Last November, the Dutch Carmelite priest, theologian, journalist, and author, Titus Brandsma who was killed “in hatred of the faith” in Dachau concentration camp in 1942, came a step closer to sainthood as Pope Francis recognised a miracle attributed to him. Then on 15 May this year he was declared a saint by Pope Francis. There is now a campaign to have him recognised as a patron saint of journalists.
Born in 1881, Fr Titus forcefully opposed and spoke out against the anti-Jewish laws the Nazis were passing in Germany before World War II. He was arrested when Germany invaded the Netherlands and told that he would be allowed to live a quiet life in a monastery if he would announce that Catholic newspapers should publish Nazi propaganda. Titus refused and was sent to Dachau concentration camp in June 1942. The regime of forced labour and starvation undermined his health, and he was eventually killed on July 26, 1942 when a nurse in the SS gave him a lethal injection as part of the biological experiments carried out on camp prisoners.
Pope Saint John Paul II declared Titus Blessed in 1985, saying that he “answered hate with love.”
For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.
What a deliciously little hill for Jesus’ Transfiguration! But Gerard David worked in Bruges in the flattest part of what is now Belgium, so no need to depict a mountain. What he does show is the eyewitnesses of the majesty of Our Lord Jesus Christ, namely Peter, James and John. Oh, and what looks like a pious local family of 1520, five hundred years ago to us, and 1500 years after the event.
These people are witnesses as well, though not illuminated, as the Apostles are, by the light from the bright cloud and Jesus’ majesty. They are among those blessed ones who have not seen but yet believe, and so they have commissioned this painting, inviting their fellow-citizens and us, the 21st Century viewers, to share their faith. There would have to be many extra panels to this work of art to accommodate even a few of the faithful who did not see but believed over the years since the family ordered the picture.
We can, instead, stand back to reflect upon the different parts of the painting. The storm which threatens the family’s composure is rolled away from the holy mount by the impressive bright cloud. The focus of their attention is just below it: Jesus in his white garment, blessing his apostles, blessing us who have not seen for ourselves, but have learnt about his majesty and glory through listening to the Apostles who told what they saw that day.
High in the cloud God the Father is blessing Jesus: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Slightly above Jesus – for they are in heaven while he is still on earth, it is not yet time for the cloud to take him up to the Father – Moses and Elijah. Moses seems to be in active conversation with God, as he often was in the Old Testament – while Elijah seems to be at peace in the presence of the just king, no longer in fear for his life: he is in heaven before Jesus’ death and resurrection.
In the background, stark against the wide horizon, one tree, a reminder of those saving events.
Let us pray for the grace to listen to the Lord’s messengers, in the books of the Bible, and among all the witnesses to the faith since then. And let us pray to be true witnesses ourselves, proclaiming the Gospel by our lives.
Some readers will remember that I like St Aloysius’ Church near Saint Pancras station in London. This window, with Mary at the centre of the Apostles on Pentecost morning arouses mixed emotions though. It is good to see a clear theology of Mary’s place in the Church, receiving the Holy Spirit with – I wish I could say ‘with everyone else’ – but it is with the Apostles only, not the 120 people who were gathered together. Perhaps the artist felt that the picture was crowded enough already, but where is Mary Magdalene, Johanna, the other women and where is John Mark, Paul’s future assistant that he would call his ‘son’ (Colossians 4:10)? He is usually identified with the boy who ran away naked from the garden on Maundy Thursday night, as well as with Mark the evangelist. It was to his mother’s house that Peter went after the angel sprung him from prison. (Acts 12.12) She was another Mary.
The window is not diverse enough to represent the first Church, though a few minutes looking through the clear glass out into the street would assure any visitor that St Aloysius’ is in the midst of diversity today. But there should be more women and more young people in that window!
Saint Aloysius was a Jesuit novice when he died in Rome aged 23, after catching plague from nursing the victims of an epidemic. Not an inappropriate neighbour for Saint Pancras, who was martyred for his Christian faith at Rome on 14 May 304, at the age of fourteen. John Mark, Aloysius and Pancras, young men who were saints. Worth remembering them, and young women saints like Agnes, Lucy and Therese, as we approach the great Synod of Pope Francis. Today’s young Christians are as capable of witnessing to the Gospel message as their parents, grandparents, distant ancestors, and the clergy. Let’s hear their voices.
After a hundred years
Nobody knows the place, —
Agony, that enacted there,
Motionless as peace.
Weeds triumphant ranged,
Strangers strolled and spelled
At the lone orthography
Of the elder dead.
Winds of summer fields
Recollect the way, —
Instinct picking up the key
Dropped by memory.
From Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete, via Kindle.
Two thousand years on, and people know the place of Christ’s agony in the garden, his further agony and death on Calvary; the place of his tomb; they visit them in their thousands every year.
But did Mary Magdalene return to the tomb – or Peter or John – after Easter? Mary took the Lord’s message to the Apostles: they were to take themselves to Galilee, they knew the way. Before long Peter was leading them out to the boats for a fishing expedition. But the winds of summer seas would take most of them far away, to where people were waiting to hear the Good News from the fishers of men and women. No need for the disciples to revisit the empty tomb, but James and his church in Jerusalem surely remembered and marked the spot.
We cannot all hope to visit the Holy Land, but we can go to Mass this Easter time, or slip into the back of any church, acknowledge the ever-present risen Lord, and then … go back home, back to our daily lives, to glorify the Lord by our life. To share the Good News, mostly without words, but living as other Christs in today’s world, letting the Spirit speak through our instinct.
