Tag Archives: work

27 May, 1803: Oh, for a speaking tube!

A speaking tube in Canterbury’s Victoria Park. Not too practical at 300 miles (480 km) distance! E Morris.

Charles Lamb is in London, writing to Samuel Taylor Coleridge in the Lake District. Lamb is overseeing the publication of a volume of his friend’s collected poetry and wants to inform Coleridge of what he has decided, with the advice of the publisher, Longman, and Wordsworth, a great friend of Coleridge. He has changed a line in one poem, so that:

… Here is a new, independent, and really a very pretty poem. In fact … I have even dared to restore [the words] “If ‘neath this roof thy wine-cheer’d moments pass,” for “Beneath this roof if thy cheer’d moments pass.” “Cheer’d” is a sad general word; “wine-cheer’d” I’m sure you’d give me, if I had a speaking-trumpet to sound to you 300 miles. But I am your factotum, and that (save in this instance, which is a single case, and I can’t get at you) shall be next to a fac-nihil—at most, a fac-simile.*

I have ordered “Imitation of Spenser” to be restored on Wordsworth’s authority; and now, all that you will miss will be “Flicker and Flicker’s Wife,” “The Thimble,” “Breathe, dear harmonist” and, I believe, “The Child that was fed with Manna.”

From The Letters of Charles and Mary Lamb, 1796-1820, edited by E. V. Lucas.

Coleridge was not happy with all that his factotum did, and reversed some of the changes in later editions. We live in a different world! Corrections and changes can be made from 300 miles away – and much further – instantly, onto the computer application that the printer can manipulate in all sorts of ways. The 300 mile speaking tube exists as well. We should be grateful, and we should use these technologies wisely.

* Facere, Latin for make or do; fac-totum, do everything; fac-nihil, do nothing; fac-simile, make or do something similar.


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16 May, Our Blessed Lady’s Lullaby, I: his love sustains my life.

Richard Rowlands was a Catholic convert when that was not a comfortable position in England, under Elizabeth I and James I. He did not graduate from Oxford University so as not to take the Oath of Allegiance to Elizabeth and soon made his way to the Low Countries where he assumed the surname of a branch of his family, Vestegen. He became a prolific author in both English and Dutch. This is the beginning of his long meditative song for Our Lady, mother of the infant Jesus. The rest of the piece will follow over the next few days.

Our Blessed Lady’s Lullaby

By Richard Rowlands, c1601.

Upon my lap my Sovereign sits,
And sucks upon my breast;
Meanwhile his love sustains my life,
And gives my body rest.

Sing, lullaby, my little boy,
Sing, lullaby, my lives joy.

When thou hast taken thy repast,
Repose, my babe, on me.
So may thy mother and thy nurse,
Thy cradle also be.

Sing, lullaby, my little boy,
Sing, lullaby, my lives joy.

I grieve that duty doth not work
All that my wishing would,
Because I would not be to thee
But in the best I should.

Sing, lullaby, my little boy,
Sing, lullaby, my lives joy.

Yet as I am and as I may,
I must and will be thine,
Though all too little for thyself
Vouchsafing to be mine.

Sing, lullaby, my little boy,
Sing, lullaby, my lives joy.

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11 May, Francis on Joseph VIII: Get up!

“Get up, take the child and his mother” (Mt 2:13), God told Saint Joseph.

The aim of this Apostolic Letter is to increase our love for this great saint, to encourage us to implore his intercession and to imitate his virtues and his zeal.

Indeed, the proper mission of the saints is not only to obtain miracles and graces, but to intercede for us before God, like Abraham[26] and Moses[27], and like Jesus, the “one mediator” (1 Tim 2:5), who is our “advocate” with the Father (1 Jn 2:1) and who “always lives to make intercession for [us]” (Heb 7:25; cf. Rom 8:34).

The saints help all the faithful “to strive for the holiness and the perfection of their particular state of life”.[28] Their lives are concrete proof that it is possible to put the Gospel into practice.

Jesus told us: “Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Mt 11:29). The lives of the saints too are examples to be imitated. Saint Paul explicitly says this: “Be imitators of me!” (1 Cor 4:16).[29] By his eloquent silence, Saint Joseph says the same.

Before the example of so many holy men and women, Saint Augustine asked himself: “What they could do, can you not also do?” And so he drew closer to his definitive conversion, when he could exclaim: “Late have I loved you, Beauty ever ancient, ever new!”[30]

We need only ask Saint Joseph for the grace of graces: our conversion.

Let us now make our prayer to him:

Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.

Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage,
and defend us from every evil. Amen.

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10 May, Francis on Joseph VII: . A father in the shadows

Fathers are not born, but made. A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world, but by taking up the responsibility to care for that child. Whenever a man accepts responsibility for the life of another, in some way he becomes a father to that person.

