Tag Archives: Yorkshire

12 December, Little Flowers of Saint Francis LX: Brother Peter of Monticello

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There were plenty of characters in the early days of the Franciscan Order. A young brother – a child we might call him today – hiding under the altar: did his fellow novices put him up to it? The wager for such a venture at my ‘apostolic school’ (a boarding school for would-be priests) was the inflation-proof currency of a Mars bar …  

Brother Peter of Monticello was seen by Brother Servodio of Urbino (he being then guardian in the old House of Ancona) lifted bodily off the ground five or six cubits, even to the feet of the Crucifix of the church, in front of which he was at prayer.

And this Brother Peter, while fasting on a time with great devotion during the forty days’ fast of Saint Michael the Archangel, and being at prayer in the church on the last day of this fast, was heard by a young brother (who of set purpose lay hidden under the high altar for to see some token of his sanctity) speaking with Saint Michael the Archangel; and the words that he said, were these:

Quoth Saint Michael: “Brother Peter, thou hast toiled so faithfully for me, and in many ways hast afflicted thy body: and lo ! now am I come to comfort thee, and to the intent that thou mayest ask what grace soever thou wilt, and I will get it thee from God.”

Replied Brother Peter: Most holy Prince of the celestial host, and faithful zealot of love divine, and pitying protector of souls, I ask this grace of thee that thou obtain from God the pardon of my sins.”

Replied Saint Michael: “Ask some other grace of me, for this grace shall I win for thee right easily.” But Brother Peter asking for nothing more, the Archangel concluded thus: “For the faith and devotion that thou hast to me, I will obtain for thee this grace thou askest for, and many more besides.” And done their parley, the which lasted for a long space, the Archangel Saint Michael was away, leaving him comforted exceedingly.

The young brother’s feelings are not recorded., but Saint Michael talks good Yorkshire. 

The crucifix here is from my late father’s well-used rosary.

WT.

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9 December: Greater than all our troubles.

whitby ps 93.4

The Lord on high is mightier than the noise of many waters, yea, than the mighty waves of the sea. 

Ps 93.4 KJV

This sign is fixed to the lighthouse at the mouth of Whitby harbour, below the clifftop where Saint Hilda had her monastery and sponsored bishops for the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria.

It’s the sort of place where people, overwhelmed by their troubles, go to end their lives; hence the message:

God is greater than all of our troubles.

It doesn’t always feel that way, and with an outreached hand, a smile, a word in season, we might, all unawares, help  someone to carry on a little longer. Even a notice like this one may touch a troubled soul, though it must have taken great trust for Whitby fishermen’s wives to believe it, on nights when their men were lost on a stormy sea.

judas

Is the suicide lost? The stonemasons of Strasbourg did not think so, for they showed the Risen Lamb of God untying the hanged Judas to bring him back from the mouth of Hell.

If our journey is delayed by a suicide or a fatal accident, let us forgive those whose actions cause us inconvenience, let us not complain at the delay, but rather let us pray for the victim, for those innocently caught up in the incident, and the families and friends of all concerned.

This reflection comes after another railway trespasser’s death led to a callous response from a delayed passenger.

samaritans.ticket nov2017

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18 September: Y is for York

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York Minster, as the Cathedral is known, was built over the remains of the Roman Garrison. It was here in the year 306 than Constantine was proclaimed Emperor. This late 20th Century statue shows the Emperor dressed for battle, gazing at his broken sword.

The hilt or handle of the sword forms a cross with the blade. In hoc signo vinces – in this sign you will conquer – were the words that accompanied Constantine’s vision of a cross in the sky before the decisive victory that took him from contender for the throne to acknowledged Emperor of Rome.

Constantine, seventeen centuries on, seems to us more of an action man than a contemplative, but if his adoption of Christianity as the religion of the Empire was politically expedient, it must also have spoken to his heart. We can follow his gaze and, looking at the broken sword, ask ourselves under what sign, what banner do we strive? Which Kingdom do we serve? What are we aiming for? And how would we recognise victory? Are we like the man in the background, too busy on our phones to stop and stare? Let’s look at the broken sword and say:

We adore Thee O Christ and we praise  Thee, because by thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world. Amen.

MMB.

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September 2: In Praise of Rain, I.

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I felt we could benefit from some rain this month. And before anyone gives in to feeling fed up at the very thought of it, here comes a set of reflections in praise of rain by GK Chesterton. And today’s appropriate picture is of Boar Lane in Leeds, by the Leodensian native, Atkinson Grimshaw. Over to GKC.

Sometimes walking upon bare and lustrous pavements, wet under numerous lamps, a man seems a black blot on all that golden looking-glass, and could fancy he was flying in a yellow sky.

But wherever trees and towns hang head downwards in a pigmy puddle, the sense of Celestial topsy-turvydom is the same. This bright, wet, dazzling confusion of shape and shadow, of reality and reflection, will appeal strongly to any one with the transcendental instinct about this dreamy and dual life of ours. It will always give a man the strange sense of looking down at the skies.

I hope the transcendental instinct is alive and well in our readers, leave the umbrella at home!

