Wednesday, March 08, 2017

COMPANIONS and ASSOCIATES of the COMPASSIONATE HEARTS of JESUS and MARY


Many of us are aware of the presence of hate, fear, bigotry and anger in our society – and see a growing lack of compassion, not least for those who some perceive ‘don’t belong’.   And we might even be aware of the way these feelings can begin to fill our own hearts.  It’s not always a virtue that’s easy to express.

But if you sense that we need to be more compassionate towards each other, then you might be interested in a new online, ecumenical Spiritual Association that’s in formation.  It’s called Companions of the Compassionate Hearts of Jesus and Mary (CCHJM) and it seeks to enable members (Companions) to express compassion by nurturing this virtue.

Compassion lies at the heart of all the world’s great religions and forms an essential aspect of the Christian Faith.  As the well-known writer and theologian, Henri Nouwen, wrote:  ‘When Jesus was moved to compassion, the source of all life trembled, the ground of all love burst open and the abyss of God’s immense, inexhaustible and unfathomable love revealed itself.’ *   Compassion is not the same as feeling sorry for people but is an active being-alongside.  And it all begins with having self-compassion. 

Companions adopt a simple Rule.  They seek to:
Ø to spend time each day in the presence of Compassionate Heart of Jesus;
Ø express compassion in a practical way;
Ø make a compassion Examen (reflection) each day;
Ø recognise the value of the Sacrament of Confession in seeking to fulfil the psalmist’s plea: ‘Make me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.’

If you don’t feel you can take on this Rule but would like to be connected it's possible to become and Associate.  Associates accept the Aims and Purpose of the Association and promise to seek ways of fostering compassion in their hearts and living out of that charism.  They will also receive Compassion Quarterly, the publication of the online Association.

It doesn’t cost anything to join (except to work on being a compassionate person!) and there aren’t any meetings to attend.  You can find out more from the website: www.cchjm.org where there’s a simple form to complete if you wish to ask questions or join, together with prayers and reflections and articles about compassion that might be of interest.

Visit our website: www.cchjm.org, follow us on Twitter: #cchjm123 or like our Facebook Page

________________________________________

*  ‘ Compassion – A Reflection on the Christian Life’. DLT. 2008

Monday, February 13, 2017

USING DIVINE COMPASSION TO COUNTER HATE, FEAR AND DIVISION



Since the country voted for Brexit and Donald Trump was elected President of the USA I have found, in my work as a spiritual director, many people speaking of an ‘existential angst’ they, or their friends, are experiencing.   Feelings of anger, disgust, fear and emptiness seem to exercise a greater hold and the dread of division has entered their – souls.  And I hear (and recognise something) of the way some are almost addicted to exploring news stories concerning these two subjects which are exercising a hold over them that seems unhealthy.  

As I have reflected on this phenomenon I have noticed a remarkable similarity between the effect that focusing on the effects of Brexit and Trump have with some of the teaching of S. Ignatius in what he described as ‘discernment of spirits’.  Ignatius pointed out that the ‘evil spirit’ (ad if someone has a problem with such a term, think of ‘negative life-force’) will seek to “move (a person) toward lack of faith and leave one without hope and without love” (The Spiritual Exercises, n. 317).  Ignatius goes on to say that when this occurs the person who is seeking to live as God would have them live should ‘confront those things that hold us back from such freedom’ - and act against those behaviours which are not life giving (Contra Agere).

For many years I have been attracted by the Sacred Heart of Jesus, finding in that image and devotion a real sense of God’s passionate love for all creation.  More recently I have become conscious of being drawn to explore practicing Compassion and how developing this deep aspect of our humanity can undermine the consequences of being drawn by the hatred, fear and division present in our world. It has also been realised that developing compassion can be a means of growing in personal well-being.  To that end I have been working on developing an Association of Companions of the Compassionate Hearts of Jesus and Mary

The idea of such an Association is to provide a means whereby people can commit to live out the compassionate love of God in their lives.  Jesus and Mary reveal aspects of compassionate love – Jesus responded to the world with Divine Compassion and Mary was warned of the pain compassion can bring when, in bringing the child Jesus to the Temple, Simeon prophesied that her soul would be “pierced” by a sword as she bore Jesus in the world.  

The purpose of such an Association would be to encourage and nurture compassion in the lives of all Companions.  Its aim would be to provide a means of commitment with others in developing a compassionate heart for the sake of the world.  And the charism of Companions would be to:

+  seek to be living lives whereby the love of God, realised in the Compassion of Jesus, might be fully realised;

+  recall that the heart of Mary was pierced by a sword as she remained in union with her Son.   Companions recognise that their hearts will also suffer as they seek to love with the heart of Jesus and Mary;

+  know that they cannot do this by their own unaided efforts, rather they seek to turn to Christ’s Compassionate Heart as the Divine well from which they will drink;

+  value the rich resources that come from all religious traditions that seek to cultivate a Compassionate heart;

+  look to the Sacrament of Confession (Reconciliation) as a means of cleansing and for renewing their own hearts.

At present this is an ‘idea in the working’ and I have sought advice as to whether to take this forward. But it seems to me that there is a great and increasing need, not only to act with compassion, but to live out of the Heart of Compassion.

SS. Cyril and Methodius, Patrons of Europe
February 14th, 2017

Friday, January 27, 2017

BREXIT AND THE REFORMATION

Having listened to Mrs. Emily Thornbury MP being questioned by Evan Davis on Newsnight recently I began to understand the Labour Party’s position on Brexit.  Unlike the Tory Party (which seems to have wholeheartedly embraced a ‘hard’ Brexit) or the Liberal Democrat Party (which clearly opposes it) the Labour Party, containing as it does large numbers of both Leavers and Remainers, recognises it needs to be a Broad Church.  Whilst the country voted by a margin of less than 10% to leave the EU, it needs to accommodate members of both camps.  And, in that, I see clear parallels with the Church of England.

