You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
We all worry at times. What sort of day will it be? Will my train be on time? Will the kids be safe at school or university? Will he or she get home safely? Will the money stretch to the end of the week, let alone the month? Do I have enough in my pocket for a meal? Where will I sleep tonight? How will Dad cope on his own now that Mum has gone? Will I make my appointment?
I had an appointment at our local hospital the other day, nothing serious, but still it caused a little concern, as any visit to doctor or hospital tend to do. On the bus home – it’s so difficult to park the car at the hospital, and expensive, too. Anyway, from the window I noticed that the trees were beginning to put on their glorious autumn clothing; their leaves quietly changing from greens to vibrant reds, golden yellows and velvety browns before dropping to the ground. The giant old oak trees lining the street had shed some of their little acorns so that many crunched beneath my feet as I walked the last quarter mile home An abundance of food that will keep every squirrel in the neighbourhood and beyond satisfied for a very long time, whilst leaving plenty to grow into new oak saplings - the next generation - and still some to spare!
Then I thought of Jesus’ words since they remind us: ‘And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? He goes on to reassure us that ‘... your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of these things’ and ‘all these things will be added unto you.’ Matthew 6:24-34 KJV (AV)
In those moments coming home I saw not only the beauty of God’s Creation but also its abundance. That is where I found God that afternoon. That is when I realised that He was there with me all along, at the hospital, on the bus and on my walk home! So why did I worry about the hospital appointment? What good did worrying about it do? In the event it all turned out ok.
You will all have worries today, its human nature, but take comfort in St Paul’s words: ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ Philippians 4:6-7 (NIVUK)
Deo gratia. Thanks be to God.
How often we repeat those familiar words; but do we really mean them, or do we just repeat them by rote?
Recently, in a homily, Father Michael said: "If you really want God's Kingdom to come on earth you need to do more than pray for it." Prayer is the most powerful weapon in our armoury, of course but as St Teresa of Avila once said: “God has no hands but yours...” God needs you, me, all of us to do His Will. Yet with so much violence, hatred and etc., in the world today I can understand why some people simply pull the sheets over their heads muttering “Well, what can I do about it?” But we all have a duty, a responsibility to bring about God’s Kingdom on earth. Others will say: “I am not qualified do anything.” But God does not call the qualified He qualifies the called. Look at the motley bunch of individuals that Jesus gathered round Him to be His disciples; fishermen, tax collectors and the like. None of them was learned in the Jewish law as were the Sadducees or the Pharisees whom you might expect Jesus to call. They certainly were not qualified to heal the sick or preach God’s Word and yet that is exactly what they did and very successfully too! How then, did they manage that? The Bible tells us: ‘When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place..... All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability’ Acts 2:1-4 NRSV. That’s how! And since the Holy Spirit resides in each of us today; we received it at our Baptism and it is nourished at the Eucharist, it enables us to serve God just as those disciples did long ago. Jesus lives within us and fulfils his Divine ministry in and through us.
Still we say, “What can I do on my own?” St Paul returns to this question on several occasions in his Epistles to the young churches. Writing to the church at Rome for example, he says: ‘For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.’ Romans 12:4-5 NIV. So, although we may feel that alone we are not be able to achieve a great deal, together and with God within us then: ‘For with God nothing shall be impossible.’ Luke 1:37 KJV. Indeed, Jesus reassures us: “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20 NIV.
God’s Kingdom will come on earth, but only if we have faith, pray and work together, with God- in- us, to make it happen.
Last week’s Reflection spoke of our need for silence in which to reflect and to pray, but sometimes we need to speak out. This is not a political blog, but I make no apology for saying that as Christians we are called to speak out against social injustice in any form; especially on behalf of those unable to do so for themselves.
For example, there is conclusive evidence that the increased number of hurricanes that have recently devastated parts of the Caribbean and the US are the result of global warming – man’s abuse of the fragile earth of which we are stewards. In Siberia large areas of permafrost are melting producing quantities of methane that will damage the planet. Yet still there are those who deny its existence. But the need to diminish our carbon footprint is obvious. We can reduce our demand for fossil fuel by taking the bus, cycle or even walk instead of using the car, for example. But it is vitally important that we speak out against those who deny the existence of global warming, whoever they are.
