Saturday, September 24, 2011

Back Home…

I’d meant, of course, to write an informative, well-illustrated blog post, all about my trip to Western Herzegovina, and the pilgrimage to Medjugorje, but I’m too blown away to find many words.

I’d expected Medjugorje to be an amazing place, even for remarkable things to happen spiritually – but I hadn’t bargained for this blessed country. I love this place – the landscape, the people, the sound of the language.






Of course, neither my words nor the many thousands that have been written about Medjugorje since 1981 can really convey much of value about the pilgrimage itself. These words do, perhaps: ‘“Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.” This [the Eucharist] is my glue…’ Ian Morgan Cron (quoting Eugene O’Neill) in Church Times, 23 September 2011.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Off again…

More pilgrimaging: Medjugorje this time…

I’ll write all about it when I get back at the end of next week.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Holy Cross Day

It is not possible to look at the present condition of our land and people and find support for optimism. We must not fool ourselves.

It is altogether conceivable that we may go right along with this business of "business," with our curious religious faith in technological progress, with our glorification of our own greed and violence always rationalized by our indignation at the greed and violence of others, until our land, our world, and ourselves are utterly destroyed. We know from history that massive human failure is possible....

On the other hand, we want to be hopeful, and hope is one of our duties. A part of our obligation to our own being and to our descendants is to study our life and our condition, searching always for the authentic underpinnings of hope. And if we look, these underpinnings can still be found.

Wendell Berry, Economy, Freedom and Community, and Sex
with thanks to inward/outward

Many people live with the unconscious or conscious expectation that eventually things will get better; wars, hunger, poverty, oppression, and exploitation will vanish; and all people will live in harmony. Their lives and work are motivated by that expectation. When this does not happen in their lifetimes, they are often disillusioned and experience themselves as failures.

But Jesus doesn't support such an optimistic outlook. He foresees not only the destruction of his beloved city Jerusalem but also a world full of cruelty, violence, and conflict. For Jesus there is no happy ending in this world. The challenge of Jesus is not to solve all the world's problems before the end of time but to remain faithful at any cost.

Henri Nouwen

I wrote about this last month, but these passages, arriving in email newsletters, reminded me again just how vital, and hard, it is to keep these things in mind always.

Today is Holy Cross Day. Today we remember Jesus’ victory over sin and death, and the fact that his cry from the Cross – τετέλεσται (tetelestai), it is finished – means something much more like, “It is completed. I’ve done it!” than “I’m done for!” (There’s a good article in Open Source Theology on this which is well worth reading.)

Paradoxically, perhaps, I find Nouwen’s conclusion, in the passage I’ve quoted, very heartening. If Jesus had preached a happy ending in this world, then where is it? Instead we see a world riven with “cruelty, violence and conflict.” Our own hearts are broken, divided, and unfaithful. Well, mine is, anyway. Pain is the rule rather than the exception in our lives. Even at our happiest, the shadow of loss and death lies across our sunlit hours like a stain.

Jesus knows this: it is why he came to be born as man, born from that frail and unthinkably courageous girl whom we call, down all generations, blessed, and to die so horribly as she stood vigil at the foot of that Cross. It is why that death was not the final victory of death, but the final victory of life, and why Mary’s grief was swallowed up in glory. Death is not the end: it is transformed. It is now the door to eternal life, and to a new Heaven and a new earth, in which

[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.

Revelation 21.4

The Cross is indeed Holy. From an instrument of torture and death, Jesus’ blood has made it into our refuge, the fountain and source of grace, mercy and peace to all who believe. Holy, and glorious!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

More about trust & mercy…

In a world so full of social and political turmoil and immense human suffering, people of faith will often be ridiculed because of their so-called ineffectiveness. Many will say: “If you believe that there is a loving God, let your God do something about this mess!” Some will simply declare religion irrelevant, while others will consider it an obstacle to the creation of a new and better world.

Jesus often tells his followers that, as he was, they will be persecuted, arrested, tortured, and killed. But he also tells us not to worry but to trust in him at all times. “Make up your minds not to prepare your defence, because I myself shall give you an eloquence and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to resist or contradict” (Luke 21:14-15). Let’s not be afraid of scepticism and cynicism coming our way, but trust that God will give us the strength to hold our ground…

When we are anxious we are inclined to over prepare. We wonder what to say when we are attacked, how to respond when we are being interrogated, and what defence to put up when we are accused. It is precisely this turmoil that makes us lose our self-confidence and creates in us a debilitating self-consciousness.

Jesus tells us not to prepare at all and to trust that he will give us the words and wisdom we need. What is important is not that we have a little speech ready but that we remain deeply anchored in the love of Jesus, secure about who we are in this world and why we are here. With our hearts connected to the heart of Jesus, we will always know what to say when the time to speak comes.