Whilst I am not a Church historian I recognise (as I am sure others do) the similarities between Brexit and the age of Reformation.  Until the 16th cent. the Church in England had owed allegiance to the Roman Church and many of the laws of this country were dependent on decisions in Rome.  Both the separation of the Church in England from the Church of Rome and Brexit were preceded by many years of agitation.  Popularist preachers, like John Wycliffe and the Lollards, stirred up anti-Catholic feelings and prepared the way for the Acts of Supremacy which gradually made English law supreme and led to the declaration that ‘the Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England’ (Article 37)

In spite of this formal separation there was a substantial minority who objected and wished to remain part of the Roman Catholic Church.  It is a fact that Henry VIII (1509 – 1547), inspite of initiating the separation of England from Rome did not intend to adopt Protestantism in its entirety and religious doctrine didn’t change (1).  Whilst Henry persecuted extreme Protestants there were many views as to what separation meant.  As has sometimes happened in the aftermath of Brexit those who wanted to remain part of the Roman Church were abused and persecuted and some were killed.

It was under the Regency Council which governed during the minority of his successor, Edward VI (1547 – 1553), that Protestant teaching began to change the faith of the English Church and eroded much of the Catholic heritage which Henry VIII had desired to retain.  This resulted in unrest and a number of protest marches including the Western Rebellion (1549).

Mary I (1553 – 1558) was declared Queen by popular demand (clearly not a Referendum but something similar) after people re-acted against the perceived excesses of Edward.  Many realised she would reverse most of the previous legislation that had separated England from Rome and those who had financially benefited from the break were determined that would not happen. (2)  This only caused greater division, persecution and disorder in the country which lasted until her death.

The genius of Elizabeth I (1558 – 1603) was to unite a divided country.  This she did by enabling the Church of England to be broad enough in its doctrine to hold various views whilst maintaining the separation that had occurred.  The ‘Elizabethan Religious Settlement’ was a response to the religious divisions in England.  A series of Acts and revisions to the Prayer Book intended to avoid adopting any one theology to the exclusion of another with the intention of enabling people with many different theological perceptions to belong to the one Church.  The Church of England was not part of the Roman Catholic Church (thus fulfilling the desires of the Leavers) but nor was it wholly Protestant and its teaching was still rooted in much Catholic theology.  Thus, hopefully, appealing to remainers. 

It seems to me that the present difficulties faced by the Labour Party are not dissimilar to the situation in England in the late 16th cent.  Both leavers (Protestants) and remainers (Catholics) were struggling to dominate society and Catholics were hated for wanting to remain united with Rome.   Is it overly simple to say that whilst ‘Leavers’ have a clear home with the Tories and ‘Remainers’ with the Liberal Democrats the Labour Party is, like the Church of England, seeking to offer a place for all.  And, like the Church of England, is accused of not knowing where it stands?  Or not having any clear teaching?  It seemed to me that Mrs. Thornbury was saying that the Labour Party was trying to find a way for people with different views to live together realising that if we don't we may be eternally divided or dominated by one view.  It is not an easy choice – to try and be broad enough for all – it won’t satisfy those seeking a clear choice and it might anger those who can’t cope with difference.  It is not easy to create a home where those with different views can live together.  But, like the Elizabethan Settlement, it may offer an umbrella under which many can shelter and the Labour Party might take heart from looking into this period in the history of England which occurred almost exactly 400 years ago.

(1) ‘The Religious Policy of King Henry VIII’; Jeff Hobbs
(2) ‘The Church 1553 to 1558’; C. N. Trueman

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

AND IS IT TRUE?

  • CHRISTMAS – John Betjeman

    The bells of waiting Advent ring,
    The Tortoise stove is lit again
    And lamp-oil light across the night
    Has caught the streaks of winter rain
    In many a stained-glass window sheen
    From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

    The holly in the windy hedge
    And round the Manor House the yew
    Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
    The altar, font and arch and pew,
    So that the villagers can say
    'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.

    Provincial Public Houses blaze,
    Corporation tramcars clang,
    On lighted tenements I gaze,
    Where paper decorations hang,
    And bunting in the red Town Hall
    Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'.

    And London shops on Christmas Eve
    Are strung with silver bells and flowers
    As hurrying clerks the City leave
    To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
    And marbled clouds go scudding by
    The many-steepled London sky.

    And girls in slacks remember Dad,
    And oafish louts remember Mum,
    And sleepless children's hearts are glad.
    And Christmas-morning bells say 'Come!'
    Even to shining ones who dwell
    Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

    And is it true? And is it true,
    This most tremendous tale of all,
    Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
    A Baby in an ox's stall ?
    The Maker of the stars and sea
    Become a Child on earth for me ?

    And is it true ?  For if it is,
    No loving fingers tying strings
    Around those tissued fripperies,
    The sweet and silly Christmas things,
    Bath salts and inexpensive scent
    And hideous tie so kindly meant,

    No love that in a family dwells,
    No carolling in frosty air,
    Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
    Can with this single Truth compare -
    That God was man in Palestine
    And lives today in Bread and Wine.

    ______________________________

    (The following is from a Christmas radio broadcast by John Betjeman, 1947)

    "I have now to speak personally because I can think of no other way of saying why Christmas means much more to me than my birthday. The greatest reason of all will take some putting across – even to anyone who has listened so far. It is this.

    I cannot believe that I am surrounded by a purposeless accident. On a clear night, I look up at the stars and, remembering amateur astronomy, know that the Milky Way is the rest of this universe and that the light from some of the stars has taken years to reach this planet. When I consider that the light from the sun ninety million miles away takes eight-and-a-half minutes to get here, the consequent immensity of this universe seems intolerable. And then I am told that some little clusters seen beyond the edge of the Milky Way on certain nights are other whole universes in outer space. It is too much, though believable.  And then on any day about now I can turn over a piece of decaying wood in our garden and see myriapods, insects and bugs startled out of sluggish winter torpor by my action. Each is perfectly formed and adapted to its life. From the immensity of the stars to the perfection of an insect – I cannot believe that I am surrounded by a purposeless accident.

