Tag Archives: wound

18 June: The Battlefield

The Battle-Field


 They dropped like flakes, they dropped like stars,
    Like petals from a rose,
When suddenly across the June
    A wind with fingers goes.
 

They perished in the seamless grass, —
    No eye could find the place;
But God on his repealless list
    Can summon every face.”

(from “Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series)

I’m not sure how literally to take these two stanzas from Emily Dickinson, I have no clue what particular battle, if any, she had in mind, but this is Waterloo Day, when great horse-backed armies clashed and Napoleon was finally beaten.

The British troops that day were led by the Duke of Wellington who later became the honorary Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and had his official residence at Walmer Castle in Kent. Like its nearby companion, Deal Castle, it was built by Henry VIII to fortify a vulnerable stretch of the English Channel coastline.

It is the chapel of Deal Castle that we see here. This was built in the 1920s for the Captain of Deal, another honorary position then held by another military commander, General Sir John French, the First Earl of Ypres who commanded the British Expeditionary Force in the First World War.

The chapel is a memorial to all who have died in armed conflict. The petals on the altar are from British Legion poppies, which represent those who died in the First World War and conflict since then.

On this summer’s day, let us pause and pray for peace; for all those who are fighting around the world, for those injured in battle and for bereaved families.

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7 June: The Month of the Sacred Heart.

1 O dearest Lord, thy sacred head
with thorns was pierced for me;
O pour thy blessing on my head
that I may think for thee.
2 O dearest Lord, thy sacred hands
with nails were pierced for me;
O shed thy blessing on my hands
that they may work for thee.
3 O dearest Lord, thy sacred feet
with nails were pierced for me;
O pour thy blessing on my feet
that they may follow thee.

4 O dearest Lord, thy sacred heart
with spear was pierced for me;
O pour thy Spirit in my heart
that I may live for thee.

I first heard this hymn at Canterbury Cathedral during Holy Week, and enjoyed its unsentimental simplicity and the fleshy images; this is a Jesus you could touch, as Thomas did. I’m glad to share ‘O dearest Lord’ with you in this Month of the Sacred Heart. May his blessing pour down over your head, hands, feet and heart as the sun pours down on the sea, the sand – and the people on the beach – in this picture from Wales.

Father Andrew, who wrote this hymn was a pioneering Anglican Franciscan, working in East London during World War II. Search through Agnellus Mirror for more of his reflections.

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22 October, Little Flowers of Saint Francis LXXXIX: great joy and intolerable pain.

Crucifixion from Zimbabwe, by CD

An insight into Francis’s experience of the Stigmata in this extract from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis..

Those most holy wounds, since they were imprinted by Christ, gave very great joy to Saint Francis’s heart; nevertheless to his flesh and to his corporal senses they gave intolerable pain. Wherefore, being compelled thereunto by necessity, he chose Friar Leo, as more simple and more pure than the others, and to him he revealed everything; permitting him to see and to touch those sacred wounds and to bind them with certain handkerchiefs, for the allaying of the pain, and to catch the blood which issued and flowed from the said wounds; the which bandages, in time of sickness, he permitted him to change frequently, and even daily, except from Thursday evening to Saturday morning, during which time our Saviour Jesus Christ was taken for our sakes and crucified, slain and buried; and therefore, during that time, Saint Francis would not suffer that the pain of the Passion of Christ, which he bore in his body, should be assuaged in anywise by any human remedy or medicine whatsoever.

Sometimes, as Friar Leo was changing the bandage of the wound in his side, St. Francis, for the pain which he felt when that blood-soaked bandage was plucked away, laid his hand upon the breast of Friar Leo; whereby, from the touch of those sacred hands, Friar Leo felt such sweetness of devotion in his heart, that he well-nigh fell swooning to the ground.

And finally, as touching this third consideration, St. Francis having finished the fast of St. Michael the Archangel, prepared himself, by Divine revelation, to return to Santa Maria degli Angeli. Wherefore he called unto him Friar Masseo and Friar Agnolo, and, after many words and holy admonishments, he commended unto them that holy mountain with all possible earnestness, telling them that it behoved him, together with Friar Leo, to return to Santa Maria degli Angeli. And when he had said this, he took leave of them and blessed them in the name of Jesus crucified; and, yielding to their entreaties, he gave them his most holy hands, adorned with those glorious and sacred stigmata, to see, to touch and to kiss; and so leaving them consoled, he departed from them and descended the holy mountain.