Last year Sister Johanna insisted we publish this poem by Sheila Billingsley on Easter Sunday. Did it rain that morning? Now I insist you go and read it!

We like a drop of rain at Agnellus Mirror.

From ‘A Miscellany of Men’, available on line and on Kindle.

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Daniel O’Leary RIP

Daniel O’Leary RIP

Eddie was community leader at L’Arche Kent and is still very close to the community. He now works at the Irish Chaplaincy in London, from where this blog has been taken. 

 

I was sad to hear of the death in January of Daniel O’Leary, the well-known and clearly much-loved priest, spiritual writer and retreat-giver.

Daniel was a Kerryman who spent much of his priestly ministry in the Leeds diocese and also taught theology and religious studies at St Mary’s, Strawberry Hill. His writings had a certain light touch to them, and indeed he had at one time a regular piece in ‘The tablet’ called ‘Travelling Light’; yet what he had to say was profound, very down to earth, and had an evident authenticity. There are none of us on this earth who are without our struggles, and I’m sure that Daniel had his, but he was able to make something creative from it. His slim but inspiring volume ‘The Happiness Habit’ contains, among many other gems, a wonderful piece of Hasidic wisdom:

“Rake the muck this way, rake the muck that way; it will still be muck. Instead, start dancing your life thankfully on this beautiful earth”.

The theme of thankfulness and gratitude is a common one in Daniel’s writing. He encourages us in ‘The Healing Habit’ to repeat at the beginning of every day the words ‘Thank you’, and he quotes Meister Eckhart, the 13th Century German mystic: “If the words Thank You were the only words you ever uttered, you would become a magnet for love and beauty”.

Reading some of the obituaries following Daniel’s death, I was struck by a sense of humanity and compassion; of him being always prepared to meet and accept people where they were. Jonathan Tulloch recounts in ‘The Tablet’ the joy of a neighbour when Daniel had agreed to baptise her granddaughter, which had been refused by another priest. Tulloch was later brought by this neighbour to mass at Daniel’s parish of St Wilfrid’s in Ripon. He found himself in a packed congregation amidst a troupe of Morris dancers who had been organised to accompany the offertory procession. I think I would have enjoyed a Daniel O’Leary mass!

Another common theme in Daniel’s writing is the call for us to get in touch with those places within us wherein lie our deepest longings and dreams. ‘The Happiness Habit’ begins with a quote from Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive”. There is an echo here for me of the American poet Mary Oliver who also died recently. Her poem ‘The Summer Day’ concludes with these lines:

Doesn’t everything dies at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

 

I give thanks for your life Daniel. You seem to have lived it well, and I am inspired by you to try and do likewise.

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12 February :For those in peril.

samaritans.ticket nov2017We have written before to praise the initiative of the Samaritans and the British railway companies for their efforts to prevent suicides. The ticket shown above is just one way this happens. There has been extensive staff training and there are prominent notices giving the same message at stations and level crossings.

The suicide does not realise how great is the distress for those left behind, as many of us will have witnessed. I remember helping out in a school in a state of shock after a popular teacher died in his car at a level crossing, just before the end of the summer holiday. He could not face the return to his demanding work: the students had emotional and social problems and were difficult to control.  However he felt about his role, the staff and students all spoke highly of him. But he could not see that clearly.

This plaque is clear enough. It is displayed on the harbour arm at Whitby in Yorkshire, for there are those, like Virginia Woolf, who choose to end their lives by drowning. We can – and should – read the inscription as praise of the Creator, but it also as a prayer for the would-be suicide, and an invitation to turn again, to repent of despair.

Let us pray that the new year will be a season of hope rather than gloom for those who all too easily see the dark side. And let us have the courage, as a recent Samaritans advertisement puts it, to make small talk at the school gate, in the queue, on the bus.

How’s the weather where you are?

 

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16 March: Stone Angel

angel.dusty.york
Stone Angel
Peacefully residing within the enclaves of Worcester Cathedral:
the Stone Angel wrapped in white, marble, marzipan folds
centring and guiding rivers flowing towards clasped hands
grasped earnestly together
holding onto prayer
and contemplation
of mysteries beyond
rational thinking.
An inanimate idol?
Or a reminder of the joy
And peace to be found in
transendance.
A nexus of matter:
hinting, suggesting, reminding
us
to save a place in our day
to consider the inconsiderable.
Constantina Alexander
19 February, 2018
Thank you Constantina, for reminding us to consider the inconsiderable, the infinity in a grain of sand or piece of stone.
This stone angel is in York Minster, a little dusty when its photo was taken, but still a reminder.

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December 14 : Zechariah, unlikely Advent Star II.

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Zechariah quickly becomes the focus of St. Luke’s narrative:

Now it happened that it was the turn of Zechariah’s section to serve, and he was exercising his priestly office before God when it fell to him by lot, as the priestly custom was, to enter the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense there. At the hour of incense all the people were outside praying (1:8-10).

