Whilst away last week we were asked if this felt like home, and the answer is very much yes it does; What makes a home? When we moved here, we brought our home with us and left the house behind. There is that saying, home is where your heart is – and how very true that is; you take with you all those bits and pieces that mean so much, familiar things but also that sense of love, and of making it home; a place of welcome.
We had anticipated (pre-covid) having our second garden party this weekend – many of you joined us last year for Pimms on the patio and cream teas. When all this started back in March, I (foolishly ) thought – oh it will all be fine by July, we can still have our garden party! Not to be – so let’s hope for next year. This has also been an opportunity for many of us to worship at home – it has been from my study at home every week for the last four months that I have streamed the Eucharist, morning and evening prayer, and likewise John and Brian have been leading worship from their homes. Homes are very special places, places where we feel safe and secure, though remaining mindful that for some they are places where folk feel less secure and unsafe.
I am reminded of Jesus’ words Matthew 7:24-27: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”
God Bless, and keep safe, keep connected and keep praying. Jo🙏🙏🙏 Rev Jo Richards Rector of the Benefice of St Dunstan, St Mildred and St Peter, Canterbury.
One wet morning, St. Francis entered a garden, sat down on a bird bath and prayed silently. Then, looking up, he saw those creatures in the garden and he called, “My sister slugs, come here to me and listen to a word from God. A group of them immediately made their way towards him and came up to his feet. At this, the saint said, “Sister slugs, I command you to stop”, and they stopped and pricked up their eye stalks eagerly. Saint Francis addressed the creatures thus:
“Blessed are you, my sister slugs because you are models of true humility. You do not try to be high fliers like other creatures but cling to the earth. You do not try to be anything other than what you are. You do not protect yourselves with hard shells like your cousins the snails, but leave yourselves vulnerable in the open and offer yourselves as food to other creatures. You are despised by cleverer creatures because you are simple and so, rejoice, since God who made you loves you greatly.”
There are moments for movement in the liturgy, often missed or mishandled: processions with cross and lights, perhaps an Asperges entrance rite; processions with the book, with the gifts; an orderly procession to Communion. When African seminarians visiting our parish processed with the Book of Gospels to the sound of drums, the reverence they showed to the Word certainly inspired awe in a Kentish congregation.
Most Catholics, thank God, will never experience the sub-ten-minute Latin Mass that had me stumbling over the well-known responses, followed by, ‘If you ever come near me to serve my Mass again or I’ll kick you from here to Kingdom Come.’ Any awe from Fr G came from his fire-and-brimstone sermons at other priest’s Masses. Priests had it easy, speaking God’s own language; no need to work on phrasing and diction. The laity could pray or stray, every one in his own way; we worshipped together largely because we were in the same building at the same time, Some ‘hearing Mass’ from the porch or beyond.
Some elements of the Tridentine Liturgy now seem difficult to credit: carrying the Missal from one side of the altar to the other behind the priest’s back; the choreography by which the MC would direct priest, deacon and subdeacon to doff their birettas as the choir sang the Gloria; the subdeacon veiled on the bottom step, holding up the paten. Did these inspire awe? Nerves in this altar server: would I miss a cue?
Our celebrations are often far from perfect now: servers still fluff their cues, readers may be inaudible or over-dramatic, babies may cry, someone will sing flat, another will be three syllables behind in the congregation’s prayers, the person before you at Communion will genuflect unexpectedly and nearly send you flying. We can cope with all that if we believe that God is at work here and we are his instruments. As his instruments, we should be fine-tuning ourselves against each other, from Vox Clara to Vince and Clare in the next pew.
Well-led singing helps us to be at one, and may even persuade the babies to be quiet. There are tuneful and singable English Masses, and the Latin Missa de Angelis, or part of it could be learnt by most congregations; but we could discard or edit quite a few hymns from the last 150 years!
There is a moment of truth in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ when the latent emotions of the rude mechanicals’ play emerge to touch their audience at the wedding feast. At Mass there should be moments of truth. Despite the crooked translation, it is for ministers, to the best of their ability, to speak the words, to love the Word as though it were alive, as though they believe it, as though it were awesome; from ‘In the Name of the Father’ by way of ‘The Word of the Lord’, ‘Through your goodness’, ‘This is my Body’, ‘the Body of Christ’ (looking the communicant in the eye), to ‘Go in Peace’. A challenge, truly.