BUT equally, we are called to speak out against those who incite violence, racial or religious hatred or intolerance of any kind. The love of our neighbour calls us to stand up in defence of our fellow man when he cannot. If we do not, then who will? Remember the words of Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), a prominent Lutheran pastor who emerged as an outspoken public enemy of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Various versions of the quotation, which stems from Niemöller's lectures during the early post war period, exist, but his point was that Germans—in particular, he believed, the leaders of the Protestant churches—had been complicit through their silence in the Nazi imprisonment, persecution, and murder of millions of people. Though there has recently been a worrying rise in support for far right in various guises, hopefully we have moved on from those terrible times. But evil still exists, everywhere: - ‘Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.’ 1 Peter 5:8 NIV - and there is a constant need for us, as Christians, to speak out against it, whenever and wherever it raises its ugly head. Are we afraid to do so? Take comfort in the Lord’s word to Moses: ‘Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say’ Exodus 4:12 NIV.
After everyone had partaken of the Eucharist a complete silence fell upon the Church. Not a sound was to be heard; no coughing or shuffling in the pews, no traffic noise outside, and even the birds in the churchyard trees seemed to fall silent. It only lasted for a few minutes but I think we all experienced a sense of deep peace – I know I did.
Sometimes we have difficulty with silence; we shuffle uncomfortably in our seats, twiddle our thumbs anxiously. As nature abhors a vacuum, so too, silence seems to need to be filled. In the busy, noisy world around us we feel unable to cope without the comfortable blanket of noise, where someone else is feeding us information, entertainment or whatever. At least then we do not have to think too deeply for ourselves. Silence gives us space, an opportunity to think, to reflect. And that can be the problem. What thoughts will come to the surface, to fill the vacuum? Are they things we have been trying to bury in the everyday noise? Do we really want to stand naked, (metaphorically speaking, anyway), before God to face up to our wrong-doings? We need not worry for God knows us better than we know ourselves!
Yet it is vital to make time for a period of silence each day, a time to be alone with God without distractions, to speak with Him and to listen to His words; a time to pray, to reflect and to contemplate. We need to make time to just be still; perhaps to look out of the window at the glory of God’s Creation. Look at the cotoneaster bush heavy with bright red berries for the birds to feed on before winter. See the little wren scratching about in the fallen leaves on the edges of the garden for any bugs she can find. Look at the moon, the stars - they are all part of God’s glorious handiwork. And reflect on Psalm 8: 4-6 When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in place, what are humans that you are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honour.
So whilst we are using our time of silence to reflect on the glory of God’s Creation let us not forget the second great commandment: Love thy neighbour. Take time to think, to ask; what does God want me to do for my neighbour today?
Of course, there is a time to put silence aside and to speak out, against wrong doings, against injustice. And perhaps we will return to that another day.
On that Sunday God was with us in the silence. Let us then, today each take time away from the hectic world we inhabit to spend some time in silent communion with God, our Father and our Creator.
Having read my Reflection last week, my friend Simon told me about a decision he had to make recently. He is happy that I share it with you as he felt it may help others. He said:
‘Listening to the Epistle being read at Mass the other Sunday it came to me, that I should volunteer to read in Church. How hard is it to read aloud a few verses from the Bible; especially as the Church needs a few more readers? But then came the Gospel reading from Luke 18, the parable concerning the Pharisee and the publican praying in the Temple. Now doubts arose in my mind. What was my real motive for volunteering to read? Was it to help the Church, the vicar, or was it so that the congregation would look at me as I stood at the lectern reading to them from the Authorised Version of the King James Bible? “Look at me standing here, on a raised dais above and in front of you all, am I not important? I can read these arcane words, can you?” Was it my own pride, my self importance leading me to volunteer? In other words, was I acting just as the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable? Then again, I thought of the difficulties of driving in the icy perhaps snowy weather. At my age could I commit to making the journey in all weathers? Supposing I forgot that it was my turn to read? Was I really offering to read to serve God or my own selfish ends? I spoke to a wise old friend who said: “In you I see a willingness to serve as called. Pride comes from a dark, evil place and that is not how I see you. Service and response to a call comes from God” In his words I recognised the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius where in the Call of the King exercise he pictures the risen Christ calling every person to follow Him. Suddenly the decision became clear. The voice I heard was God’s call to serve Him so my response must be to follow. If reading Scripture is what God has called me to do then that is what I must do, and to the best of my ability – ‘for the greater glory of God’.’
As a result Simon is now on the approved list of readers for his Church. But the question remains for us all: when God calls how do we respond? In his book What is Ignatian Spirituality David L Fleming SJ reminds us: ‘Our response occurs now. We are not to be inhibited by our own weakness and failure. We are not to ponder our unworthiness.’