    But can I believe this most fantastic story of all: that the Maker of the stars and of the centipedes became a baby in Bethlehem not so long ago. No time ago at all when you reckon the age of the earth. Well, it’s asking a lot. If I weren’t such a highbrow it would be easier. No man of intelligence can believe such a thing. A child of Jewish parents the Creator of the universe? Absurd.  But if it is not true, why was I born? And if it is true, nothing else is of so much importance. No date in time is so important as Christmas Day, the birthday of God made man. And carol singers and Salvation Army bands and Christmas cards (yes, even Christmas cards from ardent unbelievers, who always seem to observe Christmas) and cathedrals and saints and church bells and hospitals and almshouses and towers and steeples and the silence and present-giving of Christmas Day all bear witness to its truth.

    Beyond my reason, beyond my emotions, beyond my intellect I know that this peculiar story is true. Architecture brings it home to me, I suppose because architecture is, with poetry, my chief interest.

    Last week I was in the most beautiful building in Britain – King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. You know it. It is a forest glade of old coloured glass and between the great windows columns of shafted stone shoot up and up to fountain out into a shower of exquisite, elaborate fan vaulting. It is the swansong of Perpendicular architecture, so immense, so vast, so superbly proportioned, so mysterious that no one can enter it without gasping. All the schoolchildren of Cambridge had filed into a carol service and there they were in the candlelight of the dark oak stalls. We stood waiting for the choir to come in and as we stood there the first verse of the opening carol was sung beyond us, behind the screen, away in the mighty splendour of the nave. A treble solo fluted up to the distant vaulting “Once in Royal David’s City”.  It was clear, pure, distinct.  And as I heard it I knew once more – knew despite myself – that this story was the Truth.  And knowing it I knew that, because of the birth of Christ, the world could not touch me and that between me and the time I smashed Mrs Wallis’ Christmas present hung the figure of God become man, crucified in the great east window."

    (from Trains and Buttered Toast (2007), pp.323-324, John Murray)

Sunday, December 04, 2016

ON THE MYSTERY OF THE INCARNATION - Denise Levertov

It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and  no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.

In our neglect of the Word,
our dismissal of its Incarnation,
have we lost awareness of its power
to destroy as well as save?
Have we, in our new world, put such things away and become
deaf and blind?
Forgotten that this guest requires our hospitality,
lost respect for its savage beauty?
The Word became Flesh -
we, children of wordsmiths,
can venerate or ignore it.
Will the Word find a home in us?




Thursday, December 01, 2016

A LETTER TO A CHRISTIAN LEADER

The following letter has been sent to the Prime Minister having been signed by 97 Religious, Deacons or Priests of the Church of England and in Wales: 


The Rt. Hon. Theresa May, MP
London
SW1A 0AA
House of Commons

Feast of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, 2016


Dear Prime Minister,

We, deacons, priests and Religious of the Church of England and the Church in Wales, are writing to you as someone who publicly affirms that they are a Christian and a practising member of our Church. 

It has come to our attention that, as Prime Minister, you are not prepared to support the rights of EU citizens who will live in the UK post-Brexit.  We find your support of this denial of rights deplorable and call on you to review your decision in the light of your membership of the Church, the Body of Christ.  It is clear that your refusal to guarantee these basic rights indicates you have not rejected using human beings as bargaining chips in the political games concerning Brexit.  It is increasingly apparent to us that we are losing our national sense of being part of a common humanity and are allowing ourselves to be dominated by those who espouse the least admirable – if not deplorable – aspects of human nature.  However, we believe that the majority of our people are better than those voices suggest, as loud as they may be in the nation and in your own Party, voices which call us to embrace a spirit of selfishness rather than compassion.    What makes a country great is not the power it wields but the humanity by which it seeks to govern – and this is equally true of national leaders.


As we begin to prepare for the coming of our Saviour and proclaim His gospel of peace and goodwill we are only too aware that when He comes He will encounter fear and hatred, greed and selfishness which stalk our towns as they have not done for many years.  In preparing for Christmas, if the heart of that Faith which proclaims God among us is to be more than a charade but, as many say, is still important to the identity of our Nation, then we urgently call on you to consider your own calling as an Anglican and a Christian. At this time to whom do we lend our ears? To the voices of extremism or to the Gospel of God?

You are playing with the lives of thousands of our fellow human beings – and that is wrong.  We call on the Government to do the right thing and unilaterally declare that, no matter what other countries might fail to do we, as a nation conscious of its civilised heritage, will grant all members of the EU living in the UK at the time of Brexit equal rights with our own citizens.

Yours faithfully,

Fr. John-Francis Friendship SMMS

cc.        The Rt. Hon. Jeremy Corbyn PC MP
            The Rt. Hon. Tim Farron MP




“You and I, we are the Church, no? We have to share with our people. Suffering today
is because people are hoarding, not giving, not sharing.  Jesus made it very clear.
Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me.”  


St. Teresa of Calcutta

Sunday, November 27, 2016

THREE MASSES FOR CHRISTMASS, A CRIB AND A PROCLAMATION

Image result for First Christmas Crib

I notice that the Church of England Lectionary acknowledges three different sets of Readings for Christmas but does not explain why these are offered.  Some may not know the rich tradition that lies behind the choice of these readings (https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Midnight_Mass), but the reason why they are given  is quite simple.  They are appropriate to the three occasions when Mass is offered; occasions which, in turn, mark three distinct foci for the second greatest Feast of our Faith.  Rather than depending on personal preference (‘Any of the following sets of readings may be used on Christmas Night and on Christmas Day') these readings direct our attention to the progression whereby the mystery of the Incarnation was revealed.  So, for those who might be interested, the traditional Masses of the Incarnation with their appropriate readings are:

(Mid)Night          –           of the Angels (‘Set I’:  Isaiah 9.1-6; Titus 2.11-14; Luke 2.1-14)
Dawn                   –           of the Shepherds (‘Set II’:  Isaiah 62.6-12; Titus 3.4-7; Luke 2: 15-20)
Day                      –           of the Divine Word (‘Set III’: Isaiah 52.7-10; Hebrews 1.1-6; John 1.1-14)

I also notice that the liturgy for the Blessing of the Christmas Crib has been placed at the beginning, rather than the end, of Midnight Mass.  This seems a pity as it divorces the act from the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  The Crib, of course, dates from 1223 when St. Francis first erected one for the people of Greccio in central Italy.  He wanted to present the reality of the Incarnation and so placed a bambino on the altar as Mass was celebrated.  It is recorded that, at the words of Institution, the bambino cried and Francis embraced it with tender devotion.  So the custom grew of the bambino being on the altar in front of the corporal during Mass and then processing it to the Crib at the end of the celebration.  This makes a clear connection with the Eucharistic Prayer and the presence of Christ beneath the outward forms of Bread and Wine and underlines the truth that Verbum caro factum est - the Word has become Flesh.   Once the Crib has been blessed with (with Holy Water and censed) it is customary to genuflect to the Bambino, just as one does to the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, whenever passing until the end of Christmas Day.

