Tag Archives: witness

1 October: Praying with Pope Francis, may we be Missionary Disciples.

OCTOBER

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.

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Filed under Autumn, Daily Reflections, Justice and Peace, Mission

11 July: Memories are made of what, exactly?

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?

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12 March: Ordinary decent people.

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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.

Matthew 20:37-40

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.

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1 October, Season of Creation III: Forty Years On.

Logo of the International Year of Disabled Persons 1981

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.

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1 April: Ecce Homo

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!

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January 4: Coming together at Christmastide.

madonna.s.mildred.

A short while before Christmas Janet, John from Uganda and I turned up at the ancient church of Saint Mildred in Canterbury for the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols. L’Arche being L’Arche, we often find ourselves straddling the denominations like this. Saint Mildred’s is a home from home: The L’Arche garden occupies the Glebe here1. We use their kitchen, have refreshments with the ladies on Friday mornings, and help with Harvest Festival; we have barbecues in summer, watch birds in January, and our pilgrimage across Kent finished here last May.

To represent L’Arche, now an important part of the parish, I was invited by the Rector, Jo Richards, to read the Matthew infancy narrative at the service. Saint Mildred’s is a far cry from King’s College Chapel in Cambridge whose Nine Lessons and Carols is world famous. Saint Mildred’s is not beset with Tudor self-justification and aggrandisement, as King’s is, but it looks as good, in its own way, by candlelight.

This old church remembers our little local Saxon princess who did things her own way, which was the Lord’s. She was one of those determined 7th Century princesses who wanted to study and pray in a religious community: her community is now established back at Minster Abbey where our contributor, Sister Johanna lives out her calling.

And if a few more of today’s young women were given their chance to discover, discern and live out their vocation within the church where would we be? And we are most grateful for the faithful witness of friendship extended to us by the ladies of the parish, together with Church warden Mary and Rector Jo. That helps to bring the Church back together; we should not do things apart that we could do together; we can see this maxim working well locally with the shared welcome for homeless people given by the churches.

Here is the statue of the greatest Christian woman of all time with her Son, within Saint Mildred’s church. It was candlelit for the Nine Lessons and Carols.

1A Glebe was land set apart for a parish priest to support himself – an ecclesiastical allotment.

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26 December: Sober this Christmas?

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I was looking for inspiration for Saint Stephen’s day, a martyrdom straight after the birth of baby Jesus. I also had an eye open for frankincense, because Abel is to play Caspar the Wise Man or King in the school Nativity play. Siesta is the obvious shop for such things in Canterbury and they did not disappoint: half a dozen sticks of frankincense, or so they claim were soon found and in my bag.

It was on my way out that I saw the card, the bright red was hard to ignore. The message on the front read, ‘What’s sobriety got to do with Christmas’, which reminded me of the ancient card or cracker joke: ‘be like the early Christians this Christmas, get stoned.’ Which brings us back to Saint Stephen, shown here with a pile of the stones people used to kill him. The statue is above the main door of his Church in Canterbury.

Already on Pentecost Day the Apostles had been accused of drunkenness because of their proclamation of the Good News (Acts 2:15). A few weeks later Stephen was arrested, and his words sound like a drunken illusion (Acts 7:56-60).

Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, [who was] calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Even when stone-cold sober, people can act irrationally and sinfully; a sobering message indeed.

Let us pray for all our Christian sisters and brothers who are trying to live out their vocation as members of a minority, sometimes suspected of treason, open to accusations of blasphemy, and liable to suffer violence and murder.

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16 November: The ruined chapel

ruined chapel

This derelict chapel is lost in the Herefordshire countryside. The church at nearby Richard’s Castle is no longer in regular use for worship. Has God abandoned the Marches (the Welsh/English border country) or have the Marches abandoned God?

It’s more complex than that. People have gone. Farm work is done mechanically; the railways that employed thousands have closed or greatly reduced the number of workers, and so on. But also people have indeed turned away from Sunday worship.

This chapel was built around 1810 by local people who responded to the Methodist Revival led by the Wesleys. They wanted to live the Christian life more fully and when they were cold-shouldered by the established Church of England, they erected chapels that look as much like dwelling places as churches. Other  groups were also building ‘dissenting’ chapels, like the Baptists and Congregationalists. One of my ancestors is believed to have ministered at Bethel Chapel in nearby Evenjobb, across the border in Wales.

It is a shame to see the building abandoned, the lawn gone to nettles, brambles, and buttercups – we can welcome the buttercups, but the others will soon be preventing people from entering. It is unloved. Perhaps no descendants of the worshippers live nearby, or they don’t know about the chapel, perhaps they don’t care.

So do we Christians pack up and go home? Or do we try to tune ourselves to Christ, live as he would do, in season or out of season?

In a final plug for Rowan WIlliams’s  Luminaries, a few words from his reflection on Archbishop Michael Ramsey.

You’re free to offer God’s love quite independently of your own security or success. Sometimes the world may be in tune and sometimes not; sometimes there is a real symbiosis, sometimes a violent collision. But the labour continues, simply because the rightness of the service does not depend on what the world thinks it wants and whether the world believes it has got what it needs from the Church. (p116).

 

 

 

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5 October: May we be missionaries too.

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Following yesterday’s reflection on Pope Francis’s prayer for the Holy Spirit to bring about a new dawn of Mission, we have ‘An Extraordinary Month of Mission’ during October, as a response to Pope Benedict XV’s call to Mission ‘Maximum Illud’, a hundred years ago.

This prayer for the month is at the Missio Website.

God our Father, when your Son Jesus Christ rose from the dead, he commissioned his followers to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’.

Through our Baptism you send us out to continue this mission among all peoples.

Empower us by the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be courageous and enthusiastic in bearing witness to the Gospel, so that the mission entrusted to us, which is still far from completion, may bring life and light to the world.

May all peoples experience the saving love and generous mercy of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Not much to add to that! Except that we will need courage and enthusiasm to bring love and mercy to the people around us, and perhaps courage most especially when the enthusiasm is slow to get into gear. It happens.

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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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