Here is Zechariah, an older man, exercising his priestly duties once again. I see him wearing the priestly robes, silently entering the sanctuary and carrying out the rituals prayerfully and in the prescribed manner. He does this, perhaps rather slowly due to his age, but also beautifully, with innate grace of movement and dignity of bearing. This has happened many times and Zechariah knows all the prayers and actions by heart. Everything flows smoothly. He reverently lights the coals; the incense fills the holy place with its fragrance. He loves this religious duty and never tires of it. He is alone with his God and prays fervently for his people.

There are never any surprises here for Zechariah. Ever. Perhaps this is another clue to Zechariah’s character. He knows what should happen next. Maybe he knows this a bit too well. Ordinarily, for frail human beings, our greatest strengths have a flip side, when our greatest weaknesses take over. We usually have a hard time being balanced. Zechariah is like all of us here. His great religious devotion, and his familiarity with what was prescribed by the Law in exercising his priestly office, might not have prepared him for what would happen this time. New ideas are never easy to absorb, especially new ideas about religion. And what would happen this time to Zechariah, as we know, was not merely a new idea, but an entirely new experience of the numinous, and a new revelation of God’s will.

ZMaybe this is a good place to stop and pray. Is this a time in my life when God is asking something new of me – for which I do not feel prepared? Advent is always such a time. The Incarnation is something so new that it cannot be imagined: God’s very Son is born. The Eternal Word of the Father becomes an infant. Have I lost my sense of how astonishing this is? Am I somewhat entrenched in a religious mind-set that I have acquired and maintained for years now? Can I imagine letting go of this so that God can lead me to something I have never experienced before?

SJC

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29 October, Christ walking with travellers: IV. A journey around my room

piano2 (800x600) (2)

At the end of the eighteenth century, Xavier de Maistre found himself locked up. He was more comfortably off than most prisoners, but still bored. He used his time to write a little book which he called A journey around my room. It can be found in the original French: here.

If for some reason we cannot go out – weather, illness, time of day, domestic duties – we can sit comfortably and begin our own journey, not just around the corners of the room but around the corners of our heart.

The lamp above my shoulder I made as an exercise on a college course many years ago in Hull, Yorkshire. That reminds me of my fellow course members, my tutors and friends, as well as Paul, a Hull man I often see down here in Kent. Thinking of them soon turns into a prayer.

Then there is the piano, not used much these days, but a bargain buy from a neighbour who was moving away. Think of her, and her son, exiled, perhaps for ever, from their native land; but at least she can walk along the street alone in Britain, free from fear and bare-headed, and still count herself a faithful Muslim.

The fire! We were glad to replace the ugly gas fire with something more in keeping with the house; everyone enjoys it on the special evenings when it burns.

Next, a nineteenth century engraving of a mother bathing her child before the kitchen range where elder sister, aged maybe seven, is warming a blanket, while father with an arm around mother, looks about to tickle the baby’s tummy. That was found in a Belgian flea market, brought home and remounted in a new frame. My wife’s keen eye at work!

To one side, an African carving of the Holy Family where Joseph is twice the size of Mary protecting his wife and the infant Jesus. But those two objects invite so much contemplation that I shall leave you there; perhaps to return to that corner another day.

Take a trip around your personal space and see where it leads you!

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19 July: G is for Valley Gardens

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Since I was small, I had always loved gardening, so when the chance came of a holiday job at the parks in Castleford, I seized it. The town council took a pride in their parks, lung-savers in an industrial landscape. As well as the mines there were glassworks, a  factory producing chemicals such as wood preservers, a coke oven and a maltings: the least offensive smell. In a heat wave the fumes gathered in the valley where the town was built on the ford. The rivers ran black. Breathing was a challenge.

Valley Gardens was our nearest park: a good park with a crown bowling green, playground for the children, lawns and lots of traditional bedding, the plants grown in the council’s own nursery. There was also raised bedding with scented plants for blind people to enjoy. And so they did.

I’m ever grateful for the skills learnt at Valley Gardens but also for the attitude to work imbibed from the older guys I worked alongside. Many had been miners and knew how to pace themselves to be productive over the whole day. They were also humble enough to put themselves through the City and Guilds Certificate training: men who knew how to handle tools, being ‘taught’ how to dig or prune before taking on specialised skills such as caring for the greens.

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Recently I read that Valley Gardens, for many years the responsibility of Wakefield City council, is run-down and the play area no longer safe. A committee has been formed to revive this park. When I was there, people knew the decision makers in town. Now they are in Wakefield and need never go near Valley Gardens.

I hope the committee is supported by the community and Wakefield council so that the gardens return to their former glory.

There are parallels in church life. We need to trust people, even  those who shun responsibilities, with a mission they may fail at. Apart from Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who were members of the Sanhedrin, Jesus chose women and misfits for his first generation of leaders. I don’t recall his disciples sitting exams.

Since writing this post I read an article describing how the people who use the parks the most are poorer people, people without gardens of their own. So it is poor people who take the brunt of government spending cuts in this area of life, as in so many others.

Our beds were every bit as lovely – and more so – than this semiformal planting in Berlin’s Charlottenberg Park. The Roses were a feature of Valley Gardens: the older gardeners taught me how to prune them. This is ‘Mermaid’, who needs very careful handling with her vicious thorns. But she’s lovely!

 

 

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