of the Cross brings relief from our spiritual thirst and joy to our hearts. Take up your Cross daily and follow me – to the Crucifixion, yes, in smaller and bigger ways each day, but to the risen life each day as well, even before we die and go to meet the Good Shepherd.

Finally, at the feet of Jesus we see a chalice – for the cup at every Eucharist is indeed the Holy Grail, the cup of the Last Supper – and above the cup, marked with a Cross and radiant in gold, is a round of white unleavened bread; the ‘forms of bread and wine’ that make present in our day all that this Crucifix sets out to tell us.

If, like me, silence does not always come easily to your heart in church or in prayer, maybe sitting with this image can help direct your thoughts to the eternal reality which it professes. The whole story of Jesus is symbolised here from his birth to Mary, up to John running to the empty tomb and seeing and believing – and witnessing to what he believed. May we be ever more faithful witnesses to what we believe.

MMB

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24 January, Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Day 7 Woman, great is your faith!

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Woman, great is your faith! (Matthew 15:28)

  • 1 Samuel 1:13-17

  • Matthew 15:21-28

Starting point

The marginalization and dismissal of women’s voices continues in our own times and in our own culture. Within our own churches we are often complicit with attitudes and actions that devalue women. As we become more aware of the issues, so we begin to recognize the many ways in which women are subjected to violence and injustice. Human trafficking, exploitation of women and children, and sexual abuse continue to be the reality for many women. In the scripture readings both Hannah and the Canaanite woman are dismissed as ‘worthless’ nuisances. But they stand up for themselves, change the perceptions of Eli and Jesus, and achieve their deepest desire. Many women are unable to challenge marginalization and exploitation. As Christians unite in prayer and the study of the Scriptures, truly listening for God’s voice, we discover that God also speaks today through the cries of the most abused in society.

Reflection

Hannah

Weeping silently,

praying from the heart before the Lord,

why does Eli think she is drunk?

Quiet, dignified, refuting her accuser,

she is promised her heart’s desire.

The Canaanite woman

Nameless,

fierce and canny on behalf of her daughter,

turning insult to advantage,

rejection to praise resounding throughout centuries.

Great is your persistent faith!

The ‘worthless’ woman

Belittled, discounted, invisible,

why won’t you hear my story?

Why won’t you believe what they are doing to me?

Desperate worm turning,

speaking out, #MeToo,

a tsunami of testimony, standing strong together,

mountains pushed aside.

Nothing is impossible with God.

Prayer

Gracious God,

you are the source of human dignity.

By your grace and power

the words of Hannah, from the midst of her tears,

challenged and turned the heart of Eli the Priest.

By your grace and power

the Canaanite woman was emboldened to reject rejection

and move Jesus to heal her daughter.

As we strive for a Church which unites all humanity,

grant us the courage to reject all forms of violence against women

and to celebrate the gifts

that women bring to the Church.

This we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord,

in whom all may find their true worth and calling. Amen.

Questions

  • How would you describe a person of great faith? Think of someone you know.

  • Can you remember a time when you felt marginalized or dismissed?

  • What can we do to empower women, children and other marginalized people in our community?

Go and Do

(see www.ctbi.org.uk/goanddo)

Visit Go and Do to find out how the Side by Side faith movement for gender justice is making great progress across the world.

Organize a local event with the churches in your area to mark and celebrate International Women’s Day on Friday 8th March. Visit Go and Do for resources and ideas.

Wear black each Thursday in solidarity with all across the world who are working and longing for the day when there is an end to violence against women. Find out more at Go and Do.

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14 January: An old missionary’s ecological musings

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Passers by set Gerard Manley Hopkins thinking for yesterday’s post, and Otto Mayer for today’s. He was a fellow student of mine, but now works in the Democratic Republic of Congo. I have adapted this from an article he wrote. It seems the litter problem is not confined to Canterbury. But if Otto can keep litter picking in Central Africa, I can do my bit in East Kent!

