Monday, December 11, 2023

9 LESSONS & CAROLS AT ALL SAINTS' BENHILTON

 


Thursday, November 30, 2023

ADVENT AND THE LONGING OF OUR HEARTS



We are almost into the season of Advent, the beginning of the Christian year. At All Saints' Benhilton the church has been prepared, and we look forward to this First Sunday of Advent when, as well as the blessing of the Advent Wreath and the lighting of the first Advent Candle at Mass, we will gather again at 4.00 p.m. for a service of choral anthems, hymns and Scripture readings to launch us into this season.
 
In his Devotions for Advent, Matthew Woodley captures a really crucial dimension of the Church's Advent season:

Sadly, our culture often fosters a complacent, blasé, smug approach to Christianity. In the words of C. S. Lewis, "We are far too easily pleased." We're happy to numb and freeze our restless ache for a better world.

Advent is the season of the church year that ignites that longing in our hearts. Before we rush into "Happy Holidays," we pause and let longing rise up within us. Throughout Advent we catch glimpses of a better world.

And as we catch glimpses of this Messiah-healed world, we long for its coming now. All of the best Advent hymns capture this spirit of groaning and longing for Messiah's better world. When we sing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," with its dark, unresolved melody, it cracks our hearts open with longing's wound. And yet, we know Messiah has come, even as we wait for him to come again. Advent is a deliciously painful mix of joy and anguish.

This Advent-like longing is at the heart of Christian spirituality. Augustine's Latin phrase desiderium sinus cordis-"yearning makes the heart grow deep"-became a central theme in his pilgrimage on earth. Augustine cried out, "Give me one who yearns; . . . give me one far away in this desert, who is thirsty and sighs for the spring of the Eternal country. Give me that sort of man: he knows what I mean."

C. S. Lewis claimed that in this life the Advent-like stab of longing serves as a spiritual homing device, placed deep in our heart by God to lead us back to him. Thus, as Psyche realizes in Till We Have Faces, "It almost hurt me . . . like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind are flying home. . . . The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing . . . to find the place where all the beauty came from. . . . The longing for home."

Advent trains us to ache again. Of all the seasons of the church year, Advent is the time to acknowledge, feel, and even embrace the joyful anguish of longing for Messiah's birth and the world's rebirth. So we sing our aching songs while we light candles and festoon the church with greenery. That is Advent longing, and we couldn't imagine it any other way.





Friday, October 27, 2023

The former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks' 2014 address to the Vatican symposium on marriage and complementarity


If you are fed up with the shallow onslaught against 'complementarianism' that comes from secular philosophers and some 'liberal' Christian theologians, you MUST watch this video of the late Lord Jonathan Sacks, former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom. He was speaking in 2014 at HUMANUM - a symposium held in Rome on marriage and complementarity, the keynote speakers for which were drawn from a wide range of traditions.

The audience of 300 in the Vatican’s synod hall gave Lord Sacks a standing ovation. His account of the development of marriage from a sexual act between fish in Scotland right up to the present day, by means of seven stories, ended with his exegesis of the Genesis account. He bemoans the dismantling of what he calls 'the single most humanising institution in history' resulting in a whole new era of poverty and social division. Yet the recovery of that institution offers hope. Watch his address here:




Thursday, October 26, 2023

THREE THINGS SO-CALLED SECULAR PEOPLE ARE LOOKING FOR - John Stott

 


The Reverend Dr John Stott (1921–2011) was sometimes known as “the evangelical pope.” A prolific author from his days as Rector of All Souls’ Langham Place in London, to his later global ministry, he influenced generations of Christians from all cultures, and clergy of all traditions. Regarding evangelism in our very secularised world he remained an optimist, as can be seen from this gem, part of an interview with him by Tim Stafford published in Christianity Today Current Issues Study Series “The Future of the Church” 2008, pp. 17-18. 

Stafford: What about what some call the greatest mission field, which is our own secularizing or secularized culture? What do we need to do to reach this increasingly pagan society? 

Stott: I think we need to say to one another that it’s not so secular as it looks. I believe that these so-called secular people are engaged in a quest for at least three things. The first is TRANSCENDENCE. It’s interesting in a so-called secular culture how many people are looking for something beyond. I find that a great challenge to the quality of our Christian worship. Does it offer people what they are instinctively looking for, which is transcendence, the reality of God? 

The second is SIGNIFICANCE. Almost everybody is looking for his or her own personal identity. Who am I, where do I come from, where am I going to, what is it all about? That is a challenge to the quality of our Christian teaching. We need to teach people who they are. They don’t know who they are. We do. They are human beings made in the image of God, although that image has been defaced. 

And third is their quest for COMMUNITY. Everywhere, people are looking for community, for relationships of love. This is a challenge to our fellowship. I’m very fond of 1 John 4:12: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us, and his love is perfected in us.” The invisibility of God is a great problem to people. The question is how has God solved the problem of his own invisibility? First, Christ has made the invisible God visible. That’s John’s Gospel 1:18: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” 

People say that’s wonderful, but it was 2,000 years ago. So in 1 John 4:12, he begins with exactly the same formula, nobody has ever seen God. But here John goes on, “If we love one another, God abides in us.” The same invisible God who once made himself visible in Jesus now makes himself visible in the Christian community, if we love one another. And all the verbal proclamation of the gospel is of little value unless it is made by a community of love. 

These three things about our humanity are on our side in our evangelism, because people are looking for the very things we have to offer them. 