There are moments in liturgy as in life, when silence can and should be observed:
Let us not speak, for the love we bear one another —
Let us hold hands and look.”
She, such a very ordinary little woman;
He, such a thumping crook;
But both, for a moment, little lower than the angels
In the teashop’s ingle-nook.
John Betjeman, ‘In a Bath Teashop’
Silence can bring focus and awe: when I led Children’s Liturgy of the Word at the parish Mass I used to ask my ‘very ordinary’ child readers to count to ten in their heads to allow reflection between the bidding – let us ask God to …, and its prayer – Lord hear us.
Silence between the consecration and the acclamation; silence before inviting everyone to join in the Lord’s Prayer, silence after communion: these can inspire a sense of awe. All should participate in these silences, unlike the silence of the old rite with the priest mumbling prayers and not really silent at all, and the congregation praying the Rosary.
More wisdom from Sister Johanna, who today looks at what Jesus was doing in Holy Week.
I am often amazed at how much insight can be derived from a very few words of scripture. I sometimes take a short sentence and explore the words one by one to see what comes. The Holy Spirit never disappoints. Here we have a mere seven words from the Gospel of Luke (19:47). Let’s see what treasures can be found in He taught in the temple every day.
He. Who is he? We are dealing with Jesus, the Lord, here, and not just anyone. He is not a news broadcaster, an entertainer, a politician canvassing for votes and whose promises are dubious. He is not someone who should be tuned out and only half-heard while we do other things. He is not someone whose agenda is self-serving. He is the one – the only one – who deserves our full and undivided attention. He is the only one whose words are directed toward fulfilling our deepest needs, and not to furthering his own ambition; his words and deeds feed our most profound hungers – our hunger for truth, our thirst for love, our desire for eternal life. That is who ‘He’ is.
Taught. For all these reasons, and more, he is the teacher par excellence. Jesus’ mind is clear, beautiful, and deep – much deeper than we can imagine. He always lives on a deeper level of reality than we do, and every word of his teaching, his every observation or comment comes from the place of wisdom and deepest truth. He is never someone who just talks to fill in an awkward silence, or whose words are coming from nervousness, who is babbling. Every word he utters is full of meaning. Nor is he on the level of our peers, that we should critically examine his words for flaws, prejudices, hang-ups. We may need to study his words closely, in order to make them our own. This is the task of a good student. But he is greater than we are; we are not his equal, and in debate he will always win. The Pharisees soon discovered this when they tried to trip him up in discourse. They could never trick him, or catch him out.
We have a lot of people spewing words at us through the media nowadays. So many words that we can’t, and don’t even need to, take them all in. We can entertain ourselves and others by mocking these media people, because they have little of value to say, or if they do say something important, the program has run and re-run so many times that we are sick of it. But that is emphatically not the case with Jesus. His words are life. They are living words, always revelatory, always fresh, even if we have heard them many times before. He always has something new to teach us.
In the temple. Jesus is IN the temple – he is in this most sacred of places. Jesus is everywhere, granted, and teaches everywhere. But the temple is a privileged place of encounter, set aside to honour God. It is a place over which, as God and Lord, Jesus rightly has ownership, it is a place where he is entitled to preside – even to reign. He claims this pre-eminent role in the absolute sense when he cleanses the temple of the vendors who had set up their booths in it. The temple is not to be turned into a profit-making venue for business people, he teaches. But the act of temple-cleansing is not merely about him. It is about us, too. In cleansing the temple Jesus is defending our right to use it as a place, above all, for prayer, against those whose avarice and insensitivity would make it noisy, irreverent, chaotic – make it a place where they make a profit for themselves rather than offer themselves lovingly to God. We have a right to a sacrosanct place set aside for encountering God. The temple is so important that Jesus is famously fierce about this and demonstrates a violence in cleansing the temple that he does not show at any other time. In this way he teaches that we must ensure that the temple is always conducive to prayer – silent, reverent, empty of all other kinds of pursuits. We need this place – perhaps much more than we realise. And Jesus defends this need. He is IN this place. This is the place where Jesus can be found.