Whenever I pick up plastic wrappers or papers dropped in front of our house in Ruzizi, Congo, passers by look at me as though I’m crazy. The children make fun of me, although the little ones will pick up litter and put it in my bag. But no-one makes fun of the people who drop papers, bags, plastic bottles, tissues…

Sometimes a passer-by will ask why I am cleaning up. I explain that in my home village in Germany, every Saturday afternoon we would take pride in sweeping the footpath beside our house, ready for Sunday. Everything should be ready for the Lord’s day.

Telling people that story starts a conversation, regretting how Goma has become a dirty town, and Kinshasa la belle has become Kinshasa-Poubelle – dustbin city. Everybody wants the council to sort it out. I always say that I can do something. At least in front of my house I can make a difference.

The first principle of ecology is to produce as little waste or pollution as possible. Heineken beer from Holland is an ecological sin when you can get local beers. What a waste, transporting it all the way to Africa.

Buying locally and consuming the products of the region is an ecological obligation. There are seasons when mangoes, cauliflowers, strawberries are chea and readily available. Out of season the price increases as the products are brought in from far away, and the transport costs must be paid for.

The local bus service where I live is cheaper than using a private car; it may take a little longer but means less pollution and less expense. And walking up to half an hour seems to me both reasonable and desirable: Pollution zero, expense zero and more surprises to be met en route. An old priest I remember used to say, ‘Since we got mopeds we’ve lost touch with the people.’ And what progress we’ve made since then!

Père Otto Mayer, M. Afr.

 

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26 December: Saint Stephen the Deacon

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I am always jolted by the contrast between the story of a humble birth on 25th, and of a violent death by mob today. To explore this, we offer another reflection from Pope Benedict XVI. WT,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Every year on the day after the Birth of the Lord the liturgy has us celebrate the Feast of St Stephen, a deacon and the first martyr. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles presents him to us as a man full of grace and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 6:8-10; 7:55). Jesus’ promise, recorded in today’s Gospel text, was fulfilled in him: believers called to bear witness in difficult and dangerous circumstances will not be abandoned or defenceless; the Spirit of God will speak through them (cf. Mt 10:20).

Stephen the Deacon, in fact, worked, spoke and died motivated by the Holy Spirit, witnessing to the love of Christ even to the supreme sacrifice. The Protomartyr is described in his suffering as a perfect imitation of Christ, whose Passion is repeated even in the details. The whole of St Stephen’s life is shaped by God, conformed to Christ, whose Passion is replicated in him; in the final moment of death, on his knees he takes up the prayer of Jesus on the Cross, commending himself to the Lord (cf. Acts 7:59) and forgiving his enemies; “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (v. 60). Filled with the Holy Spirit, when his eyes were about to be dimmed for ever, he fixed his gaze on “Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (v. 55), the Lord of all and who draws all beings to himself.

On St Stephen’s Day we too are called to fix our eyes on the Son of God whom in the joyful atmosphere of Christmas we contemplate in the mystery of his Incarnation. Through Baptism and Confirmation, through the precious gift of faith nourished by the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, Jesus Christ has bound us to him and with the action of the Holy Spirit, wants to continue in us his work of salvation by which all things are redeemed, given value, uplifted and brought to completion. Letting ourselves be drawn by Christ, as St Stephen did, means opening our own life to the light that calls it, guides it and enables it to take the path of goodness, the path of a humanity according to God’s plan of love. Lastly, St Stephen is a model for all who wish to put themselves at the service of the new evangelisation. He shows that the newness of the proclamation does not consist primarily in the use of original methods or techniques — which of course, have their usefulness — but rather in being filled with the Holy Spirit and letting ourselves be guided by him.

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Saint John the Baptist

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Today’s Gospel tells of the Forerunner of Jesus, so here is 

A reflection from Pope Benedict XVI on St John the Baptist

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

John the Baptist began his preaching under the Emperor Tiberius in about 27-28 A.D., and the unambiguous invitation he addressed to the people, who flocked to listen to him, was to prepare the way to welcome the Lord, to straighten the crooked paths of their lives through a radical conversion of heart (cf. Lk 3:4).