Stafford: And therefore you’re not despairing of the West? 

Stott: I’m not despairing. But I believe that evangelism is specially through the local church, through the community, rather than through the individual. That the church should be an alternative society, a visible sign of the kingdom. And the tragedy is that our local churches often don’t seem to manifest community. 

 * * * * * 

Here is John Stott's well-known morning prayer to the Holy Trinity: 

Heavenly Father, 
I pray that I may live this day in your presence 
and please you more and more. 

Lord Jesus, 
I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you. 

Holy Spirit, 
I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself 
and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: 
Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, 
Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.  

Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, 
three persons in one God, 
have mercy upon me Almighty God.

Creator and sustainer of the universe, 
I worship you. 

Lord Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord of the World, 
I worship you. 

Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the people of God, 
I worship you. 

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, 
As it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever. 
Amen.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

LIFE FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF FAITH - Carlo Carretto

 


Here are two more passages from Carlo Carretto's God of the Impossible. They emphasise the Christian life as a way of seeing things, a basic orientation of faith with regard to all reality.


We must make ourselves small before God, as small as possible, as small as David who believed absolutely that he could not be beaten by Goliath, as small as Joseph who never disputed the angel’s orders, as small as Mary who accepted with unswerving simplicity the improbable betrothal of herself and the Spirit of God, the incredible conception within her of Jesus the Christ. “Blessed is she who believed” (Lk 1:45): therein lies Mary’s greatness – and ours too, if we learn to believe and hope. 

There is no other test of greatness. Looking at a piece of bread on the altar and saying “that is Christ”, is pure faith. Noting and listing all the sins of the people of God and its leaders and still letting oneself be guided by the mystery of the Church and its infallibility is a formidable thing; knowing that our bodies rot in the grave and yet believing in the resurrection of the body is a tremendous last test of life. 

The successful candidate is the one who has made himself small and does not treat God’s mysteries as though they were coins in his pocket.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


One of the hardest battles in the spiritual life, perhaps I should say the hardest, is the struggle to see God in our trivial human happenings. How often we have to renew our act of faith! At first we are tempted to see only ourselves, to believe only in our selves, to value only ourselves. Then gradually we perceive that the thread of life has a rationale, a mysterious unity, and we are led to think that we meet God in its basic stages. 

Then again, as our religious experience grows, we begin to realize that we meet God not only in the big events of our lives but in all the events, however small and apparently insignificant. 

God is never absent from our lives, He cannot be, because “in Him we live, and move, and exist” (Acts 17:28). But it requires so much effort to turn this truth into a habit! 

We need repeated acts of faith before we learn to sail with confidence on the “immense and endless sea” which is God (St. Gregory Nazianzen), knowing that if we founder we do so in Him, the divine, eternal, ever-present God. How fortunate we are if we can learn to navigate our frail craft on this sea and remain serene even when the storm is raging! 


Tuesday, October 24, 2023

JESUS OUR SAVIOUR - THE TRUTH AND THE SACRAMENT - Carlo Carretto



Dear friends, I am so glad that many of you visit my blog each day. I know that sometimes you are so busy that the best you can do is to read quickly through whatever is there, or even just glance at it to see if anything of interest jumps out at you. 

Today, however, I would like you to find time to read this passage from Carlo Carretto (In Search of the Beyond) in a contemplative way. Those of you who are not Christians might begin to understand us. Those who focus just on the Church's institutionality with all of its scandals and evil might begin to see why we remain. And those who have not been to the foot of the Cross for some time might just experience a little renewal of love for the Saviour.


Jesus our Saviour - The Truth and The Sacrament

I began to know Jesus as soon as I accepted Jesus as the truth; I found true peace when I actively sought his friendship; and above all I experienced joy, true joy, that stands above the vicissitudes of life, as soon as I tasted and experienced for myself the gift he came to bestow on us: eternal life.

But Jesus is not only the Image of the Father, the Revealer of the dark knowledge of God. That would be of little avail to me in my weakness and my sinfulness: he is also my Saviour.

On my journey towards him, I was completely worn out, unable to take another step forward. By my errors, my sinful rebellions, my desperate efforts to find joy far from his joy, I had reduced myself to a mass of virulent sores which repelled both Heaven and Earth.

What sin was there that I had not committed? Or what sin had I as yet not committed simply because the opportunity had not come my way?

Yet it was he, and he alone, who got down off his horse, like the good Samaritan on the way to Jericho; he alone had the courage to approach me in order to staunch with bandages the few drops of blood that still remained in my veins, blood that would certainly have flowed away, had he not intervened.

Jesus became a sacrament for me, the cause of my salvation, he brought my time in hell to an end, and put a stop to my inner disintegration. He washed me patiently in the waters of baptism, he filled me with the exhilarating joy of the Holy Spirit in confirmation, he nourished me with the bread of his word. Above all, he forgave me, he forgot everything, he did not even wish me to remember my past myself.

When, through my tears, I began to tell him something of the years during which I betrayed him, he lovingly placed his hand over my mouth in order to silence me. His one concern was that I should muster courage enough to pick myself up again, to try and carry on walking in spite of my weakness, and to believe in his love in spite of my fears. But there was one thing he did, the value of which cannot be measured, something truly unbelievable, something only God could do.

While I continued to have doubts about my own salvation, to tell him that my sins could not be forgiven, and that justice, too, had its rights, he appeared on the Cross before me one Friday towards midday.