Easter in Lichfield will be a time of celebration in more ways than one this year, because after two years of uncertainty Lichfield Cathedral can now open back up and mark the occasion with a blend of ceremony that will involve, not only the cathedral, but everyone in the city.
This is the introduction to Dean Adrian’s Holy Week Message from Lichfield Cathedral. See the whole message here. It is a very clear account of the events and ceremonies of the Triduum.
I am writing to send you greetings and blessings at this the most important, solemn and (yet ultimately) joyful time of the Christian year. We’re about to enter the holy three days (Triduum) of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Eve and Day. You will be welcome at any or all of the special services we hold on each of these days. Every occasion comes with its special ceremonies and distinct focus. Let me say a few words about each but first explain the context.
October Intention for Evangelisation: – Missionary Disciples
We pray that every baptised person may be engaged in evangelisation, and available to the mission, by being witnesses of a life that has the flavour of the Gospel.
How do you witness in an anonymous city, going home to a tower block where you know few of your neighbours? Maybe I start by being available. Available for a smile, a word of thanks, a door held open. Then Christ can smile, speak, open other doors because of my small acts.
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?
We looked at Ruth and Naomi yesterday: ordinary, decent women who encountered an ordinary, decent man in Boaz; and the rest is history. That story must have been going through the back of my mind, because my eyes were open to an embodiment of ordinary decency as I saw her pushing her walking aid up the hill towards her parish church.
Margaret stopped to chat to three different acquaintances within 200 metres, in my case just a quick greeting as she was already in conversation with someone else. On other occasions she will be walking Basil her Maltese terrier, or giving him a ride on the trolley; or else sitting outside her favourite cafe on the square with a long coffee and a short cigarette, chatting to any who pass by.
There is a ministry of friendliness which doesn’t exactly fit the Gospel accounts of the Works of Mercy, but has elements of several of them. I can imagine Margaret saying: Lord, when did I see thee and befriend thee?
And the Lord could play back a few scenes from her life and say to her: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me. And upon such rocks I will build my Church.
Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee?Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee?
And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.
We should not pass over those all-but invisible, non-charismatic, ministers of the Good News who bring it to people without preaching; who can say ‘I love you, God loves you’ without those words coming anywhere near their lips. And by no means all of them have any church affiliation at all. Let us thank God for them.
1981; not all readers will remember it, but we called it IYDP, the United Nations’ Year of Disabled Persons. It came to mind the other day when we saw workers making dropped kerbs to allow wheelchair users – and of course pram pushers – to cross the road more easily. We had campaigned for these forty years ago. That’s progress!
It’s surely part of our work as co-creators of God’s world to ensure that every human being is able to be fully part of the family of humanity, the family of God. So this post is appropriate in this season.
The UN Enable web page says that the theme of IYDP was “full participation and equality”, defined as the right of persons with disabilities to take part fully in the life and development of their societies, enjoy living conditions equal to those of other citizens, and have an equal share in improved conditions resulting from socio-economic development.
Christian churches should be showing the way forward, and indeed there has been progress. Buildings with steps were once the norm, if only to keep the mud at bay, but even sensitive old places like Canterbury Cathedral have been able to address the access problems successfully.
BUT ARE WE OPEN ENOUGH? I was pleased to see recently the Parish Guide to Disability published by the Catholic Disability Fellowship who advise the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales. They adapted a pamphlet of the Office of Ministry with People with Disabilities, Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania USA, updating it for British use.
While I have to say that most of what the Guide says we were saying back in the 1980s, it is all worth repeating. And I hope never to hear again of priests refusing sacraments or catechesis to persons with disabilities. What is encouraging is the emphasis on the mission of every Christian to witness to faith: the first page cites Pope Francis:
The people of God: “A living community, one that supports, accompanies, integrates and enriches. Never separated, but united, where everyone learns to be a sign and blessing of God for others.”
Pope Francis (Bulgaria – May 6, 2019)
The Guide will help this to happen; the checklist at the end is a valuable tool that summarises the aims and policies described, and enables communities to discern what’s going well, where improvements are possible, and where they need help to grow. Every parish could do better; this Guide will help – if it is read and shared. Find it here.
Maurice Billingsley, sometime Chair, 81 Group for Disabled People in the Church.
This figure of Christ, rising from the dead, taking his first, painful breath, is on the tomb of Saint Dominic in Bologna. The tomb was carved by many of the great and the good of Italian art of the time.
On the tomb there are many busy figures, but Jesus is rising all but unseen; a reminder that he was deserted by almost all his followers on Thursday night, and now here, on Sunday morning, he is alone. Perhaps he would rather take those first breaths alone? As a real man he must have been confused, as Mary Magdalene will be shortly when they meet in the garden.
By the time John and Peter get to the tomb, Jesus is long gone. It will take him an eternity to get used to being alive. He needs to touch his hands, to remove the thorns, and to keep on breathing: oh joy! A ghost does not have flesh and blood as I do.
But where are his friends? Confused, just a bit late, not quite up to speed. As we are. Were it not for the nail marks we would think he was standing on Pilate’s balcony. He is not dead though, nor marching unto his death. He is about to march away from death, and calls us to follow him, even through death’s dark veil.
Let us live this Holy Week in the light of Easter. Ecce Homo: Behold the Man: Christ is risen!