But do we still put up barriers, walls, excuses? Or do we embrace His call whole-heartedly? Remember: ‘ Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.’ 1 Peter 5:7 NIV and: ‘As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead’ James 2:26 NIV.
We all have to make a thousand decisions every day. Many are easy and can be made without thinking; blinding flash moments really, since the answer is obvious. Sometimes though the decision requires a lot more thought and consideration, like choosing a life partner, changing jobs or maybe taking on an additional responsibility. In such cases it can help to write down the pros and cons. Equally, it might be useful to talk things over with a trusted friend or relative.
Speaking of blinding flashes remember the story of the hot-headed young Pharisee and Christian persecutor Saul on his way to Damascus with letters from the high priest to the synagogues there, (Acts 9: 1-19), so that ‘if he found any there who belonged to the Way he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.’ Acts 9:2 NIV. Nearing Damascus a blinding flash caused him to fall to the ground as Jesus asked him why he persecuted Him. Now he was really worried. Whilst he had once been a student of the more liberal Rabbi Gamaliel who as a member of the Jewish Council advised against punishing the early Christians severely, yet Saul had rebelled against his teacher by allying himself with the corrupt hierarchy of the Temple. Maybe the old man had been right all along, he might have thought.
Suddenly Paul had a life changing decision to make. Should he continue with the high priest's orders or side with those of ‘the Way’? On the one hand he was a well thought of young Pharisee who, if this mission was successful would be held in high esteem with the priesthood. Think of all the wealth and status that might bring. Anyway, was this voice he had heard real? After all his companions heard a noise but did not see anyone. Yet when he got up he could not see anything; he had to be led by the hand to Damascus. The whole event was deeply troubling yet he knew he had to make a decision, one way or the other. He had spent the next three days turning the matter over and over in his mind, but unable to come to a decision when Ananias came to the house where he was staying. Whilst the Bible does not say so, I suspect that they spent some time discussing what had happened but ultimately: ‘Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here – has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit’ Acts 9:17. The decision had been made! Thanks be to God.
In our decision making we must talk things over with our best friend, the one who loves us and wants the best for us - God; the same God who appeared to Saul. Let us pray for God’s help whilst remembering that whilst there are no guarantees of success, whatever decision we come to He will love us just the same.
The church notices on Sunday asked that if anyone had excess fruit or vegetables, as they would be very welcome to leave them in the church porch for others to help themselves, in exchange for a donation to church funds. A reminder, if one were needed that autumn starts on 1 September and the trees are already heavy with fruit with crops ripening in the fields. Very soon the Church will celebrate Harvest festival as it has done for ages past. Indeed, three, agriculture related pilgrimage festivals are mandated in Exodus 23:14-17, whilst the manner of their observance is described in Deuteronomy. To this day our Jewish brethren know the autumn festival of Ingathering as Sukkoth which historically celebrates the wandering of the Israelites in the desert for 40 years, when they had to rely only upon God for food and protection as well as celebrating the last harvest festival before the onset of the winter rains in the land of Israel. Those winter rains in their turn watered the ground making it fertile so that it provided food for the coming year; it still does and so the cycle continues. As our ancestors did all those years ago, we celebrate the bringing in of the harvest each year with gratitude. Thanks to God for providing the rain and the sun to give us such abundance of food but also for the opportunity to share some of God’s bounty with others in need.
Then I remember an old grace said before meals: ‘Bless, O Lord, this food to our lips and us to thy service.’ The festival of Sukkoth then reflects that prayer asking that God blesses us and gathers us into His Family so that we may be of service to Him. Just as we bring fruit and vegetables to the Harvest Festival service so each of us has a unique talent to bring to the table to offer in God’s service, and we are called to do so, for as Teresa of Avila said ‘Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes with which Christ looks out his compassion to the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.’
After the service, I saw Joan carrying in a big box of pears from her garden to add to the collection of fruit already in the church porch. She remarked that it is surprising how much money accumulates in the wall safe!
But the real question is: Are the abundance of talents with which God has blessed you being used as wisely in God’s service?
In his homily this week Father Graham reminded us of the robin who earlier in the year had been busily flying around the garden collecting twigs, leaves and etc to make her nest in which she would lay her eggs, hatch and fledge her chicks. In due time, he reminded us, she would pass those nest making skills on to her young so that they could build their own nests next year. The birds have flown now but here in the human sphere.....