Finally, I was introduced to the reading of the GREAT PROCLAMATION when I first attended Midnight Mass at Hilfield Friary.  This was performed immediately before singing the first carol (always ‘Once in Royal David’s City’) and I have, in turn, introduced in to many of the parishes in which I have been privileged to offer this Mass:

The Ancient and Great Proclamation
of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ
________________________________________________
In the five thousand, one hundred and ninety-ninth year from the creation of the world,
when God made out of nothing the heavens and the earth;
in the two thousand, nine hundred and fifty-seventh year from the flood;
in the two thousand and fifteenth year from the birth of Abraham;
in the one thousand five hundred and tenth year
from Moses and the exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt;
in the one thousand and thirty-second year from the anointing of David as king;
in the sixty-fifth week of years according to the prophecy of Daniel;
in the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad;
in the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome;
in the forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus, the whole earth being at peace:
JESUS CHRIST
the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father
willing to consecrate the world by his coming to us in mercy and grace,
having been conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and nine months having passed since his conception,
is born in Bethlehem in Judea of the Virgin Mary
AND IS MADE MAN!

ALLELUIA! ALLELUIA! ALLELUIA!

Friday, November 18, 2016

STORIES TO LIVE BY?



I cannot help but wonder if one of the reasons why there appears to be a growth in right-wing extremism is consequent to the loss of the Christian narrative that influenced the way in which European societies have developed.   By ‘Christian narrative’ I don’t mean ‘what the Church teaches’.   Rather that story which has encouraged people to live beyond the confines of humanity’s primitive instincts which drive our desire for, amongst other things, safety and security.  Richard Dawkins named this as the ‘selfish gene’ and claimed it dominated the evolutionary process, but others have argued that this is not a correct understanding of the process and believe we evolved as social rather than individual creatures. 

Whichever is correct it does seem clear that, at present, a selfish current is at work deep within the psyche of our society and there is occurring a major shift in our cultural identity.   After 2000 years of Christian formation which has, arguably, shaped us and our society in conscious and sub-conscious ways, the past 50 years have seen an erosion of that process which appears to be speeding up.  The Christian narrative is hardly heard in our formative development and, whilst many may not have given it conscious attention, exposure to the telling and retelling of that narrative has given expression to the best in how we perceived our human calling.  It has offered something that has inspired generations of people to seek to transcend themselves.  The Parables of Jesus have been formative in our cultural development – the Good Samaritan, Prodigal Son, Widows Mite etc…  Now they are no longer normative in shaping our culture, what is replacing them?  How can we counter the selfish traits that can, so easily, be determinative?  What stories constantly remind us of the need to forgive?  To know that we are loved in spite of who and what we might be?  To welcome the stranger and see a ‘higher being’ in the foreigner?  To be generous.  To beware the lure of wealth etc …  What common narratives now form us?

Arguably the vote for Brexit was driven by a desire to be rid of foreigners and separate ourselves from others – both desires being ones which the Christian narrative warns against.  The hatred that has erupted both here and in the USA has not been fueled by the Christian narrative, far from it. Rather the worse in our humanity is being given permission to express itself by those who peddle the Brexit narrative.  And to ignore the consequences of the narrative that is now being offered, as history shows us, is deeply dangerous.  At present too many of our leaders are ignoring this and seeking to focus our attention simply on perceived financial advantages whilst neglecting more important concerns.  And just as Jesus was deeply critical of those who ignored the ‘weightier demands of the Law’ (cf. Mt. 23) those of us who call ourselves Christians should be pleased that some politicians are clearly warning us of the dangers of the populist fable gripping so many:

“We are at an ugly international crossroads. What’s happening in Britain is appalling. What’s happening across Europe is appalling. It has echoes from the 1930's.  And America, the most powerful country in the world, has just elected a fascist!  … I don’t use the term fascist lightly, (but) What else would you call someone who threatens to imprison his political opponents?  What else would you call somebody who threatens to not allow people of a certain political faith into their country?  What would you say, or what would you call somebody who was threatening to deport 10 million people?”  (Senator Aodhán O'Riordáin addresses the Taoiseach 10.xi.16)

A counter-narrative needs to be offered that appeals to our social as opposed to selfish genes and reminds us that simplistic solutions cannot answer our deeper needs.  The Scriptures offer a narrative that is increasingly counter-cultural: where story after story deals with the lure and corruption of power, the need to beware hatred of the Other and to learn to love the stranger.  The Christian narrative is not easy to hear and the Church, besotted with issues of sexuality, hardly seems in a place to proclaim it.  Yet I believe that is what we need to do, in season and – more importantly – at this time when the dark forces of Evil (and, yes, the Christian narrative presents us with the reality of evil and how to overcome it) have been welcomed into our midst in the shape of those who offer lies, trade in fear of the foreigner and seek to place the acquisition of wealth above the creation of a just society.  Whether they realise it or not the likes of Farage, Trump and their ilk are the heralds of darkness not of light – and by their fruits we will know them.  

Thursday, October 27, 2016

MEMORIES OF HILFIELD FRIARY




1976 - 1978                
I arrived at the Friary on the Feast of the Holy Cross, September 14th, and was one of three admitted as a Postulant on September 15th by the Guardian, Br. Jonathan – another was Stanley who had worshiped at the same church as me - All Saints, Margaret Street in London.  There were others, including Keith Mitchell (Crispin), North Kerr, Peter (Peter Douglas), Gregory and Richard Hodgson, who had been admitted previously and we joined Fr. Bill Kirkpatirck (Aelred), Kevin Terry (Albert) and Graham who were also Postulants.  In all we numbered 15 – the highest ever number in the history of SSF!  There were so many of us that some had to live in Bernard House (where my daily Household Chore was to pump the cushions and arrange the flowers as there weren’t enough tasks for us all).  My first job was to collect manure, under the direction of Br. Giles, from Church Farm, where Keith MacDonald had a job, and take it to the Friary.  Eventually, due to the size of the Postulancy, some moved to Alnmouth Friary with Br. Rufus, who was then Assistant Novice Guardian, and Br. Keith came to look after the remainder of us who were then able to live together in Juniper House which became the Formation House once more.