I was at its foot, and found myself bathed with the blood which flowed from the gaping holes made in his flesh by the nails. He remained there for three hours until he expired.

I realized that he had died in order that I might stop turning to him with questions about justice, and believe instead, deep within myself, that the scales had come down overflowing on the side of love, and that even though all, through unbelief or madness, had offended him, he had conquered for ever, and drawn all things everlastingly to himself.

Then later, so that I should never forget that Friday and abandon the Cross, as one forgets a postcard on the table or a picture in the worn-out book that had been feeding one’s devotion, he led me on to discover that in order to be with me continually, not simply as an affectionate remembrance but as a living presence, he had devised the Eucharist.

What a discovery that was!

Under the sacramental sign of bread, Jesus was there each morning to renew the sacrifice of the Cross and make of it the living sacrifice of his bride, the church, a pure offering to the Divine Majesty.

And still that was not all.

He led me on to understand that the sign of bread testified to his hidden presence, not only during the Great Sacrifice, but at all times, since the Eucharist was not an isolated moment in my day, but a line which stretched over twenty-four hours: he is God-with-us, the realization of what had been foretold by the cloud that went before the people of God during their journey through the desert, and the darkness which filled the tabernacle in the temple at Jerusalem.

I must emphasize that this vital realization that the sign of bread concealed and pointed out for me the uninterrupted presence of Jesus beside me was a unique grace in my life. From that moment he led me along the path to intimacy, and friendship with himself.

I understood that he longed to be present like this beside each one of us.

Jesus was not only bread, he was a friend.

A home without bread is not a home, but a home without friendship is nothing.

That is why Jesus became a friend, concealed under the sign of bread. I learned to stay with him for hours on end, listening to the mysterious voices that welled up from the abysses of Being and to receive the rays of that light whose source was in the uncreated light of God.

I have experienced such sweetness in the eucharistic presence of Christ.

I have learned to appreciate why the saints remained in contemplation before this bread to beseech, to adore, and to love.

How I wish that everyone might take the Eucharist home, and having made a little oratory in some quiet corner, might find joy in sitting quietly before it, in order to make his dialogue with God easier and more immediate, in intimate union with Christ.

But still that was not enough.

Jesus did not overcome the insuperable obstacle presented by the divinity and enter the human sphere simply to be our Saviour. Had that been all, his work would have remained unfinished, his mission of love unfulfilled.

He broke through the wall surrounding the invisible, and came down into the visible world to bear witness to “the things that are above,” to reveal to us “the secrets of his Father’s house,” to give us in concrete form what he called eternal life.

What exactly is it, this famous “eternal life?”

He himself defined it in the Gospel: “And eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)  So eternal life is, first and foremost, knowledge. It is a matter of knowing the Father, knowing Jesus. But it is not a question of any external, historical, analogical knowledge which we could more or less imagine, possess perhaps, even now; it is rather a question of real, supernatural knowledge which, although it is still surrounded here by the darkness of faith, is already the same as the knowledge we will have when the veil is torn aside and we see God face to face. It is a question of knowing God as he is, not as he may appear to us or as we may imagine him. This is the heart of the mystery I have tried to describe as the beyond, and which is the key to the secret of intimacy with God and the substance of contemplative prayer.

In giving us “eternal life,” Jesus gives us that knowledge of the Father which is already our first experience of living, here on Earth, the divine life; which is a vital participation, here and now, in the family of God; and which means that while we remain sons of man, we are at the same time sons of God.

Jesus is the Image of the Father, the center of the universe and of history.

Jesus is our salvation, the radiance of the God we cannot see, the unquenchable fire of love, the one for whom the angels sigh, the Holy one of God, the true adorer, the eternal High Priest, the Lord of the Ages, the glory of God.

Jesus is also our brother, and as such he takes his place beside us, to teach us the path we must follow to reach the invisible. And to make sure that we understand, he translates into visible terms the invisible things he has seen – as man he acts as God would act; he introduces the ways of the family of God on to the Earth and into the family of man.

Monday, October 23, 2023

PERSONAL PRAYER - Carlo Carretto

 


These snippets are typical of Carlo Carretto at his best. Simple, yet truly profound.

ON PERSONAL PRAYER

Prayer is not so much a matter of talking as listening; contemplation is not watching but being watched. On the day when we realize this, we will have entered finally into possession of the truth, and prayer will have become a living reality. To be watched by God: that is how I would define contemplation, which is passive rather that active, more a matter of silence than of words, of waiting rather than of action. What am I before God? If He shuts, no one opens, and if He opens, no one shuts. He is the active principle of love, He is before all, He is the one who makes within me His own prayer, which then becomes my prayer . . . It was He who sought me in the first place, and it is He who continues to seek me.  (From God of the Impossible)

Personal prayer is the meeting place between the Eternal One and me; the Blessed Sacrament is the visible sign of my covenant with him.  That is why I believe in personal prayer, and why every day I wait to meet him in the Eucharist. To pray means to wait for the God who comes. Every prayer-filled day sees a meeting with the God who comes; every night which we faithfully put at his disposal is full of his presence.  And his coming and his presence are not only the result of our waiting or a prize for our efforts: they are his decision, based on his love freely poured out. His coming is bound to his promise, not to our works or virtue.  We have not earned the meeting with God because we have served him faithfully in our brethren, or because we have heaped up such a pile of virtue as to shine before Heaven. God is thrust onward by his love, not attracted by our beauty.  He comes even in moments when we have done everything wrong, when we have done nothing . . . when we have sinned. (From The God Who Comes)

Sunday, October 22, 2023

DARKNESS AND FAITH - Carlo Carretto


 

Carlo Carretto (1910–1988) was an Italian spiritual writer inspired by Charles de Foucauld and others who have sought God in simplicity and solitude. He was a school teacher, and a worker with Catholic Action. Between 1954 and 1964 he lived as a hermit in the Sahara desert, settling eventually in Spello, Italy, where for the rest of his life he was a hermit and spiritual director. The English translations of his books became very popular in the 1970s and 1980s. Over the next few days I will share with you some key passages from them. 