Every day. This is something reliable. Jesus is there every day. He does not skip any days, or take a holiday. Jesus does not need a day off. Moreover, every day the truth is truth. Jesus, as teacher, does not have good days and bad days – perhaps like an athlete whose game is just off sometimes. Jesus is never shallow, silly or foolish. Jesus is always there, every moment of every day, ready to teach us. He never leaves us alone, never leaves us without his help.
And now, what is my response to these assertions? It is easy. St Luke shows me in the following sentence: ‘…the whole people hung on his words (19:48) [emphasis mine]. To ‘hang on’ Jesus’ words. This is the only appropriate response.
Here is Sister Johanna once more, Welcome! We are following Jesus as he gets nearer to the Cross – the next chapter of Luke tells of Palm Sunday, but today he meets a blind beggar. In Sister’s reflection there is a question not unlike Woodbine Willy’s ‘Well?’ the other day: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’
There was a blind man sitting at the side of the road begging…. He called out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.’… Jesus stopped and ordered them to bring the man to him, and when he came up, he said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘Sir,’ the blind man said, ‘Let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight. Your faith has saved you.’
Luke 18: 35-43.
This passage from the Gospel of Luke tells me a lot about what it means truly to encounter Jesus in prayer. I’ve read this story many times, but this time when I read it, I was at first a bit taken aback by the apparently daft question Jesus asks the blind man: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Well, I thought, he obviously wants to be healed of his blindness. But then I realised that the blind man could have had other issues; his blindness might not have been the priority for him. Perhaps he had a son on the verge of death, or perhaps he had other illnesses that were not evident. It could have been anything. The question is a highly important one. Jesus wanted the blind man to state his wishes so that he, the blind man, would be fully aware of what he was asking and could take full responsibility for the encounter and for what might happen next.
‘Sir, let me see again,’ the blind man says. This in itself is impressive – and Jesus doesn’t miss the fact that the blind man expresses no doubts about Jesus’ ability to heal him. His faith rings out with clarity. Moreover, the blind man knows what he wants. He does not hesitate or appear to weigh alternatives before speaking. He wants to see again, and he knows that Jesus is able to bring this cure about. And Jesus’ answer? Direct, simple, almost off-hand. A modern-day Jesus might have said simply, ‘Sure! See! You are already half-way there because of your faith.’
So what does this tell me about asking Jesus for something? About prayer?
The text says, ‘Jesus ordered them to bring the man to him.’ It is important, therefore, to go right up to Jesus, and have a real encounter with him, to be aware of him and to address my prayer to him. I should not just be talking to myself or dreaming. I must, in my mind and heart, stand before Jesus, and be in his presence, when I pray.
It is important to be clear, to tell Jesus what I want and not, out of some misguided idea of abandonment to the divine will, go all vague. Moreover, I must take responsibility for my request. There may be times, perhaps many times, when we do not receive the specific grace we have asked for – but we can be sure that we always receive something, and usually it is a grace that goes much deeper than the one we requested. Eventually we will be able to identify that deeper grace as the real answer to our prayer. But unless we make that original request specific, and own it, this deeper grace would probably have gone unrecognized – and perhaps would not even have been bestowed.
Jesus easily cures the blind man, without a laying on of hands or any other physical process. He merely utters the healing words. He is able to do this because the blind man trusts him completely – his faith saves him, as Jesus declares afterward. The blind man, presumably, had never met Jesus before; he knew him only from hearsay (rather like us). And that was enough for the blind man. Is it enough for me?
Jesus’ question, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ tells me a great deal about Jesus’ eternal ‘attitude’ toward us whenever we go right up to him, in faith, and ask him something. He is already there, saying, ‘Johanna, or Tom, or Annette, what do you want me to do for you?’ He places himself completely at my disposal.
This is one of those pictures that say a thousand words. It is in Saint David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire. Last time we were there, one of the canons was addressing a group of schoolchildren in Welsh, but this sculpture could speak in any language including its own.
Try holding your hands that way, and you’ll see that if they belong to one person, it is the viewer, and the dove is looking you in the eye; and the dove is symbolic of the Holy Spirit. Of course, for the vast majority of us, for the overwhelming proportion of our time, we do not see such a sign of God when we pray. Is it all wishful thinking? Paul addressed the question in his letter to the Romans (8:24-28).