At this time the Brothers would attend Evensong each month at a different local church on Sundays.  We had a particular connection with Cerne Abbas parish church whose priest, Fr. Harold Best, presided at the Friary Eucharist most weeks.  One resident of the village had been closely involved with the Franciscans in Africa and lived with her companion in a cottage in the village.  Both were early members of the Third Order and are are now buried at the Friary. 

In April 1977 twelve of us were admitted to the Novitiate by the Provincial, Br. Michael SSF, and I took the name of John-Francis.  During Lent the Novices were involved in giving short homilies at Holy Trinity, Weymouth as part of our training.  Br. Keith was responsible for our efforts.  That Spring, Paschal Worton and Philip Bartholomew were admitted as Postulants. 

At that time, and for many years afterwards, brothers  were constantly going on Mission.  In March 1978 Br. Damian sent me to preach the Lent ‘Mission’ to Ardingly College (we were used a lot by the Woodard Corporation) and in April I moved to Glasshampton to begin my six month stay.  This was also the time when many Public Schools (eg. Millfield, Sherborne, etc…) sent groups of pupils for days at the Friary with some occasionally staying for a few days and I have memories of the scores of boys from Sherborne School lining up0 to make their pre-Confirmation confession - every priest-Brother was on duty!

1982 – 1988
I returned to live at the Friary in December 1982.  I became Kitchen Brother and slept in room in Francis House to ‘look after’ Br. Kenneth.  Eventually I was given a room in Clare House  to use during the day.  Benedict was Guest Brother and there were Seven Postulants.

We continued to provide brothers for the very many Parish and School Missions which the Society ran, as well as leading Holy Week in parishes around the country.  For most of my time at Hilfield I, along with others, hitched to and from wherever we needed to travel and I often journeyed to and from London in this fashion, often getting an initial lift to Sherborne (or, if I was lucky, Wincanton) but I sometimes would see if I could hitch a lift from a (occasional) car that drove past the Friary.  

I also became involved with Dorchester CND and began to get to know some of the members.  Bernard was a member of General Synod and was keen to enable the community to explore new ways of evangelism.  Fr. John Townroe made regular visits to the Friary as our external confessor/spiritual director and I, along with others, found his wisdom and insight of great help.  The ‘new’ Carceri (hermitage) was a place where I, along with others, retreated to on a regular basis for solitude, reflection and prayer.

At some point  Br. Bernard appointed me as Guest Brother.  On February 2nd, 1982 BBC Newsnight come to the Friary to interview Bernard on the then radical Church of England Report, ‘The Church and the Bomb’ and two weeks later Paul Alexander ran a ‘Drama Weekend’  – brothers involved in learning dramatic presentations of the Gospel.  Later that summer a group of us arranged to perform the ‘Parable of the Good Punk Rocker’ in the grounds of Sherborne Abbey.  Not sure what impact this had on the town, but it helped some of us loose some of our inhibitions!

That Lent I made a Lent Visit to St. John’s School, Leatherhead, took part in a Teaching Week in Hackney - and joined the Dorchester CND protest visit to Upper Hayford USAF base.  In October Br. Ramon led a major ‘Mission to Wales’ based at Brecon Cathedral with Br. Silyn SSF and Fr. Aiden Mayoss CR.

During the next few years Paschal and I helped to organise the Sunday School at S. Nicholas’ Church, Hilfield and, along with others, led services and preached there and at Batcombe.
                               
A Provincial Chapter around this time asked communities to explore their mission within the local community.  My involvement with the Dorchester CND Group led me to talk with them about what they might want the friary to offer to the community.  From these talks it emerged that there was a real desire to have a place where wider social issues could be explored and so I began to organise meetings with different social themes under the general title of ‘JustPeace’.  On one occasion Bp. Bill Lash talked about interfaith issues and his involvement with Gandhi in India in the 1930’s; we had a dialogue with Buddhist monks from their community near Totnes.  And, perhaps most notably, the Second Secretary from the Embassy of the USSR came to talk about ‘East Meets West’ – a visit which provoked another visit – from the Special Branch.  Some of us were deeply surprised by his open criticism of communism and stating that the system needed to change.  All this just before the concepts of Perestroika and Glasnost had emerged.  Br. Anselm had also asked me to get involved with the RC ‘Justice and Peace Links Group for Religious’ and, from my initial contact, I tried to encourage other Anglican Communities to join, which some did.

It was in 1985 that I looked to engage young people with spirituality and wanted to find a way for them to experience the insights of Ignatian Spirituality (Bernard had arranged for an 8 Day Ignatian Retreat to be offered each year for members of SSF at the Friary).  I learnt of the work being done by the De La Salle Brothers at Kintbury, Berks and arranged  to attend youth ‘retreats’ with them to discover more about their work.  From these experiences I sought to use the insights gained in developing youth spirituality at the Friary and elsewhere.  On May 18th I led our first ‘Youth Day’ for local parishes at the Friary but I’m not sure how enthusiastic Br. Bernard was for these to continue –  I think there may have been one more!

In 1986 I led Holy Week at S. Disen’s, Bradninch, Devon and, consequently, a group of young people began to attend the Hilfield Youth Camp each year.  I also led a Mission to Bristol University and St. Paul's and one to West Meon with Br. Vincent SSF and Sr. Jeanette CSF.  In September I led the Mission to St. Mary’s, Brynmawr, South Wales with Sr. Alison Mary CSF.