DARKNESS AND FAITH

FAITH is neither a feeling nor a mental process; it is an act of self-surrender in the dark to a God who is indeed darkness as far as our human nature is concerned. And He is darkness not because of an absence of light, but rather because we are overwhelmed by the reverberations of a light to which we are yet unaccustomed, here in the restricted world of our own unfolding history. 

The area in which reason and faith operate, and in which there is an interplay of light and shadow belonging to the two clearly distinct worlds, the visible and the invisible, is a terribly complex one. When the light which emanates from the cloud of unknowing reaches the earth on which we are journeying, it forms, as it were, a mist (St. Paul) which surrounds everything and forces us to feel our way (Acts), putting us on our guard and inducing within us a continual state of anxious expectation. 

An expectation which obliges us to fix our gaze on what lies ahead, and gives us a glimpse of the unexpected patch of sunlight which is to come. And it is on this uneven terrain that, sooner or later, God will be waiting for us, as He waited for Abraham, as He waited for Moses, as He waited for Job.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

C.S. Lewis and the Gethsemane of Jesus



Here is a wonderful passage from Chapter 8 of Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) published in 1964, a year after his death. The book takes the form of a series of letters to a fictional friend, “Malcolm” with whom Lewis discusses prayer as an intimate communication between God and ourselves. Unlike some of his forthright apologetic books, Letters to Malcolm raises questions and paradoxes for which Lewis has no real resolution. This passage is Lewis' meditation on Gethsemane and the suffering of Jesus:


It is clear from many of His sayings that Our Lord had long foreseen His death. He knew what conduct such as His, in a world such as we have made of this, must inevitably lead to. But it is clear that this knowledge must somehow have been withdrawn from Him before He prayed in Gethsemane. He could not, with whatever reservation about the Father’s will, have prayed that the cup might pass and simultaneously known that it would not. That is both a logical and a psychological impossibility. You see what this involves? Lest any trial incident to humanity should be lacking, the torments of hope - of suspense, anxiety - were at the last moment loosed upon Him - the supposed possibility that, after all, He might, He just conceivably might, be spared the supreme horror. There was precedent. Isaac had been spared: he too at the last moment, he also against all apparent probability. It was not quite impossible . . . and doubtless He had seen other men crucified . . . a sight very unlike most of our religious pictures and images.

But for this last (and erroneous) hope against hope, and the consequent tumult of the soul, the sweat of blood, perhaps He would not have been very Man. To live in a fully predictable world is not to be a man. 

At the end, I know, we are told that an angel appeared “comforting” Him (Luke 22:43). But neither comforting in sixteenth-century English nor “ἐνισχύων”in Greek means “consoling.” “Strengthening” is more the word. May not the strengthening have consisted in the renewed certainty - cold comfort this - that the thing must be endured and therefore could be? 

We all try to accept with some sort of submission our afflictions when they actually arrive. But the prayer in Gethsemane shows that the preceding anxiety is equally God’s will and equally part of our human destiny. The perfect Man experienced it. And the servant is not greater than the master. We are Christians, not Stoics.

Does not every movement in the Passion write large some common element in the sufferings of our race? First, the prayer of anguish; not granted. Then He turns to His friends. They are asleep - as ours, or we, are so often, or busy, or away, or preoccupied. Then He faces the Church; the very Church that He brought into existence. It condemns Him. This also is characteristic. In every Church, in every institution, there is something which sooner or later works against the very purpose for which it came into existence. But there seems to be another chance. There is the State; in this case, the Roman state. Its pretensions are far lower than those of the Jewish church, but for that very reason it may be free from local fanaticisms. It claims to be just on a rough, worldly level. Yes, but only so far as is consistent with political expediency and raison d’état. One becomes a counter in a complicated game. But even now all is not lost. There is still an appeal to the People - the poor and simple whom He had blessed, whom He had healed and fed and taught, to whom He Himself belongs. But they have become overnight (it is nothing unusual) a murderous rabble shouting for His blood. There is, then, nothing left but God. And to God, God’s last words are “Why hast thou forsaken me?”

You see how characteristic, how representative, it all is. The human situation writ large. These are among the things it means to be a man. Every rope breaks when you seize it. Every door is slammed shut as you reach it. To be like the fox at the end of the run; the earths all staked.

As for the last dereliction of all, how can we either understand or endure it? Is it that God Himself cannot be Man unless God seems to vanish at His greatest need? And if so, why? I sometimes wonder if we have even begun to understand what is involved in the very concept of creation. If God will create, He will make something to be, and yet to be not Himself. To be created is, in some sense, to be ejected or separated.