However, John the Baptist did not limit himself to teaching repentance or conversion. Instead, in recognising Jesus as the “Lamb of God” who came to take away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29), he had the profound humility to hold up Jesus as the One sent by God, drawing back so that he might take the lead, and be heard and followed. As his last act the Baptist witnessed with his blood to faithfulness to God’s commandments, without giving in or withdrawing, carrying out his mission to the very end. In the 8th century the Venerable Bede says in one of his Homilies: “St John gave his life for [Christ]. He was not ordered to deny Jesus Christ, but was ordered to keep silent about the truth” (cf. Homily 23: CCL 122, 354). And he did not keep silent about the truth and thus died for Christ who is the Truth. Precisely for love of the truth he did not stoop to compromises and did not fear to address strong words to anyone who had strayed from God’s path.

We see this great figure, this force in the Passion, in resistance to the powerful. We wonder: what gave birth to this life, to this interiority so strong, so upright, so consistent, spent so totally for God in preparing the way for Jesus? The answer is simple: it was born from the relationship with God, from prayer, which was the thread that guided him throughout his existence. John was the divine gift for which his parents Zechariah and Elizabeth had been praying for so many years (cf. Lk 1:13); a great gift, humanly impossible to hope for, because they were both advanced in years and Elizabeth was barren (cf. Lk 1:7); yet nothing is impossible to God (cf. Lk 1:36). The announcement of this birth happened precisely in the place of prayer, in the temple of Jerusalem, indeed it happened when Zechariah had the great privilege of entering the holiest place in the temple to offer incense to the Lord (cf. Lk 1:8-20). John the Baptist’s birth was also marked by prayer: the Benedictus, the hymn of joy, praise and thanksgiving which Zechariah raises to the Lord and which we recite every morning in Lauds, exalts God’s action in history and prophetically indicates the mission of their son John: to go before the Son of God made flesh to prepare his ways (cf. Lk 1:67-79).

The entire existence of the Forerunner of Jesus was nourished by his relationship with God, particularly the period he spent in desert regions (cf. Lk 1:80). The desert regions are places of temptation but also where man acquires a sense of his own poverty because once deprived of material support and security, he understands that the only steadfast reference point is God himself. John the Baptist, however, is not only a man of prayer, in permanent contact with God, but also a guide in this relationship. The Evangelist Luke, recalling the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, the Our Father, notes that the request was formulated by the disciples in these words: “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his own disciples” (cf. Lk 11:1).

Dear brothers and sisters, St John the Baptist reminds us too, Christians of this time, that with love for Christ, for his words and for the Truth, we cannot stoop to compromises. The Truth is Truth; there are no compromises. Christian life demands, so to speak, the “martyrdom” of daily fidelity to the Gospel, the courage, that is, to let Christ grow within us and let him be the One who guides our thought and our actions. However, this can happen in our life only if we have a solid relationship with God. Prayer is not time wasted, it does not take away time from our activities, even apostolic activities, but exactly the opposite is true: only if we are able to have a faithful, constant and trusting life of prayer will God himself give us the ability and strength to live happily and serenely, to surmount difficulties and to witness courageously to him. St John the Baptist, intercede for us, that we may be ever able to preserve the primacy of God in our life. Thank you.

Image from Zakopane, Poland, MMB.

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October 30: Traherne XIII: Extend your Will like His.

Let’s return to the good Thomas Traherne. This is from Century I:53. Challenging ideas, that God willed Creation in order to let himself have fuller being in his Son, and that we are called to extend our good will to all people and all Creation; to will their happiness into being. Laudato Si!

God  willed the Creation not only that He might Appear but Be: wherein is seated the mystery of the Eternal Generation of His Son. Do you will it as He did, and you shall be glorious as He. He willed the happiness of men and angels not only that He might appear, but be good and wise and glorious.

And He willed it with such infinite desire, that He is infinitely good: infinitely good in Himself,and infinitely blessed in them. Do you will the happiness of men and angels as He did, and you shall be good, and infinitely blessed as He is. All their happiness shall be your happiness as it is His. He willed the glory of all ages, and the government and welfare of all Kingdoms, and the felicity also of the highest cherubims.