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17 October: Little Flowers of Saint Francis LXXXVIII. The Stigmata.

Continuing yesterday’s account of Francis’s vision with the emergence of the Stigmata – the marvellous image and imprint of the Passion of Christ.

When, after long and secret converse, this marvellous vision vanished away, it left an exceeding ardour and flame of Divine love in the heart of St. Francis, and in his flesh a marvellous image and imprint of the Passion of Christ. For anon, in the hands and in the feet of St. Francis the marks of nails began to appear after the same fashion as he had just seen in the body of Jesus Christ crucified, the which had appeared unto him in the form of a seraph; and even so were his hands and his feet pierced through the midst with nails, the heads whereof were in the palms of the hands and in the soles of the feet, outside the flesh; and the points came out through the back of the hands and of the feet, where they showed bent back and clinched on such wise that, under the clinching and the bend, which all stood out above the flesh, it would have been easy to put a finger of the hand, as in a ring; and the heads of the nails were round and black. In like manner, in his right side appeared the likeness of a lance wound, open, red and bloody; the which oftentimes thereafter spouted blood from the holy breast of St. Francis, and covered his habit and breeches with blood.

Wherefore his companions, before they knew thereof from him, perceiving nevertheless that he uncovered neither his hands nor his feet, and that he could not put the soles of his feet to the ground; and finding his habit and breeches all bloody, when they washed them, knew certainly that he bore, imprinted on his hands and feet and likewise on his side, the express image and likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ crucified. And although he very earnestly endeavoured to conceal and to hide those most holy and glorious stigmata which were so clearly imprinted on his flesh, he perceived that he could but ill conceal them from his familiar companions; and therefore he stood in very great doubt, fearing to make public the secrets of God, and knowing not whether he ought to reveal the seraphic vision and the imprinting of the most holy stigmata.

At the last, being goaded thereunto by his conscience, he called to him certain of his most intimate friends among the friars, and, setting before them his doubt in general terms, yet without explaining the actual fact, he asked their advice; and among the said friars was one of great sanctity, who was called Friar Illuminatus. Now this man, being of a truth illuminate by God, and understanding that St. Francis must have seen marvellous things, answered him after this manner: “Friar Francis, know thou that, not for thy sake only but also for the sake of others, God manifesteth unto thee at divers times His mysteries; and therefore thou hast good reason to fear that, if thou keepest secret that which God hath shown thee for the benefit of others, thou wilt be worthy of blame”.

Then St. Francis, being moved by these words, with great dread related unto them all the manner and form of the aforesaid vision; adding that Christ, who had appeared unto him, had spoken certain things unto him which he would never repeat as long as he lived. And, albeit those most holy wounds, inasmuch as they were imprinted by Christ, gave very great joy to his heart; nevertheless to his flesh and to his corporal senses they gave intolerable pain.

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14 October. Letters of Note: War

A Christmas Meeting

Have we not had enough of war? But it doesn’t stop and it doesn’t stop hurting. We are reviewing this book now to allow you to buy it before November begins. There are thirty mini chapters, hence you could choose to read one per day through the month.

Shaun Usher’s Letters of Note: War is a small collection of letters written during various conflicts from ancient times to 2016 and the Iraq war. There is heartbreak here, to know that many of the fighters, willing or reluctant, never returned to friends and family, or went home changed and traumatised by what they had seen and done. ‘Instead of a yellow streak, the men got a mean streak down their backs.’ (p24) ‘All the wounded were killed in a most horrible way … you will see all sorts of accounts in the papers and no end of lies.’ p102.

These letters bring home the reality in a different way to television news. There are always no end of lies, always men who get mean in order to survive but cannot live with themselves later; fighters who endure shell shock and post-traumatic stress.

There’s a special poignancy about the first Christmas of the Great War, when men from England and Germany came together between the front lines, in all friendship, ‘but of course it will start and tomorrow we shall be at it hard killing one another’. (p80)

Go and buy this little book, read and pay attention. The human beings, the animals, the environment devastated by war are depicted truthfully, for these letters were written not for publication but to friends and family, sons and daughters, mothers, wives and partners, friends on the same or opposite sides; officials to officials.

Lamb of God, you who take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.