Can it be that the more perfect the creature is, the further this separation must at some point be pushed? lt is saints, not common people, who experience the “dark night.” It is men and angels, not beasts, who rebel. Inanimate matter sleeps in the bosom of the Father. The “hiddenness” of God perhaps presses most painfully on those who are in another way nearest to Him, and therefore God Himself, made man, will of all men be by God most forsaken? One of the seventeenth-century divines says, “By pretending to be visible God could only deceive the world.” Perhaps He does pretend just a little to simple souls who need a full measure of “sensible consolation.” Not deceiving them, but tempering the wind to the shorn lamb. Of course I’m not saying like Niebuhr that evil is inherent in finitude. That would identify the creation with the fall and make God the author of evil. But perhaps there is an anguish, an alienation, a crucifixion involved in the creative act. Yet He who alone can judge judges the far-off consummation to be worth it.

I am, you see, a Job’s comforter. Far from lightening the dark valley where you now find yourself, I blacken it. And you know why. Your darkness has brought back my own. But on second thoughts I don’t regret what I have written. I think it is only in a shared darkness that you and I can really meet at present; shared with one another and, what matters most, with our Master. We are not on an untrodden path. Rather, on the main-road.

Certainly we were talking too lightly and easily about these things a fortnight ago. We were playing with counters. One used to be told as a child: “Think what you’re saying.” Apparently we need also to be told: “Think what you’re thinking.” The stakes have to be raised before we take the game quite seriously. I know this is the opposite of what is often said about the necessity of keeping all emotion out of our intellectual processes – “you can’t think straight unless you are cool.” But then neither can you think deep if you are. I suppose one must try every problem in both states. You remember that the ancient Persians debated everything twice: once when they were drunk and once when they were sober.

I know one of you will let me have news as soon as there is any. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Today's Commemoration S.Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

 


Today the Church honours a remarkable woman, Edith Stein, S. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who was killed in 1942 at Auschwitz. The following is adapted from an article by John Coleman SJ in America Magazine

Edith Stein was born in Breslau on October 12, 1891, the youngest of eleven, as her Jewish family was celebrating Yom Kippur. Edith's mother (widowed when Edith was only two) was a strongly devout Jew. Edith always deeply loved her mother, although as a young woman Edith abandoned any explicit practice of Judaism. "I consciously decided, of my own volition, to give up praying", Edith later said. 

I have always hoped that the Catholic Church would declare Edith Stein a Doctor of the Church. She studied, first, at the University of Breslau where she was an active member of the Prussian Society for the Woman's Franchise. In 1913, Edith transferred to Gottingen University where she became a teaching assistant to the renowned philosopher, Edmund Husserl. In Gottingen, Stein also met the philosopher Max Scheler who directed her attention to the Catholic faith. 

During World War I, Edith cut short her studies to serve as a field nurse in an Austrian field hospital, where she treated the sick in a typhus ward and worked in an operating theatre. In 1916, she followed Husserl to the University of Freiburg where she wrote her doctoral thesis on "The Problem of Empathy". During this period of study, she went to the Frankfurt Cathedral where she saw a woman with a shopping basket going to kneel for prayer. "This was something totally new to me. In the synagogues and Protestant Churches I had visited, people simply went to the services. Here, however, I saw someone coming straight from the busy marketplace into this empty church, as if she was going to have an intimate conversation. It was something I never forgot." In her doctoral dissertation she had written: "There have been people who believed that a sudden change had occurred within them and that this was a result of God's grace." 

Stein had wanted to obtain a professorship but that was not possible in 1918 for a woman. Husserl, however, wrote for her the following reference: "Should academic careers be opened up to ladies, then I can recommend her whole-heartedly and as my first choice for admission to a professorship." 

In 1921, while visiting a friend, Stein read the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila. She spent the whole night reading it and said later :"When I finished the book, I said to myself, 'This is the truth.' Later she said of her life; "My longing for truth was a single prayer." In 1922, Stein was baptized on the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus, when Jesus himself had entered God's covenant with Abraham. She reflected: "I had given up practising my Jewish religion when I was a 14 year old girl and did not begin to feel Jewish again until I had returned to God." After her conversion, she taught at a teacher training college in Speyer and was encouraged by a Benedictine Abbot to accept extensive speaking engagements on women's issues. She translated the letters and diaries of Cardinal Newman and translated Thomas Aquinas' Questiones Disputate de Veritate (On Truth). 

In 1931, Stein left the convent school and devoted herself to getting a professorship. She wrote her main philosophical-theological work, Finite and Eternal Being. She was offered a position at the Institute for Educational Studies at the University of Munster in 1932. But in 1933, Hitler's Aryan law made it impossible for Stein to continue teaching. She noted: "I had heard of severe measures against Jews before. But now it dawned on me that God had laid his hand heavily on his people and that the destiny of those people would also be mine." Stein, finally, entered the convent of the Carmelites in 1933. She went home, first, to visit her mother and went with her to the synagogue on The Feast of Tabernacles. Her mother died in 1936. 

Stein saw continuities between her new Christian faith and Judaism. She once said: "I keep thinking of Queen Esther who was taken away from her people precisely because God wanted her to plead with the king on behalf of her nation. I am a very poor and powerless little Esther, but the King who has chosen me is infinitely great and merciful. This is a great comfort."