We are saved by hope. But hope that is seen, is not hope. For what a man seeth, why doth he hope for? But if we hope for that which we see not, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And he that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because he asketh for the saints according to God. And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints.
Instead of racking our brains for the right words to pray with, let the Spirit utter our feelings and desires – the hopes and fears of all our years.
Between gurgles, crying, eye contact and all body movements, my new grandson conveys his needs and desires efficiently enough for his adults to jump to meet them. He prays as he ought, to make known his hopes, needs and love.
The Louvre Gallery in Paris has an exhibition of works by Leonardo da Vinci, marking 500 years since his death, and Jeanne Ferney went to review it for La Croix newspaper. But her visit was spoilt, not so much by the press of the crowd in the galleries as by the sheer number of cameras and phones pointed at every work.
Over the past few years I have deliberately taken my phone to capture some of the pictures in this blog, but the fact that Mrs T is often standing and waiting for me suggests that I am actually looking at objects rather than just notching up another dozen photos to add to the blog or impress my family. (They are rarely impressed by their father’s exploits.)
Any regular readers will have noticed that some photos reappear from time to time, while the connection between picture and reflection can appear quite tenuous. Sometimes this is done by the writer or the editor to give a totally different angle on the words, sometimes you may not see the world quite as we do! We do not always seek so much to illustrate as to elucidate. And sometimes the picture is the starting point, of course.
We hope not to give a contrary message to the day’s short reflection; nor do we want to spoil other people’s in-the-moment enjoyment of art works or landscapes or flowers by huffing and puffing over a picture and getting in their way; and we don’t want to lose the ability to see with our eyes because we are looking through a lens! Sometimes a mind’s-eye picture is a lasting joy, but a lens-eye picture can grow on you, as this one has on me; taken in a cavern in Poland, I did not expect it to come out at all. It still sets my mind wondering.
Let’s pray for the grace to see ourselves as others see us, especially that Other who is Our Father. And may we never get in his way by our dawdling and sightseeing. This Advent may we see and follow the star that leads us to the Child of Bethlehem.
Last September I promised to return to the hidden Catholic church – hidden in plain view – in Amsterdam. I didn’t expect it to take so long!
Here is one of its treasures. This dove hovers over the sacristy, just above where the priest would have vested for Mass. In itself the carving is a prayer, raised by the sculptor and whoever placed it here. It also invites those who see it to prayer, especially the priest who would be preparing to proclaim the Word.
Here then is a verse from the Pentecost hymn, Veni Creator Spiritus:
O guide our minds with thy blessed light, With love our hearts inflame; And with thy strength, which never decays Confirm our mortal frame.
We can make those words our own this Pentecost, and pray that all pastors and ministers – ourselves included – may have hearts aflame when they go among God’s people.
Among Elizabeth Barrett’s letters to Robert Browning I found this final paragraph from February 1846:
“May God bless you, best and dearest. If you are the compensation blessed is the evil that fell upon me: and that, I can say before God.”
Elizabeth had been housebound and largely bed bound for some years. Robert fell in love with her from a distance, a love that had firmed up on closer acquaintance. He seems to have gained entry to her room as a fellow poet, in Elizabeth’s father’s eyes a fellow-artist, not the potential husband he had become. It would not be possible to conceal this relationship for ever.
I was reminded of the line from the Exsultet which the deacon sings before the Paschal Candle at the Easter Vigil:
O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem. O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer.
It is good to have pictures, physical or mental to understand redemption. Words are not enough, but we must use them. Elizabeth Barrett’s personal epiphany is a way into understanding the poetry of the Vigil Anthem and the theology of our redemption. She came to realise that Robert Browning loved her as no-one had loved her before. He wanted with all his being to share everything with her. He did not pity her but loved her. That allowed her to love him.
If all God felt for human beings was pity he could have sorted out our redemption and the mess we are making of our world with a word, at a distance. But love meant he shared everything: he lets us experience the divine ‘best and dearest’, seeing his glory as far as our feeble frame allows; but also himself sharing human experience to the full. ‘The Word was made flesh and lived and died among us. He rose again and prepares a new life for us, as Robert Browning did for Elizabeth, but in God’s case on what Pope John Paul II would call a cosmic scale.