Bernard had become interested in the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI) and, in 1987, arranged an MBTI weekend at the Friary.  In September I led the Mission to St. Paul's. Honiton with Br. Thomas N/SSF, Ann Lewin and then a Mission to St. Peter’s, Maybush with Sr. Alison CSF, Brs. LukeN/SSF (John Phillips) and Ann Lewin.  I also assisted on the Coventry Diocesan Youth Holiday in Devon.

In 1988 a ‘Middle Group’ (middle-aged Professed) began at Hilfield.  That same year Bernard’s interest in the Base Christian (Ecclesial) Community movement in UK led to some of us attending annual weekends with the three Religious who USPG brought over to develop this form of evangelisation in the UK.  Br. Anselm (at that time the Provincial) invited Br. Paschal and I to become Vocations Adviser for SSF but in March 1989 I was moved to Birmingham. 

1994 - 1999
In July 1994 I returned to the Friary as Assistant Novice Guardian.  I continued to preach at various Public Schools including Bedales, Haberdashers’ Aske’s etc…  Br. Peter had been appointed Novice Guardian and was keen to re-develop the Novice formation programme.  He and I worked on a three-year model that began with a year at Hilfield followed by six months at Glasshampton and then 18 months in an inner-City House before First Profession.  Aspirants would be welcomed to Hilfield only in September and from then on the three year Programme would begin.  It was also during this time that Bernard (I think) drew together a group of brothers and sisters who had been involved with Ignatian IGR’s to reflect on the essentials of Franciscan Spirituality and, consequently, we developed a specific model.

After the death of my parents I had begun to develop an interest in the Holy Land and Egypt and organised a number of pilgrimages, for adults and young people, to both countries and, as a result, in October 1996 HG Metropolitan Athanasius of the Diocese of Beni Suef came to stay at the Friary.

In 1997 I was appointed Assistant Guardian at the Friary and at the Pentecost Chapter, after Br. Peter left, Novice Guardian.  I continued to implement the new Novice Formation Programme as well as leading Missions and a second Young Adult Visit to Egypt and Holy Land. 

In 1998 and 1999 there were further Pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Egypt, but in that year I was appointed General Secretary SSF, a role that took me to Australia for the General Chapter for four weeks in September.  However, in August I moved to Plaistow and thus ended my life at Hilfield Friary.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

THERE STOOD BY THE CROSS OF JESUS ....



Forty years ago today I was admitted as a Postulant to the First Order of the Society of St. Francis (SSF). Much has happened since then but I remain grateful for the fact that my admission (along with two others) occurred on the Feast of St. Mary at the Cross - our Lady of Sorrows.

It seems sad to me that this commemoration was omitted from the latest revision of the Church of England Calendar for it is one that can speak to those who suffer and to our own need to develop a deep relationship with Christ crucified. Firstly, it acknowledges the suffering of all those, especially mothers, who have to stand by as their children suffer to the point of death. Observance of this Day would allow the Church to be seen to recognise their plight and to say - the Mother of God, and therefore God, stands by your side. Secondly, it invites all Christians to stand by the side of Christ in His suffering and death and to look upon His love and compassion for us all. In omitting this Day from our (official) Calendar the Church of England lost a great opportunity to help her members to deepen their relationship with God in Christ.

So I hope that all Catholic priests (especially members of the Sodality of Mary) will celebrate this day. As the Office of Readings this morning invited us to consider: 'Do not marvel that Mary is said to have endured martyrdom in her soul. Only those will marvel who forget what Paul said of the Gentiles, that among their worst vices was that they were without compassion. Not so with Mary! May it never be so with those who venerate her.' (from a sermon of St. Bernard)

Sunday, July 03, 2016

WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN?

Today at Morning Prayer I read these words from the Book of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Hebrew (Jewish) Torah (Law).  The book consists of three speeches by tradition delivered to the Israelites by Prophet Moses shortly before they enter the Promised Land and dates from the 8th cent. BC:

‘You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy labourers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns. You shall pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on them; otherwise they might cry to the Lord against you, and you would incur guilt. …

You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice; you shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge.  Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings.  When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.

When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.  Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this.’  (Deuteronomy 24:10-22)

It’s clear from these verses that, at this early stage of their identity as a nation, the Israelites believed that ‘aliens’ jeopardised their existence.  How little has changed in almost 3000 years!  Listening to what many say about ‘immigrants’ (even people from constituent parts of the UK about ‘disgusting Europeans’)  I realise that only the Word of God can remind us that we are one people and that there are real dangers in what we now call racism.  As one singer sang when I was a teenager, when will we ever learn?  Perhaps only a people who have experienced being aliens in a foreign Land can tell us.

Friday, June 17, 2016

‘JESUS COMMANDED THE UNCLEAN SPIRIT TO COME OUT OF THE MAN’ (Luke 8: 29)

The Gospel reading for the Church of England this Sunday concerns the expulsion of unclean spirits from a man possessed. This past week has highlighted the way we are so easily dominated by the ‘unclean spirits’ - of anger, hatred and violence.  From the killings of LGBT people in Orlando to that of Jo Cox in Birstall and the disgusting pictures of English football fans taunting refugee children in Lille, it suddenly becomes apparent that we are at the mercy of ‘unclean spirits’.  Britain has its own Donald Trump's who have unleashed so many demons.

I do not have the privilege of preaching this Sunday but I hope those who do will not shirk from naming the evil that has erupted in our midst. And to name the fact that there are those who fan the flames, even though they may deny it. The massacre of scores of LGBT people because of one man’s hatred, a hatred supported by religious faith (and both Muslims and Christians are guilty of not addressing the subject); the murder of a wonderful young politician, possibly out of hatred of foreigners fermented by right-wing politics, and pictures of hundreds of football fans chanting “f..k off Europe, we’re all voting out” between violent clashes with police and shown across the globe – all show, with terrible consequences, the power of bigotry and hatred. The blatant scapegoating of foreigners in a UKIP poster Nigel Farage unveiled showing a stream of Iraqi refugees in Slovakia under the heading: “Breaking point: the EU has failed us all.”  It’s as if we have forgotten the arguments of the Synod of Whitby and are still trapped by the desire of a king to rid himself of his wife, Catherine of Aragon (let the reader understand).