Children today often seem orphans, lacking fathers. The Church too needs fathers. Saint Paul’s words to the Corinthians remain timely: “Though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers” (1 Cor 4:15). Every priest or bishop should be able to add, with the Apostle: “I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel” (ibid.). Paul likewise calls the Galatians: “My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you!” (4:19).

Being a father entails introducing children to life and reality. Not holding them back, being overprotective or possessive, but rather making them capable of deciding for themselves, enjoying freedom and exploring new possibilities. Perhaps for this reason, Joseph is traditionally called a “most chaste” father. That title is not simply a sign of affection, but the summation of an attitude that is the opposite of possessiveness. Chastity is freedom from possessiveness in every sphere of one’s life. Only when love is chaste, is it truly love. A possessive love ultimately becomes dangerous: it imprisons, constricts and makes for misery. God himself loved humanity with a chaste love; he left us free even to go astray and set ourselves against him. The logic of love is always the logic of freedom, and Joseph knew how to love with extraordinary freedom. He never made himself the centre of things. He did not think of himself, but focused instead on the lives of Mary and Jesus.

Joseph found happiness not in mere self-sacrifice but in self-gift. In him, we never see frustration but only trust. His patient silence was the prelude to concrete expressions of trust. Our world today needs fathers. It has no use for tyrants who would domineer others as a means of compensating for their own needs. It rejects those who confuse authority with authoritarianism, service with servility, discussion with oppression, charity with a welfare mentality, power with destruction. Every true vocation is born of the gift of oneself, which is the fruit of mature sacrifice. The priesthood and consecrated life

likewise require this kind of maturity. Whatever our vocation, whether to marriage, celibacy or virginity, our gift of self will not come to fulfilment if it stops at sacrifice; were that the case, instead of becoming a sign of the beauty and joy of love, the gift of self would risk being an expression of unhappiness, sadness and frustration.

When fathers refuse to live the lives of their children for them, new and unexpected vistas open up. Every child is the bearer of a unique mystery that can only be brought to light with the help of a father who respects that child’s freedom. A father who realises that he is most a father and educator at the point when he becomes “useless”, when he sees that his child has become independent and can walk the paths of life unaccompanied. When he becomes like Joseph, who always knew that his child was not his own but had merely been entrusted to his care. In the end, this is what Jesus would have us understand when he says: “Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven” (Mt 23:9).

In every exercise of our fatherhood, we should always keep in mind that it has nothing to do with possession, but is rather a “sign” pointing to a greater fatherhood. In a way, we are all like Joseph: a shadow of the heavenly Father, who “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Mt 5:45). And a shadow that follows his Son.

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8 May, Francis on Joseph V: A creatively courageous father.

Joseph, in this image of the Holy Family, is the strong man, supporting and protecting his beloved wife and baby with ‘creative courage’. We continue learning from Pope Francis about Saint Joseph, foster father of Jesus, husband of Mary.

If the first stage of all true interior healing is to accept our personal history and embrace even the things in life that we did not choose, we must now add another important element: creative courage. This emerges especially in the way we deal with difficulties. In the face of difficulty, we can either give up and walk away, or somehow engage with it. At times, difficulties bring out resources we did not even think we had.

As we read the infancy narratives, we may often wonder why God did not act in a more direct and clear way. Yet God acts through events and people.  Joseph was the man chosen by God to guide the beginnings of the history of redemption. He was the true “miracle” by which God saves the child and his mother. God acted by trusting in Joseph’s creative courage. Arriving in Bethlehem and finding no lodging where Mary could give birth, Joseph took a stable and, as best he could, turned it into a welcoming home for the Son of God come into the world (cf. Lk 2:6-7). Faced with imminent danger from Herod, who wanted to kill the child, Joseph was warned once again in a dream to protect the child, and rose in the middle of the night to prepare the flight into Egypt (cf. Mt 2:13-14).

A superficial reading of these stories can often give the impression that the world is at the mercy of the strong and mighty, but the “good news” of the Gospel consists in showing that, for all the arrogance and violence of worldly powers, God always finds a way to carry out his saving plan. So too, our lives may at times seem to be at the mercy of the powerful, but the Gospel shows us what counts. God always finds a way to save us, provided we show the same creative courage as the carpenter of Nazareth, who was able to turn a problem into a possibility by trusting always in divine providence.

If at times God seems not to help us, surely this does not mean that we have been abandoned, but instead are being trusted to plan, to be creative, and to find solutions ourselves.

