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Faith

The lamb and the wolf on 8 December

Friday, 8 December, 2017 0 Comments

The increasingly oppressive commercial Christmas begins on 1 October and then bludgeons consumers into submission with an incessant drumbeat of shopping commands and mawkish carols all the way until midnight on 24 December. The Christmas of the faithful, on the other hand, starts on the first Sunday of Advent and ends on 6 January, the feast day that commemorates the visit of the Magi.

But there is another date, and it’s to be found in the calendar of popular piety: 8 December. Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and it once marked the point when Christmas began in earnest. For my mother, the 8th of December was a serious shopping day and many essential “messages” were purchased in “Town” in preparation for the festivities.

Note: The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was officially defined as an article of the Catholic Faith by Pope Pius IX in 1854, and the dogma professes that Christ’s Mother was exempt from original sin from the moment of her conception. Traditional belief in the Immaculate Conception long preceded its formal definition, however, which is evident in this 16th century Spanish villancico:

Riu, riu, chiu
The river bank protects it.
God kept our lamb
From the wolf.
The rabid wolf
Wanted to bite her
But Almighty God knew
How to defend her.
Riu, riu, chiu

The lamb there is a stand-in for the Mother of Christ while the wolf is the devil. The words “riu, riu, chiu” are meant to evoke the call of the nightingale — a bird whose call has traditionally served as a muse to poets down the ages.


All our Souls’ Day

Thursday, 2 November, 2017 0 Comments

“The soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

All Souls' Day

All Souls’ Day

Let’s go our old way
by the stream, and kick the leaves
as we always did, to make
the rhythm of breaking waves.

This day draws no breath —
shows no colour anywhere
except for the leaves — in their death
brilliant as never before.

Yellow of Brimstone Butterfly,
brown of Oak Eggar Moth —
you’d say. And I’d be wondering why
a summer never seems lost

if two have been together
witnessing the variousness of light,
and the same two in lustreless November
enter the year’s night…

The slow-worm stream — how still!
Above that spider’s unguarded door,
look – dull pearls… Time’s full,
brimming, can hold no more.

Next moment (we well know,
my darling, you and I)
what the small day cannot hold
must spill into eternity.

So perhaps we should move cat-soft
meanwhile, and leave everything unsaid,
until no shadow of risk can be left
of disturbing the scatheless dead.

Ah, but you were always leaf-light.
And you so seldom talk
as we go. But there at my side
through the bright leaves you walk.

And yet — touch my hand
that I may be quite without fear,
for it seems as if a mist descends,
and the leaves where you walk do not stir.

Frances Bellerby (1899 – 1975)


All our Saints’ Day

Wednesday, 1 November, 2017 0 Comments

“All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”
— Saint Francis

Our saints

Note: All Saints’ Day was initiated by Pope Boniface IV, who consecrated the Pantheon to the Virgin Mary and the martyrs on 13 May 609 AD. Boniface IV also established All Souls’ Day, which follows All Saints. The choice of the day may have been intended to co-opt the “Feast of Lemuria,” which the Religio Romana used to placate the restless spirits of the dead. The Christian holy day was established on 1 November in the mid-eighth century by Pope Gregory III as a day dedicated to the saints and their relics.


Michael Fitzgerald: who would have been 99 today

Sunday, 17 September, 2017 0 Comments

“And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Dylan Thomas

Michael Fitzgerald (17 September 1917 – 2 April 2011): He was a farmer and he was a thinker. He loved the land, its history, its substance, its moods and its meaning. He knew why people had fought and died for it and he understood the passions it generated. His hands were shaped by decades of wresting a living from the soil. Possessed of a sense of chivalry that has all but disappeared; he was one of the last representatives of a culture that had its roots in an ancient, a simpler, a lost world.

Father


Fortitude in a time of suffering and Twitter

Friday, 7 July, 2017 0 Comments

Our thoughts go out today to our favourite Benedictine nun, Sister Catherine Wybourne, the Prioress of Howton Grove Priory in Herefordshire. In her ongoing battle with cancer, she has shown grace, dignity, wit and humanity. Here’s an example of her thinking and writing that offers an insight all cancer suffers will appreciate:

“Anyone with small children or a debilitating illness such as cancer will understand when I say there is a kind of tiredness so complete that any effort seems impossible. One wakes tired; one goes to bed tired; and in between times one just is tired. In my own case, I have more or less given up pretending it can ever be otherwise. I have even stopped snarling when people tell me to rest! Because, of course, the reason one is tired is that one cannot rest or rest itself is no longer restful. I refuse, however, to allow this state of apparently perpetual tiredness to be entirely negative. I bumble along quite happily until I simply flop — a sudden loss of energy, an overwhelming desire to close my eyes for a few minutes, you know what I mean. One doesn’t have to have children or be ill to know such moments, but they are probably more frequent if one does/is. At such times one can moan and groan a little, lament what one can’t do, or one can learn — painfully slowly in my case — that they are a moment of grace, to be treasured rather than railed against.