Do you extend your Will like Him and you shall be great as He is, and concerned and happy in all these. He willed the redemption of mankind, and therefore is His Son Jesus Christ an infinite treasure. Unless you will it too, He will be no treasure to you. Verily you ought to will these things so ardently that God Himself should be therefore your joy because He willed them. Your will ought to be united to His in all places of His dominion. Were you not born to have communion with Him? And that cannot be without this heavenly union. Which when it is what it ought is Divine and Infinite.

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October 26. What is Theology saying, XXXIX: What Morality did Jesus teach?

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The humiliation that we all carry is that we are a mass of contradictions. Yet we are, before all else, a blessing; but we are well aware it is a mixed blessing – Original Sin, a doctrine many dislike – whatever we call it, we do have a sense of being inadequate. The word sin implies culpability, which is not what the doctrine wants to say! The precise meaning is that we are not culpable for it, but that we are wounded by it. It names my inner conflict so that I will not be shocked or surprised when it shows itself.

Paul sees both Adam and Christ as summaries of humanity. What happens in them must happen in all; not just then but always now. If you know you are a mixed blessing, filled with contradictions, a mystery to yourself, you won’t pretend to eliminate all that is unworthy, but heed Jesus’ advice: let them both grow together until harvest time – Matthew 13.30.

Jesus told us not to pull out the weeds – Matthew 13.29 – lest we also pull out the wheat; this is both sound spirituality and psychology. In Genesis 1.26 God says Let us make humanity in our own image – note the use of the plural form, as if intuiting the Trinity, God as relationship, the perfect mystery of total giving and receiving. It is interesting that physicists, molecular biologists and astronomers are more in tune with this universal pattern than Christian believers.

God isn’t looking for servants or contestants to play the game – God is looking simply for images to walk around the earth. This is as if God is saying all I want is some out there who will communicate who I am, what I am about and what is happening in God: You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he – Isaiah 43.10. All morality is simply the imitation of God – not those who do it right go to heaven, but those who live like me are already in heaven.

AMcC

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August 28: Cultural Centre bears witness to the “universality” of the Church

Here to mark the feast of Saint Augustine is a story from his native land of Algeria, where the Missionaries of Africa have been present for more than 100 years. Their society is 150 years old this year. 

Precious volumes and photographs testifying to the history of the Christian presence, but also courses in English and French and IT: all this is found at the Cultural Centre of the White Fathers (Missionaries of Africa) in Ouargla, a city in eastern Algeria,  at the service of the local, mainly Muslim, community, in this city of the desert.

The Cultural Centre is rooted in history. In 1875 the first White Father missionaries were sent here to find only a French military garrison and a handful of Berber hovels. Besides providing religious assistance for the soldiers, the White Fathers started to learn the local languages. At the same time they collected ancient books, scrolls and took photographs.

Over the years the missionaries catalogued the growing heritage which becomes a memory for the region and for the whole of Algeria. The photographs in particular bear witness to the different stages of a Christian presence which is ever more closely linked with the local population. “From the early years of colonisation down to our day – says Fr. Aldo Giannasi, a White Father missionary who lived and served in Ouargla – the Algerians viewed the Church as a continuation of the French political and cultural invasion. Today a change is taking place: the majority of priests and other church workers are from Black Africa, which clearly shows that the Church is not connected with France or with the West, or the powerful people of the world. She is Catholic, that is universal, and at the service of all”.

Ouargla too has changed. The military base is now an important Oil hub. The small village has become a city. The Cultural Centre still stands in the qasbah. As the years passed the structure deteriorated. The windows and doors were old and the desert sand was beginning to penetrate the rooms. Shelves, tables, chairs were old and needed to be replaced. The White Fathers thought of moving to the outskirts, but decided to stay in the original place and embark on its refurbishing.

Today the Centre hosts boys and girls, mostly Muslims, who study and use the library. Here they find a patrimony of books: history, geography, sociology, ethnology, religion and Christian spirituality. However the Centre has also become a focal point for the rest of the city because students find help with research and local people take courses in French, English, IT. “Our structure – concludes Fr Giannasi – bears witness to an active presence of Catholics at the service of Algeria, committed to a cultural mission which is a fruit-bearing seed of the Gospel” (Fides 4/4/2018).

The Algerian stamps show St Augustine and a Christian inscription from his time.

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