Having taken their school exams before the end of last term, these last few weeks have been an anxious time for teenagers in England and Wales. The results were due out! The question on everyone’s mind was “Will I get good enough grades to go to University or get the Apprenticeship or the job I want?” Last week the final results were issued to floods of tears, of joy or of sadness depending on whether the necessary grades had been achieved or not. Some will have had no problems. They will have attained the expected top grades to go to the University of their choice; others will get there by the skin of their teeth whilst for others still, a change of career might need to be considered or perhaps, a further year at school.
Whatever the results may have been, in the next month or so parents will be waving a tearful goodbye to their offspring, as they venture out into the wide world on their own. From now on they will have to fend for themselves; but have we prepared them properly? They can cook but can they wash their clothes and look after themselves? It is hard to watch your child fly the nest but then, mother, you always knew this time would come, even if you tried hard to forget it, it is what you raised him for. You can take comfort in the fact that he knows how much you love him, and indeed how much he loves you – even though he may be shy in telling you. That love will not diminish once he has left home, in fact it will grow as he matures into the fine young man you brought him up to be. After all, like Mother Robin you passed on your skills, but more importantly you instilled your strong faith in God in him. We pray that that he will continue to hold firm to that faith. Remember, too that God loves you both and will walk with him (and with you) in all the excitement, the trials and tribulations of this latest step on his pilgrimage. In any case, it will not be too long before he returns home, a grown man but still your loving and loved son.
Let us pray for those students starting out whether on a University course, an apprenticeship or paid employment, and for those who are re-sitting some of their exams.
Let us pray too, for their anxious parents and families.
One of the birds still in evidence at present is the beautiful black swallow. Swallows are migrant birds so that later this month, and certainly by early September, they can be seen gathering in groups on telegraph wires preparing to migrate to escape the cold northern European winter. They will make the six week journey to the very south of Africa flying quite low and covering 200 miles each day, resting each night in huge flocks at traditional stopover spots. Sadly, many will die of starvation or other predations; but if they survive, they can live for up to sixteen years. Early next year they will make the hazardous return journey to return to the UK to breed.
Like swallows Christians have for centuries undertaken long, hazardous journeys often taking years to complete that became known as pilgrimages. Before the end of the first century AD pilgrims were making the perilous journey to the Holy Land, taking refuge at night in hostels along the way. Many were robbed by bandits as they went, many died en route. Today Christians still undertake pilgrimages. Some will, for example make the 500 mile pilgrimage along the Camino to the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, in northwest Spain where the remains of the Apostle St James are said to be buried. At this point it is important to emphasise that the statues or the relics are not the focus for the pilgrim’s devotion but rather a visual aid; they are certainly not something to be worshipped in themselves. The road to Compostela is well trodden but still arduous with each day presenting new challenges to be faced. But then pilgrimage is an essential part of life and living for Christians, since we see life itself in terms of a journey, coming from God and returning to God. Each day is a part of our pilgrimage through life with its associated difficulties and dangers so that, like the footsore pilgrims and the swallows, we must be prepared to face the challenges that come our way.
Why not try starting the day by giving God a couple of seconds on awakening and saying simply: “Lord God today is your day. Help me to do your will today.” Throughout the day do everything as best you can for the honour and glory to God. Find God in all things. At the end of the day, in God’s presence, say ‘thank you’ for the good things that have happened and sorry for your faults and failings
This prayer might help: ‘God of our pilgrimage, you have willed that the gate of mercy should stand open for those who trust in you; look upon us with your favour that we who follow the path of your will may never wander from the way of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.’ Amen.
With prayer and with God by our side we will, like the swallows and pilgrims, be well prepared for our journey through life to attain our Eternal Home.
Let me say at the outset that this is not a political website, rather it is one devoted to Christian reflections. However as Christians we are called to make a stand against evil where or whenever it rears its ugly head. The evil, in the form of one race asserting its supremacy over another, that we witnessed at Charlottesville over the weekend demands that we make a stand.
As a simple but, I believe, powerful response I invite you all to join together with me, please at 12 noon on Thursday 17 August 2017 to pray the prayer attributed to St Francis of Assisi:
Lord, make me a channel of your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt faith;
Where there is despair hope;
Where there is darkness light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born
To eternal life.
Please also invite as many of your family, relatives and friends to join with us for Jesus said: ‘For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.’ Matthew 18:20 NIV
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time work for a number of years