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1 June: an unfortunate shell.

Poppy Bridge, Didsbury, Manchester

John McCrae was a Canadian military doctor during the Great War. He is best known for his poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. This post describes an incident he witnessed 105 years ago, on 1 June. It is from the introductory material selected by his editor.

“Tuesday, June 1st, 1915.

1-1/2 miles northeast of Festubert, near La Bassee. Last night a 15 pr. and a 4-inch howitzer fired at intervals of five minutes from 8 till 4; most of them within 500 or 600 yards—a very tiresome procedure; much of it is on registered roads.

In the morning I walked out to Le Touret to the wagon lines, got Bonfire, and rode to the headquarters at Vendin-lez-Bethune, a little village a mile past Bethune. Left the horse at the lines and walked back again. An unfortunate shell in the 1st killed a sergeant and wounded two men; thanks to the strong emplacements the rest of the crew escaped.

In the evening went around the batteries and said good-bye. We stood by while they laid away the sergeant who was killed. Kind hands have made two pathetic little wreaths of roses; the grave under an apple-tree, and the moon rising over the horizon; a siege-lamp held for the book. Of the last 41 days the guns have been in action 33.

Captain Lockhart, late with Fort Garry Horse, arrived to relieve me. I handed over, came up to the horse lines, and slept in a covered wagon in a courtyard. We were all sorry to part—the four of us have been very intimate and had agreed perfectly—and friendships under these circumstances are apt to be the real thing.

From “In Flanders Fields and Other Poems” by John McCrae.

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13 September: Wesley upon Slavery XIII. Can you wonder?

The Last Judgement, Strasbourg Cathedral

What pains have you taken, what method have you used, to reclaim (slaves) from their wickedness?

Have you carefully taught them, that there is a God, a wise, powerful, merciful Being, the Creator and Governor of heaven and earth? that he has appointed a day wherein he will judge the world, will take an account of all our thoughts, words, and actions? that in that day he will reward every child of man according to his works? that then the righteous shall inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world; and the wicked shall be cast into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels?

If you have not done this, if you have taken no pains or thought about the matter, can you wonder at their wickedness? What wonder, if they should cut your throat? And if they did, whom could you thank for it but yourself? You first acted the villain in making them slaves, whether you stole them or bought them. You kept them stupid and wicked, by cutting them off from all opportunities of improving either in knowledge or virtue: And now you assign their want of wisdom and goodness as the reason for using them worse than brute beasts!

The artists of Strasbourg used the Last Judgement to say something about those in authority who had more regard for themselves and their comfort than the poor people of their day. But the Lord is blessing Creation with his Glorious Wounds.

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28 April: This is my body!

easter.morning.frara.venice

 

We were put off by the grandiose monuments in the Conventual Franciscans’ church in Venice. A six metre high pyramid or a balcony upheld by gigantic black strongmen: I don’t see what their place is in a Christian church. Worse by far than what we have in Canterbury. But no more of that.

Take a look instead at this wall carving; it may be small but it says more than the marble monstrosities, however clever their workmanship.

This is Easter morning, first thing, before Mary reaches the tomb. The rising sun is gilding the tree and shining upon the One who has risen. An angel watches over him, as always. The angels had to watch the events of Thursday night and Friday without intervening. Were they already reassured that all would be well? We cannot know their experience of time.

Jesus is experiencing time, and space and all his senses, in a completely new way. The warmth of the sun on his chest makes him stop and think: This is my body!

His left hand explores his wounded side: no, I can feel it, but it doesn’t hurt. I can breathe freely, but I carry the marks, the stigmata, (as Saint Francis was to do). Time has left other marks, blotches, bruises, that probably were not all intended by the artist, but they point to this moment when Jesus took those first breaths, not in his new body, but in his body renewed, transformed; or in the process of transformation, in that twinkling of an eye, before he dressed and went out to meet Mary. Surely, with the blood flowing again – as we see it is – the bruises will disappear.

It was important to Jesus in this moment to explore his risen body, to know what he was waking up to. So, Thomas, come and put your hand in the mark of the nails, put your hand in my side, stop doubting and believe – just as I did last week!

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March 13. Jesus and Zacchaeus VII: The Beloved Friend

 

Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham, for the Son of man has come to seek out and save what was lost.