The Gospel does not tell us how long Mary, Joseph and the child remained in Egypt. Yet they certainly needed to eat, to find a home and employment. It does not take much imagination to fill in those details. The Holy Family had to face concrete problems like every other family, like so many of our migrant brothers and sisters who, today too, risk their lives to escape misfortune and hunger. In this regard, I consider Saint Joseph the special patron of all those forced to leave their native lands because of war, hatred, persecution and poverty.

At the end of every account in which Joseph plays a role, the Gospel tells us that he gets up, takes the child and his mother, and does what God commanded him (cf. Mt 1:24; 2:14.21). Indeed, Jesus and Mary his Mother are the most precious treasure of our faith.[21]

In the divine plan of salvation, the Son is inseparable from his Mother, from Mary, who “advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son until she stood at the cross”.[22]

We should always consider whether we ourselves are protecting Jesus and Mary, for they are also mysteriously entrusted to our own responsibility, care and safekeeping. The Son of the Almighty came into our world in a state of great vulnerability. He needed to be defended, protected, cared for and raised by Joseph. God trusted Joseph, as did Mary, who found in him someone who would not only save her life, but would always provide for her and her child. In this sense, Saint Joseph could not be other than the Guardian of the Church, for the Church is the continuation of the Body of Christ in history, even as Mary’s motherhood is reflected in the motherhood of the Church.[23] In his continued protection of the Church, Joseph continues to protect the child and his mother, and we too, by our love for the Church, continue to love the child and his mother.

That child would go on to say: “As you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).  Consequently, every poor, needy, suffering or dying person, every stranger, every prisoner, every infirm person is “the child” whom Joseph continues to protect. For this reason, Saint Joseph is invoked as protector of the unfortunate, the needy, exiles, the afflicted, the poor and the dying.  Consequently, the Church cannot fail to show a special love for the least of our brothers and sisters, for Jesus showed a particular concern for them and personally identified with them. From Saint Joseph, we must learn that same care and responsibility. We must learn to love the child and his mother, to love the sacraments and charity, to love the Church and the poor. Each of these realities is always the child and his mother.

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1 May, Francis on Joseph, Introduction: the man who goes unnoticed.

Pope Francis set last year aside as the Year of Saint Joseph; we are just catching up with the idea!

Today is the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker as well as the first day of his wife, Mary’s month. All too often the worker is the man or woman who goes unnoticed, undeservedly so.

Let’s open our eyes, ears and hearts to those who make life possible for the rest of us, and where we can, let us thank them for their service,.

The following paragraphs are from the introduction to Pope Francis’s letter about Saint Joseph, ‘Patris Corde’, or ‘With a Father’s heart’.

After Mary, the Mother of God, no saint is mentioned more frequently in the papal magisterium than Joseph, her spouse. My Predecessors reflected on the message contained in the limited information handed down by the Gospels in order to appreciate more fully his central role in the history of salvation. Blessed Pius IX declared him “Patron of the Catholic Church”,[2] Venerable Pius XII proposed him as “Patron of Workers”[3] and Saint John Paul II as “Guardian of the Redeemer”.[4] Saint Joseph is universally invoked as the “patron of a happy death”.[5]

Now, one hundred and fifty years after his proclamation as Patron of the Catholic Church by Blessed Pius IX (8 December 1870), I would like to share some personal reflections on this extraordinary figure, so close to our own human experience. For, as Jesus says, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt 12:34). My desire to do so increased during these months of pandemic, when we experienced, amid the crisis, how “our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people, people often overlooked. People who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines, or on the latest television show, yet in these very days are surely shaping the decisive events of our history. Doctors, nurses, storekeepers and supermarket workers, cleaning personnel, caregivers, transport workers, men and women working to provide essential services and public safety, volunteers, priests, men and women religious, and so very many others. They understood that no one is saved alone…

How many people daily exercise patience and offer hope, taking care to spread not panic, but shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday ways, how to accept and deal with a crisis by adjusting their routines, looking ahead and encouraging the practice of prayer. How many are praying, making sacrifices and interceding for the good of all”.[6] Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all.

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28 April: A true word spoken in jest.

Charles Lamb could spend hours just staring at the sea from a hollow in this cliff at Fairlight, Sussex. He wrote to his poet friend, Bernard Barton, in 1827:

“Would I could sell or give you some of my Leisure! Positively, the best thing a man can have to do is nothing, and next to that perhaps—good works.”

From “The Works of Charles and Mary Lamb — Volume 6 Letters 1821-1842.

Leisure, prolonged days of leisure, came comparatively late to Charles Lamb, once he had his pension from the India Office where he worked for a living. Barton, a younger man, was also forced to work for a living; here Lamb is encouraging him to set back from the daily grind and do – nothing.

As another poet, W.H. Davies put it:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

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21 April, ‘I’m going fishing’ II: We are going with you also.

The sea is still dangerous despite modern technology

They said to him, ‘We are going with you also’.