Because of the growing anti-Jewish strictures in Germany, Stein was smuggled across the border to the Netherlands to the Carmelite Convent in Echt. She made there her last will on June 9, 1939: "Even now I accept the death that God has prepared for me in complete submission and with joy as being his most holy will for me. I ask the Lord to accept my life and my death so that the Lord will be accepted by his people and his kingdom may come in glory, for the salvation of Germany and the peace of the world." While in Echt, Stein finished her study of John of the Cross' mysticism, entitled: "Kreuzeswissenschaft - The Science of the Cross". 

In retaliation to the Dutch Bishops' letter, the Gestapo came on August 2, 1942 to arrest Edith and her sister, Rosa, like Edith a convert to the Catholic faith. Edith's final words to Rosa before being deported were: "Come, we are going for our people." A professor friend of Stein's said of her: "She is a witness to God's presence in a world where God is absent." When he beatified Edith Stein in Cologne in 1987, John Paul II said the church was honoring "a daughter of Israel who, as a Catholic during Nazi persecution, remained faithful to the crucified Lord Jesus Christ and, as a Jew, to her people in loving faithfulness." Surely, in honoring her, the church points to her clear bonds to the Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust. 

Edith Stein had a prayer which is apt:

"Who are you, kindly light, 
who fill me now 
and brighten all the darkness of my heart? 
You guide me forward like a mother's hand 
and, if you let me go, 
I could not take a single step alone. 
You are the space, 
embracing all my being, 
hidden in it 
and what name can contain you? 
You, Holy Spirit, you, eternal love!"

**********

Pope St John Paul II's Homily at the Canonisation of Edith Stein on 11th October, 1998:

The love of Christ was the fire that inflamed the life of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Long before she realized it, she was caught by this fire. At the beginning she devoted herself to freedom. For a long time Edith Stein was a seeker. Her mind never tired of searching and her heart always yearned for hope. She traveled the arduous path of philosophy with passionate enthusiasm. Eventually she was rewarded: she seized the truth. Or better: she was seized by it. Then she discovered that truth had a name: Jesus Christ. From that moment on, the incarnate Word was her One and All. Looking back as a Carmelite on this period of her life, she wrote to a Benedictine nun: “Whoever seeks the truth is seeking God, whether consciously or unconsciously”.

Although Edith Stein had been brought up religiously by her Jewish mother, at the age of 14 she “had consciously and deliberately stopped praying”. She wanted to rely exclusively on herself and was concerned to assert her freedom in making decisions about her life. At the end of a long journey, she came to the surprising realization: only those who commit themselves to the love of Christ become truly free.

This woman had to face the challenges of such a radically changing century as our own. Her experience is an example to us. The modern world boasts of the enticing door which says: everything is permitted. It ignores the narrow gate of discernment and renunciation. I am speaking especially to you, young Christians, particularly to the many altar servers who have come to Rome these days on pilgrimage: Pay attention! Your life is not an endless series of open doors! Listen to your heart! Do not stay on the surface, but go to the heart of things! And when the time is right, have the courage to decide! The Lord is waiting for you to put your freedom in his good hands.

St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was able to understand that the love of Christ and human freedom are intertwined, because love and truth have an intrinsic relationship. The quest for truth and its expression in love did not seem at odds to her; on the contrary she realized that they call for one another.

In our time, truth is often mistaken for the opinion of the majority. In addition, there is a widespread belief that one should use the truth even against love or vice versa. But truth and love need each other. St Teresa Benedicta is a witness to this. The “martyr for love”, who gave her life for her friends, let no one surpass her in love. At the same time, with her whole being she sought the truth, of which she wrote: “No spiritual work comes into the world without great suffering. It always challenges the whole person”.

St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross says to us all: Do not accept anything as the truth if it lacks love. And do not accept anything as love which lacks truth! One without the other becomes a destructive lie.

Finally, the new saint teaches us that love for Christ undergoes suffering. Whoever truly loves does not stop at the prospect of suffering: he accepts communion in suffering with the one he loves.

Aware of what her Jewish origins implied, Edith Stein spoke eloquently about them: “Beneath the Cross I understood the destiny of God’s People.... Indeed, today I know far better what it means to be the Lord’s bride under the sign of the Cross. But since it is a mystery, it can never be understood by reason alone”.

The mystery of the Cross gradually enveloped her whole life, spurring her to the point of making the supreme sacrifice. As a bride on the Cross, Sr Teresa Benedicta did not only write profound pages about the “science of the Cross”, but was thoroughly trained in the school of the Cross. Many of our contemporaries would like to silence the Cross. But nothing is more eloquent than the Cross when silenced! The true message of suffering is a lesson of love. Love makes suffering fruitful and suffering deepens love.

Through the experience of the Cross, Edith Stein was able to open the way to a new encounter with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith and the Cross proved inseparable to her. Having matured in the school of the Cross, she found the roots to which the tree of her own life was attached. She understood that it was very important for her “to be a daughter of the chosen people and to belong to Christ not only spiritually, but also through blood”.

“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:24).

Dear brothers and sisters, the divine Teacher spoke these words to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. What he gave his chance but attentive listener we also find in the life of Edith Stein, in her “ascent of Mount Carmel”. The depth of the divine mystery became perceptible to her in the silence of contemplation. Gradually, throughout her life, as she grew in the knowledge of God, worshiping him in spirit and truth, she experienced ever more clearly her specific vocation to ascend the Cross with Christ, to embrace it with serenity and trust, to love it by following in the footsteps of her beloved Spouse: St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross is offered to us today as a model to inspire us and a protectress to call upon.