Yesterday, we began to ponder these remarkable words of Jesus. Today, we can continue to turn these words over in our minds – as Zacchaeus must have done late that night when everyone else had fallen asleep. How healing Jesus’ words are.

There is no hesitation on Jesus’ part in accepting Zacchaeus’s promise. No cynical words, such as, “Ha. We’ll see how long this lasts. You’ve been a liar and a thief most of your life and now you expect us to believe that you will keep these promises?” Not a word was spoken to that effect. Such remarks would have immediately condemned Zacchaeus to failure, imprisoned him in his past. But that is emphatically not the way Jesus treats anyone: certainly not Zacchaeus, and not us. Instead, Jesus reinforces Zacchaeus’s good resolution by believing in it and in him. How creative and life-giving Jesus’ belief in Zacchaeus is for him.

Jesus also regards Zacchaeus’s promise as sufficient. There is no lecture from Jesus along the lines of, “Right, my good man. Is that all you mean to do? Repaying those you ruined four times the amount you stole is not as generous as it sounds! Those people need at least that much in order to start all over again. And as for giving half your property to the poor, you will barely even feel the loss, you have so much property as it is.” Jesus does not say anything of the sort here, nor does he ever do so. Jesus is friendship, love and forgiveness. So great is his mercy and love that he immediately accepts our good resolutions wholeheartedly and envisions them not as unfulfilled promises but as actual achievements, meriting praise. Today salvation has come to this house, he says. It has already happened. This is what friendship with Jesus means.

Jesus’ friendship gives us the grace of a conversion that almost seems to reach back in time and not merely forward. Jesus can give us a new heart, and new inner desires for goodness, along with the determination to act on these desires – as we see in Zacchaeus’s resolutions. Jesus’ forgiveness is one with his friendship, which means we enter into a continuous inner relationship with him who is goodness. He can therefore fill our present with potential for good – because we are with him. This can enable us to fulfil our potential for goodness by drawing on an inner store of grace and wisdom, which have their source in Jesus.

Zacchaeus had been an unhappy, wounded, even tragic person. He had managed to surround himself with the comforts of wealth, but he did so to the detriment of his emotional life and his need for human relationships. Jesus, simply by being Jesus, swept away the tragedy like fallen leaves in the autumn; Jesus awakened Zacchaeus both to his own human longings and to his deepest human potential. In awakening these longings, Jesus also immediately offered himself as the fulfillment of Zacchaeus’s longings, and as the power behind all his potential. This shows us what we may hope for from Jesus, our beloved Friend.

good shepherd mada3

Perhaps we are tentatively groping toward something, and we do not know what it is. Maybe we are metaphorically on that tree branch, just watching, as Zacchaeus was. Maybe we see Jesus turning to us. Maybe we are very clear only about one thing: that we are lost. Zacchaeus’s story tells us that we can be confident that Jesus will befriend us, too, and offer us as much healing forgiveness, with as much joy as he gave to Zacchaeus. He will also ask something of us: to allow him, and his dearest companions, into our home. Today.

SJC

 

 

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November 10: Remembering

poppy.OTTfigure

I came across this little Staffordshire souvenir figure under a church war memorial last November. A hundred years on, it’s difficult to understand who would design such an ornament, or who would have bought it. As boys I remember us getting more run-of-the-mill designs for my mother’s collection, but we once gave her a Great War tank model, not thinking of the loss of life and all the human suffering it represented.

But what does this figure represent, other than a present from Bishop’s Stortford? Is the soldier a killer or a victim? Brave or resigned, or hoping for a ‘Blighty’ wound to get himself sent home for a month or two? Did it remind its first owner of a loved one lost? And how did it feel to see it if you were a returned front-line soldier, after the War? Pure white was not very often seen amid Flanders mud.

Caught in that moment when he goes Over The Top to kill or be killed: how do we bring this to God? This is not man-for-man fighting – the machine gun that may get him will be many yards away, and unless it comes to bayonets he won’t see the one he kills.

Perhaps it is fitting to put him down, as the parishioners did, in front of the Cross on the War Memorial; without a word, with the poppies around him.

What can we say? With our current weaponry we have no right to feel morally superior. Piloting deadly drones from hundreds of miles away or threatening to press the red button; or indeed having others do so in our name: lives on ‘our side’ are not at risk as those going over the top were.

Father forgive us for we do not want to know what we do.

 

 

 

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