I hope none of those who preach will fail to name the evil that has got into our society.  But I know that those who need to think about the consequences of allowing bigotry and hatred to enter our souls will not be in the pews on Sunday for it is clear that there are many who do not ‘want to be told what to do’.  Who are not interested in the views of ‘experts’, whether economic, social, international – or spiritual.  Who do not want to be challenged.  Who do not want to have their hearts converted to the gospel of God’s compassionate love.  Who will not be interested in recalling that, in the words of Archbishop Justin‘At the heart of Britain’s Christian heritage are certain glorious principles. They are what make the best of our nation, whether we are Christians, of another faith or of no faith. They come from Jesus’s teaching, especially in the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes. Among those principles is a vision of peace and reconciliation, of being builders of bridges, not barriers. … Sacrifice, generosity, vision beyond self-interest, suffering for others, helping the helpless, these are some of the deeply Christian principles that have shaped us.’  Who will reject the Holy Father’s reminder that we must take care not “to yield to our own selfish interests and to consider putting up fences here and there. …  The founding fathers (of Europe) were heralds of peace and prophets of the future. Today more than ever, their vision inspires us to build bridges and tear down walls.” 

Polly Toynbee, in an article for ‘The Guardian’, named the way this evil has entered mainstream debates concerning the EU Referendum by observing that: ‘This campaign has stirred up anti-migrant sentiment that used to be confined to outbursts from the far fringes of British politics. The justice minister, Michael Gove, and the leader of the house, Chris Grayling – together with former London mayor Boris Johnson – have allied themselves to divisive anti-foreigner sentiment ramped up to a level unprecedented in our lifetime.’ 

A climate of hatred has been allowed to develop unchecked and social media is showing just how ugly it is.  So many of those who seek to influence public opinion are unelected and unaccountable owners and editors of newspapers who do not have to offer a balanced perspective but who are free to pander to humanity's baser instincts.  As Archbishop Justin went on to say: 'Jesus taught us to love our neighbour, and when questioned about what that meant gave the extraordinary story of the Good Samaritan. In that story the one who turns out to be a neighbour is the one who shows respect, mercy and love to the stranger, even to an enemy.'

So I hope that those who preach on Sunday will speak out against the evil that has entered us, as it entered the man from the country of the Gerasenes.  And remind us that, as St. Ignatius Loyola discovered, the way to make choices is to hold them before God and, if we don’t know immediately what we should do, to ask ourselves this simple question – which decision will lead to an greater increase in faith and hope and love?  

Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost;
to fight and not to heed the wounds;
to toil and not to seek for rest;
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will.
(St. Ignatius Loyola: 1491 – 1556)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

WHO'S FOR A UNITED STATES OF EUROPE?

Wouldn’t it be amazing to discover that a Tory of the stature of Sir Winston Churchill had actually advocated a Union of the States of Europe?

Well, of course, he did, even though he had been against the idea before the horrors of the Second World War seem to have caused his change of mind.  In a speech at the University of Zurich in 1946 he said: 'We must build a kind of United States of Europe.  In this way only will hundreds of millions of toilers be able to regain the simple joys and hopes which make life worth living.' (http://www.churchill-society-london.org.uk/astonish.html.  It’s true he didn’t envisage the UK joining immediately:  ‘The British Government have rightly stated that they cannot commit this country to entering any European Union without the agreement of the other members of the British Commonwealth.  We all agree with that statement.  But no time must be lost in discussing the question with the Dominions and seeking to convince them that their interests as well as ours lie in a United Europe.’  But he clearly saw the benefit of the union of erstwhile warring states, something that had first been argued for after WW1 most notably by the Conservative MP, Sir Arthur Salter (1st Baron Salter GBE KCB PC: 1881 – 1975) in his book ‘The United States of Europe’ (1923).

Ah, the wonders of history!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

MAY THEY ALL BE ONE

Today we feel the wind beneath our wings
Today  the hidden fountain flows and plays
Today the church draws breath at last and sings
As every flame becomes a Tongue of praise.
This is the feast of fire, air, and water
Poured out and breathed and kindled into earth.
The earth herself awakens to her maker
And is translated out of death to birth.
The right words come today in their right order
And every word spells freedom and release
Today the gospel crosses every border
All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace
Today the lost are found in His translation.
Whose mother-tongue is Love, in every nation.

 Malcolm Guite

PENTECOST witnesses the reversal of Babel when peoples divided became united.  The story of Babel concerned how God divided and scattered humankind so we could not become like God.  Yet our dis-union and separation was never God’s final purpose which Christ summed up in those words: ‘May they all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us’ (John 17:21)

With the Referendum in just over five weeks’ time I am struck by this thought.  There seems a constant tussle between two extremes, individualism and collectivism.  Are we primarily called to be individuals who can exist without the other?  Or do we belong together?  In upport of Individualism the 19th cent. American social reformer and statesman, Frederick Douglass, wrote:  ‘We are distinct persons, and are each equally provided with faculties necessary to our individual existence. In leaving you, I took nothing but what belonged to me, and in no way lessened your means for obtaining an honest living. Your faculties remained yours, and mine became useful to their rightful owner.’  Whilst David Callahan of the think tank Demos recently stated that: “America works best when its citizens put aside individual self-interest to do great things together—when we elevate the common good,” 

This notion of the ‘common good’ having the greater moral claim is what has inspired society down the ages.  It has been the motivation of the Commonwealth and is a central pillar of Catholic social teaching.   John XXIII describes it as ‘the sum total of conditions of social living, whereby persons are enabled more fully and readily to achieve their own perfection.’ Mater et Magistra (1961).  It differs from pursuing the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ in Christian terms because ‘the pursuit of the common good entrusts, both to the government and the Church, care for the greatest good of all persons, not just the greatest possible number. No individual is excluded from the common good. It is also therefore linked to the ideas of human dignity and authentic and integral human development, making them central aims of all societies.’ (Catholic Social Teaching.org.uk)    The common good also provides a balance against too strong an individualism by emphasising the social aspect of the human person.  Pentecost witnesses to God’s affirmation that we are created to be alone (Gen. 2:18) but, as difficult as it is, to discover ourselves in relation to the other. 