We give thanks to God for this gift. May the new saint be an example to us in our commitment to serve freedom, in our search for the truth. May her witness constantly strengthen the bridge of mutual understanding between Jews and Christians.


**********

FROM TODAY'S OFFICE OF READINGS:
From the spiritual writings of S. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Ave Crux, spes unica!


“We greet you, Holy Cross, our only hope!” The church puts these words on our lips during the time of the passion which is dedicated to the contemplation of the bitter sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ.


The world is in flames. The struggle between Christ and antichrist rages openly, and so if you decide for Christ you can even be asked to sacrifice your life.

Contemplate the Lord who hangs before you on the wood, because he was obedient even to the death of the cross. He came into the world not to do his own will but that of the Father. And if you wish to be the spouse of the Crucified, you must renounce completely your own will and have no other aspiration than to do the will of God.


Before you the Redeemer hangs on the cross stripped and naked, because he chose poverty. Those who would follow him must renounce every earthly possession.


Stand before the Lord who hangs from the cross with his heart torn open. He poured out the blood of his heart in order to win your heart. In order to follow him in holy chastity, your heart must be free from every earthly aspi­ration. Jesus Crucified must be the object of your every longing, of your every desire, of your every thought.


The world is in flames: the fire can spread even to our house, but above all the flames the cross stands on high, and it cannot be burnt. The cross is the way which leads from earth to heaven. Those who embrace it with faith, love, and hope are taken up, right into the heart of the Trinity.


The world is in flames: do you wish to put them out? Contemplate the cross: from his open heart the blood of the Redeemer pours, blood which can put out even the flames of hell. Through the faithful observance of the vows you make your heart free and open; and then the floods of that divine love will be able to flow into it, making it overflow and bear fruit to the furthest reaches of the earth.


Through the power of the cross you can be present wherever there is pain, carried there by your compassionate charity, by that very charity which you draw from the divine heart. That charity enables you to spread every­ where the most precious blood in order to ease pain, save and redeem.


The eyes of the Crucified gaze upon you. They question you and appeal to you. Do you wish seriously to renew your alliance with him? What will your response be? “Lord, where shall I go? You alone have the words of life." Ave Crux, spes unica!

Friday, June 9, 2023

THE OLDEST CHURCH IN ROME


- adapted from an article by Fr John Flader in the Catholic Leader 
(Brisbane, Australia) 9 June 2023


Surprising as it may sound, the oldest church in Rome is that of S. Pudentiana. Indeed, it has the rank of a Basilica. It was built in the second century and is dedicated to S. Pudentiana, a second-century virgin martyr, the sister of S. Praxedes and daughter of Pudens, who is mentioned by S. Paul in his second letter to Timothy. S. Paul wrote the letter shortly before his death in Rome, and at the end he passes on greetings from Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brethren (cf. 2 Tim 4:21).

The Basilica is recognised as the oldest place of Christian worship in Rome. It was built during the persecutions over a second-century house, probably during the pontificate of Pope Pius I, who was Pope between 140 and 155 AD.

The building was the residence of the Popes until, in 313, Emperor Constantine I offered the Lateran Palace in its stead. In the fourth century, during the pontificate of Pope Siricius, the building was made a Basilica. In the records of the Roman synod of 499 the building bore the title of Pudens (titulus Pudentis), indicating that Mass could be celebrated and the sacraments administered there.

As evidence of its age, the Basilica is situated below the level of the present-day street. Entrance is gained through wrought-iron gates and down steps added in the nineteenth century to a square courtyard in front of the Basilica. The architrave of the entrance hall of the façade, added in 1870, has a marble frieze that used to belong to a portal of the eleventh century. The frieze depicts four people: a man by the name of Pastore, who was the first owner of the building, S. Pudentiana, her sister Praxedes, and their father Pudens. The columns in the nave were part of the original building.

The Romanesque bell tower was added in the early thirteenth century. Restorations done in 1388 by Francesco da Volterra transformed the original three naves into one and added a dome, which he designed. On the interior of the dome is a fresco by Pomarancio of angels and saints before the Saviour. The right wall of the Basilica was part of a Roman bath house, still visible, dating back to the reign of the emperor Hadrian (117-138 AD).


A magnificent mosaic in the apse is dated to the end of the fourth century or beginning of the fifth. It is among the oldest Christian mosaics in Rome and one of the most striking in the world outside of Ravenna, the Italian city renowned for its mosaics. The nineteenth-century historian Ferdinand Gregorovius regards it as the most beautiful mosaic in Rome.

In the mosaic, Christ is represented as a human figure rather than as a symbol, such as a lamb or the good shepherd, as he was in very early Christian iconography. The regal nature of Christ prefigures the majestic bearing of Christ depicted in Byzantine mosaics. He sits on a jewel-encrusted throne, wearing a golden toga with purple trim, a sign of imperial authority and emphasising the authority of Christ and his Church. He poses as a classical Roman teacher with his right hand extended. He wears a halo and he holds in his left hand the text: “Dominus conservator ecclesiae Pudentianae” (The Lord, the preserver of the church of Pudentiana).

In the mosaic Christ sits among his apostles, who face the viewer and wear senatorial togas. Two female figures on either side, representing Saints Pudentiana and Praxedes or possibly the Church and the Synagogue, hold wreaths above the heads of Saints Peter and Paul. Above them are the roofs and domes of churches in the heavenly Jerusalem, or in another interpretation, of the churches built by the emperor Constantine in Jerusalem. Above Christ stands a large jewel-encrusted cross on a hill, symbolising the triumph of Christ on Calvary. On either side of the cross are the symbols of the four Evangelists – angel, lion, ox and eagle –, the oldest representations of the Evangelists in existence.