Henri Nouwen

I have to keep reminding myself of the truth of this… If ever there was a man who was inclined to “over prepare” it’s me. I find it so hard to trust that God trusts me enough to put his words into my mouth, his love in my heart, however often he does it. As usual, I don’t even really know how to pray about this – but, as usual, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8.26)

Why is it so hard to trust that God has our backs in everything, and that whatever happens to us in human terms, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8.28)?

It was St. Faustina Kowalska who wrote in her diary the words she heard from Jesus, “Proclaim that mercy is the greatest attribute of God.” And it was she too who wrote, “I do not understand how it is possible not to trust in God, who can do all things. With God, everything; without God, nothing.”

God’s mercy in Christ, his provision for each of us, is absolute. If only we could learn to trust him, even the darkest days, and death itself, would be redeemed by that mercy, given back to us as treasures of darkness, as he promised to the prophet Isaiah:

I will give you the treasures of darkness
and riches hidden in secret places,
so that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.

Isaiah 45.3

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Anger and wrath, these also are abominations,
   yet a sinner holds on to them.

The vengeful will face the Lord’s vengeance,
   for he keeps a strict account of their sins.
Forgive your neighbour the wrong he has done,
   and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.
Does anyone harbour anger against another,
   and expect healing from the Lord?
If someone has no mercy towards another like himself,
   can he then seek pardon for his own sins?
If a mere mortal harbours wrath,
   who will make an atoning sacrifice for his sins?
Remember the end of your life, and set enmity aside;
   remember corruption and death, and be true to the commandments.
Remember the commandments, and do not be angry with your neighbour;
   remember the covenant of the Most High, and overlook faults.

Sirach 27.30-28.10

Franciscan prayers for peace

Franciscan bloggers writing on 9/11

There will be others, but these are the ones I found most moving, and useful.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Trust in God…

I do not understand how it is possible not to trust in God, who can do all things. With God, everything; without God, nothing.

St. Faustina Kowalska, with thanks to Friar Rex

Absolutely – these last few days with my dear TSSF sisters and brothers at Hilfield has demonstrated this so beautifully. Trust, and the patience and littleness that grow out of trust, are the ingredients of humility, of which the Principles so memorably says, “Humility confesses that we have nothing that we have not received and admits the fact of our insufficiency and our dependence upon God. It is the basis of all Christian virtues. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux said, `No spiritual house can stand for a moment except on the foundation of humility’. It is the first condition of a joyful life within any community.” (The Principles of the Third Order)

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” (Jesus, in John 14.1 NIV)

Monday, September 05, 2011


Off to Hilfield Friary tomorrow for our TSSF Area Team Retreat; I’ll be back on Friday sometime…

I am so fond of Hilfield – set deep in the skirts of the Dorset Downs, it really does feel like A Very Long Way From Anywhere Else, in Ursula le Guin’s words.

We’ll be staying in Bernard House,

the loveliest of the guest houses, I think.

It will be good just to be part of the rhythm of Friary life, to settle into these ancient patterns that are new every time, and to renew my acquaintance with Olive the Cat. More when I get back…

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Who is a God like you?

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over the transgression
of the remnant of your possession?
He does not retain his anger for ever,
because he delights in showing clemency.

He will again have compassion upon us;
he will tread our iniquities under foot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea.  
You will show faithfulness to Jacob
and unswerving loyalty to Abraham,
as you have sworn to our ancestors
from the days of old.
Micah 7.18-20

What I find so astonishing is that it is this which we re-member, make true again, at the Eucharist each Sunday. As Jesus was present among his disciples in fulfilment of these words, so he is among us now, in all his presence, his majesty, his divine istigkeit, to heal, and forgive, and to make all things new. Praise him!

Friday, September 02, 2011

Being blown around?

We’re called to be faithful to God, not to a way of life, because we are a pilgrim people. So I’d kind of like us not to be so focused on numbers. It’s more about listening deeply to the Spirit. The danger with communities or churches with declining numbers is that they become too inwardly focused. We need to be prepared to look at things anew and maybe make radical changes…

Sr. Annaliese CSC, in the Church Times back page interview
I find this an immensely reassuring comment. Franciscans particularly find themselves called to be faithful to God, rather than to a way of life, which was St. Francis’ point about resisting the idea foundations, buildings, libraries… He wanted his followers to be free to follow, wherever the Spirit might be leading.

I’ve struggled with this in my own life, I have to admit. It is very easy to become attached to a way of life, and to cling to that instead of to God. Besides, people are often puzzled and disappointed when one shifts gear, as it were, feeling that one’s been unfaithful to something to which they are themselves deeply committed – a particular church fellowship, a home group, or even a denomination.

Jesus himself said, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit…” (John 3.8) and it made poor Nicodemus anxious. But we must be gentle, and pray continually. As Sr. Annaliese said later in the same interview, “Prayer is so important… Our whole life is to be prayer, together and at a deeply personal level. I couldn’t have done anything without that…”