A reflection on the way in which we are ‘Better Together’ a certain Michael Gove said in March 2014: “Think globally.  Think what would happen if Scotland and England broke up. Do we think that Vladimir Putin would think, ‘Oh that's a pity’?  Or would he think, ‘Ah look, the second principal beacon of liberty in the world is a little more unstable. That plinth has been broken. I'm in a stronger position to do what I want’?” And, just 18 months ago, Boris Johnson wrote: “… we are on the verge of an utter catastrophe for this country. In just 10 days’ time … a fundamental part of our identity will have been killed. We will all have lost a way of … explaining ourselves to the world. We are on the verge of trashing our global name and brand in an act of self-mutilation …” And so on, and so forth, until this heartrending conclusion: “I am praying that we will wake from this sleepwalk to tragedy; and that the Scots vote no to divorce, and yes to Britain, the greatest political union ever.” (Daily Telegraph, September 10th, 2014)  Whatever the difficulties and problems, choosing the path of separation whilst recognising that this signals disunion seems, to me (and, not long ago, Messers Gove and Johnson), an act of wilful vandalism. 

As a race we seem to have a propensity to heed the call to self-centrism.  Today’s Feast of Pentecost s is not only the birth of the Church but, through Christ, completes humanity’s wholeness.  It is ‘a fulfilment of the prophecies that God would gather his scattered people together.  It is a decisive recasting in anthropological terms of human foundational order.’  (James Alison)  And whilst this recasting is a Godly act and can never be fully achieved in social terms, nonetheless it would seem that to seek to do otherwise, to seek to fragment society, is not what God intends for Creation but is, rather, to heed the Accuser who delights in preventing that unity which is in the mind of God.  As Pope Benedict affirmed on the Solemnity of Pentecost 2012: “Pentecost is the feast of union, comprehension and human communion. We can all see that in our world, although we are increasingly close to one another with the development of the means of communication and geographical distances seem to be disappearing, understanding and communion between people is both superficial and problematic.”

Friday, April 15, 2016

‘IF A CLOD BE WASHED AWAY, EUROPE IS THE LESS’

Image result for picture of european flag
 
“I WANT MY COUNTRY BACK!”  So declared a member of the audience on Question Time (14.04.16).  For me that cry summed up the theme of selfishness that seems to underlay so much of the Brexit campaign.  The desire not to have ‘Europe tell us what to do’; the appeal to fear of being overwhelmed by foreigners; the desire to ‘go it alone’ and the belief that we will be better off financially if we didn’t ‘pay millions’ to Europe (or in Overseas Aid) appeals to that ‘selfish gene’ in each of us which drives our desire for self-preservation and serves our own implicit interest.  Whilst Bexiters accuse those who wish to remain of employing the tactics of ‘Project Fear’, that would seem to be a projection of the very fear of the other that drives their desire to leave.

This should hardly be surprising given that the movement was driven by Nigel Farage and UKIP together with Tories like Ian Duncan Smith, Bill Cash and John Redwood, the Michael’s Gove and Howard, Nigel Farage - and George Galloway (worrying bedfellows) - many of whom carry extreme political views in their baggage.  And, despite his popularism Boris Johnson, that other leading Brexiteer, can hardly be described as having much of a social concern.  And should we also beware Zac Goldsmith’s tousled hair?

I find it deeply sad that this appeal to our self-interest appeals to so many.  But the campaign has at least identified the matter of whether we are called to simply satisfy our own self-interests or whether, as David Miliband recently pointed out, “The British question is not only one of what we get out of Europe.  It is also one of whether we want to shore up the international order, or contribute to its dilution and perhaps even destruction.”   

In an article in The Sunday Times (‘Brexit now and we will only have to Breturn to save a disintegrating Europe’: 21.02.16), the conservative historian Niall Fergusson recalled our history from the time of the Reformation and pointed out the dangers of being focussed on our relationship with the Continent and the way we have – literally at times – torn ourselves apart and ignored wider and more fundamental threats.  He noticed that our future seems to be caught up in an emotional reaction to matters such as how long a ‘Polish plumber will not be entitled to claim UK benefits’ and wondered why we had not learnt from Henry VIII’s refusal to listen to Cardinal Wolsey’s recognition that in the face of the threat from the Ottoman Empire, Britain belonged in Europe.  It is arguable that history is repeating itself in a worrying way.

So, at heart, is this the latest example of the existential struggle between whether it is better to stand alone or whether we are better together?   Are we simply individuals who have to co-exist or are we part of each other?   Was Margaret Thatcher right in saying that ‘there's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.’ (interview in Women’s Own, 1987)  St. Paul faced that question and answered it quite robustly when he observed: ‘For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.    Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many.’ (1 Cor. 12:14)   And so, in spite of the worst excesses of the Reformation, Catholic Christianity has always proclaimed the importance of community.  As the great Bishop, Michael Ramsey, observed: “Individualism” …. has no place in Christianity and Christianity verily means its extinction.’  And he went on to perceptively observe:  ‘Yet through the death of “individualism” the individual finds himself.’ (‘The Gospel and the Catholic Church’: 1936 reissued 2009)

Behind Ramsey’s assertion lies a theology which is Catholic, not Protestant, in its understanding.  He stands in the tradition of another great Anglican, John Donne, who famously wrote (1)

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
                        is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
                        if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
                        is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
                        well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
                        own were; any man's death diminishes me,
                        because I am involved in mankind.
                      
                       And therefore never send to know for whom
                       the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

It seems we have not moved on from the 16th century Reformation when individualism the cry went up: ‘The bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England’ (Article XXXVII).  Yet the world is a very different place to that in which the Reformation occurred although the struggle between Catholic and Protestant – those who wish to be part of the whole and those who want to go it alone – appears to lie behind much of the current debate.  
 
We are always better together – even though it comes at a cost.  Perhaps John Donne’s poem should have been sent to all households ….. 
___________________________________

(1) MEDITATION XVII: Devotions upon Emergent Occasion

Saturday, March 26, 2016

READING FROM AN ANCIENT HOMILY FOR HOLY SATURDAY



‘WHAT is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam's son.

The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: 'My Lord be with you all.' And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise.

‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.

‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine in-breathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.

'See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.

`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.

‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.


"The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.’