We are at the end of John’s Gospel, and have joined the disciples who are about to go fishing with Simon Peter. 

I don’t think Peter had set out for a male bonding session. He does not say, ‘Is anyone coming fishing?’ No, it’s ‘I am going fishing.’ Are the others concerned that he will go the same way as Judas? Are they clinging to his company because despite it all, they recognise him as their leader? Perhaps a bit of both. John looks at James, an imperceptible nod from his big brother, they are Peter’s working partners after all. They, at least, have every right to say, “We are going with you also.”

The fishers among the disciples were attuned to the ways of the lake, and would have known how to steer by the stars to where the fish were likely to be. The others were perhaps a liability in the boat, not knowing where to sit to be out of the way, perhaps apprehensive for their own safety, remembering the story of Jesus sleeping through the storm in this very craft. Tonight the storm was in their hearts.

The storm in Peter’s heart would normally have abated as the physical side of the job took over his being. There was the task in hand: with John or James preparing the net for casting, together throwing it overboard without snagging it on Nathaniel or one of the unnamed passengers, catching the wind to drag the net towards a feeding ground for the larger, saleable fish, hauling in the net, inspect the catch or lack of it, repeat, repeat, repeat.

And catching nothing.

By morning Peter is exhausted from a night’s activity that challenged muscles that were forgetting how to fish. No doubt the non-fishers wanted to try their hand; they would look to him to teach them, and as well as instructing them he was constantly trimming the boat to keep them safe. He is once again the leader. We can forgive him for not recognising the stranger on the shore.

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20 April,‘I’m going fishing’ I: The Group of Seven

trout (27K)

A Gallant Trout from The Compleat Angler.

I The Group of Seven

Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We are going with you also.”  John 21:2-3.

We are in that period of forty days between Easter and the Ascension of the Lord. The reality of Easter has not yet struck the disciples – has it fully struck me yet? They have got one thing right by obeying the angel’s command, given through the women: go to Galilee and I will see you there. This group of seven disciples, led by Peter, seem to have come together by the Lake in solidarity. They are still shaken up.

I wonder if Peter wanted to go fishing by himself? I used to fish when I was at college by Lough Macnean in Ireland. Sometimes a group of us would spend a day together fishing. Other times I wandered down to the shore alone, and then the routine of casting a bait and watching for the float to bob was hypnotic; thoughts would slow down, I would be refreshed whether or not I caught anything. 

I see Peter rooting in a compost heap and filling the First Century equivalent of a plastic tub with worms, thinking, ‘I need some headroom, I’ll have a night on the boat, just me and my rod.’ He had too many thoughts running through his head, processing all that had happened since Palm Sunday. Crowds cheering, a quiet, solemn meal, silence in the garden. That kiss. Cock crow. Betrayal, rigged trials, Death on a Cross, Judas’s suicide, the appearances in Jerusalem. 

Now the apostles were waiting by the lake, as the women’s message had told them to, but nothing was happening. Except that they were getting under each others’ skin: ‘I need some headroom.’ 

But they said to him, “We are going with you also.” 

That would be a totally different experience to going alone, yet Peter could hardly tell the others to get lost, he was supposed to be their leader. As well as respecting that, I wonder if they were not a little anxious about Peter’s safety in the dark on the lake, alone with his thoughts.

So he went to fetch the nets, still thinking, ‘I need some headroom.’ But he stood scant chance of getting it. Andrew, Peter’s brother, seems to have made himself scarce already; he is not mentioned in this story. Perhaps the brothers were wary of each other’s company, knowing they could set each other off. Perhaps Andrew was the last person on earth who could comfort or counsel Simon Peter.

How often do we find the precious ‘five minutes’ peace’ we had contrived for ourselves – over coffee, in the garden, even working in the kitchen – invaded by our dearest, dragging us back to the realities of daily life. How do we cope when we need headroom and are denied it? Peter accepted that other people needed him and went to get the nets.

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17 April: Paradise by George Herbert

I BLESS thee, Lord, because I G R O W
Among thy trees, which in a R O W
To thee both fruit and order O W.

What open force, or hidden C H A R M
Can blast my fruit, or bring me H A R M
While the inclosure is thine A R M?

Inclose me still for fear I S T A R T.
Be to me rather sharp and T A R T,
Than let me want thy hand and A R T.

When thou dost greater judgements S P A R E,
And with thy knife but prune and P A R E,
Ev’n fruitful trees more fruitful A R E.

Such sharpness shows the sweetest F R E N D:
Such cuttings rather heal than R E N D:
And such beginnings touch their E N D.

The trees in this orchard are in rows, which helps the farmers with their work, pruning and paring, hanging nets to inclose them from frost- and wind-blast. George Herbert enjoyed writing this poem!

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