On the left side of the apse is a chapel dedicated to S. Peter with part of a table on which Peter celebrated the Eucharist in the house of Pudens. The rest of the table is embedded in the papal altar in the Basilica of S. John Lateran. The Basilica is a “must see” when in Rome.


Tuesday, May 16, 2023

THE GREAT FIFTY DAYS



Eastertide at All Saints' Benhilton
(click on the photo - twice - to enlarge it)

During this last week one of my friends said to me, 'Now that Easter is behind us . . .' As you would expect, I took the opportunity to remind him that - strictly speaking  - Easter is not a day, or even a long weekend! Easter is a whole season lasting for 50 days, sometimes called 'THE GREAT FIFTY DAYS' of the Church calendar. Easter begins with the Easter Vigil Mass on Holy Saturday and culminates with the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

That's why we use the term 'Eastertide' for this time of the year.

It’s also why the big Paschal Candle, a symbol of Jesus the risen Lord, is prominently displayed near the nave altar and lit for all services throughout the entire fifty days. 

Then, when the Easter season comes to an end, the Paschal Candle is moved to a place of honour in the baptistry by the font, where it is lit during baptisms. The candles given to the newly baptised are lit from it, reminding them (and the rest of us!) that in the miracle of baptism Jesus joins us to his dying and rising, and gives us his light to shine in a world where darkness can often seem to have the upper hand. 

The Paschal Candle is brought back to the altar and placed near the coffin during funerals.  This is a powerful sign to mourners that the risen Jesus shares his victory over death with all his people, and that even the most tragic death and our deepest grief cannot destroy that victory. The dancing flame of the Paschal Candle reminds us, in the words of S. Augustine of Hippo, that “we are an Easter people, and ‘alleluia’ is our song”.



Sunday, April 2, 2023

WHY PALMS ON PALM SUNDAY?


Here is an excellent article from Alice Linsley’s ‘The Bible and Anthropology’ blog about the background to this day, and the meaning of the palms.


When the Romans invaded Judea in 63 B.C., there were thick forests of date palm trees stretching over a range of 7 miles across the Jordan Valley from the Sea of Galilee in the north to the shores of the Dead Sea in the south. The trees grew to a height of 80 feet and had branches all year round.


In ancient Israel the palm branches were used each year for the festival of Sukkot to make roofing for the booths. Palm branches were used to thatch the roofs of homes and sheep cotes, to create canopies over open market spaces, and for ceremonies like weddings, etc. They were used so extensively that the Judean palms nearly disappeared from the Jordan Valley.


There are efforts to bring back the Judean date palm. In 2005, Dr. Elaine Solowey germinated a 2000-year seed that had been recovered decades earlier from an archaeological excavation at the fortified high place Masada. The “Methuselah Tree” (shown below) is growing in a protected environment in Jerusalem. Genetic tests indicate that the Methuselah Tree is closely related to an ancient variety of date palm from Egypt known as Hayany. The ancient flora and fauna of the Jordan Valley and the Nile Valley are similar.


The Methuselah date palm is now producing dates. These are the kind of palm branches that would have been used to hail King Jesus as he entered Jerusalem.



The Methusleah Tree

Credit:  Benjitheijneb via Wikimedia Commons


When the people greeted Jesus as he entered Jerusalem, they greeted him with palm branches as a king to be enthroned. Ceremonial installation of rulers with palms was an ancient tradition. It had been a practice of the Jebusite people of Jerusalem before David’s time. 


Fresh palm branches are still used among many peoples of Central and East Africa at the enthronement of a sovereign and a priest of high rank. Even today, fresh palm fronds are used ceremonially at the installation of Ijebu rulers and to decorate places of worship. Jude Adebo Adeleye Ogunade writes in his memoir about growing up Ijebu. He was warned not to touch the leaves of the Igi-Ose tree because, as his Mama Eleni explained, “That tree is the tree whose leaves are used to install Chiefs and Kings of Ijebu and as your grandfather was a custodian of the rites of chieftaincy and kingship you must not play with its leaves.” 


The University of Oxford, Institute Paper, n°7, (1937) on Medicinal Plants lists the leaves of the Igi-Ose as a blood purifier.


Related reading: Trees of the Bible, Tree Grown from 2000 Year Seed Has Reproduced; Jesus Rode on a Donkey; Horticulture in the Ancient World


Related reading: Trees of the Bible, Tree Grown from 2000 Year Seed Has ReproducedJesus Rode on a DonkeyHorticulture in the Ancient World





Saturday, April 1, 2023

HOLY WEEK 2023 at ALL SAINTS' BENHILTON



The traditional services of Holy Week are arranged with music, Scripture readings, art, drama and traditional ceremonial so as to draw us spiritually into the suffering, dying and rising of Jesus.

We do not pass glibly to the joy of Easter Day without treading the road to Calvary with its pain and sorrow. Our journey is measured and reflective. It changes us. Holy Week is always a fresh experience of God's wonderful transforming love, a deeper knowledge of sins forgiven, and a new grasp of the victory God is seeking to win in our lives as we allow ourselves to be transformed by his grace.

We'd love to have you come and join us for Holy Week. 

(Click on the flyer to enlarge it.)