When one is very tired, life becomes much simpler. There is no need to pretend, no need to argue, no need to worry about what others think. What one cannot do, one cannot do — and that’s an end of the matter. One cannot plan ahead and one’s memory of the past is defective, so one is forced to live in the present moment. Jean de Caussade wrote beautifully of the sacrament of the present moment, but I must admit that until I became ill myself, I had never really appreciated the richness of meaning behind the phrase.”

No day here is complete with a tweet from @Digitalnun. Each one is a gem. The juxtaposition of faith and charity, the local and the global, is unique:

#Praying for all tweeps on the feast of St Irenaeus, esp all who love scripture, & for those battling the latest global ransomware attack.

Praying for all tweeps, esp those killed/injured outside #FinsburyParkMosque last night, and those involved in #Brexit negotiations. #prayer

Praying for all tweeps, esp those affected by the floods in Uruguay, and those who are moving house. #prayer

The Digital Nun


Light and high beauty for ever

Wednesday, 5 July, 2017 0 Comments

Remembering those who are no longer with us and thinking of those today, who are in need of our prayers, candles and reassurance.

“For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Our candles


Courage, faith and hope

Tuesday, 20 June, 2017 0 Comments

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.” — The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton

Courage, faith and hope


Unboxing Millie’s Easter cake

Sunday, 16 April, 2017 0 Comments

Great neighbour, great friend, great baker! Happy Easter! Beannachtaí na Cásca! Boa Páscoa! Frohe Ostern! ¡Felices Pascuas! Buona Pasqua! Joyeuses Pâques!

Cake 1

Cake 2

Cake 3

Cake 4


Holy Thursday stand-up: Three monks

Thursday, 13 April, 2017 0 Comments

Given that this is Holy Thursday, it’s time for something meditative, and they don’t get much better than this very old Irish joke, which begins: “Tríar manach do·rat díultad dont saegul.” Not familiar with ancient Gaelic? This will help: Tríar = three persons, a trio; manach = of monks (genitive plural of ‘manach‘); do rat = gave (3rd singular perfect active of ‘do beir‘); díultad = denial, repudiation; don = to the (preposition ‘do’ + article ‘in’), saegul = ‘world’.

Don’t know if word-for-word translation would work on the stand-up circuit, though. An impatient audience might start thumbing the phones. The problem is that the language being used is probably more than 1,000 years old. Here’s a modernized, translated version:

Three monks decided to abandon the material world and its distractions for the ascetic, contemplative life in the wilderness. After exactly a year’s silence the first monk said:
“Tis a good life we lead.”
At the end of the next year, the second monk replied: “It is so.”
Another year being completed, the third monk exclaimed: “If I can’t have peace and quiet here, I’m going back to the world!”

Those anxious to read the original can find it in the British Library, where it’s known as Egerton 190. The manuscript was copied in 1709 by one Richard Tipper of Mitchelstown, County Cork. Dennis King, who writes the NÓTAÍ IMILL blag Gaeilge/Sean-Ghaeilge, has gone to considerable lengths to translate, illustrate and record this medieval Irish joke and his web page devoted to the Tríar manach is charming and instructive. It might not be the stuff of stand-up, but it is durable.

Three monks


St Patricius joins the menology

Tuesday, 14 March, 2017 0 Comments

“These saints did their service in the Western countries. St Patricius, the enlightener of Ireland who is more commonly known as St Patrick is one of them.” So spoke Dr Vladimir Legoida, head of communications for the Russian Orthodox synod, on Friday in Moscow. The occasion was the decision by the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church to enlarge its menology with the names of some 15 saints, “who bore with witness of Christian faith in the West European and Central European lands before the split of the united Christian Church in 1054” in what became known as the Great Schism.

St Patricius

Dr Legoida told Pravmir that there was evidence Patricius had been venerated by the Russian Orthodox faithful. Critically, given Russian sensitivities, a key question was the role the saints might have played in polemics between Catholics and the Orthodox. “We took account the immaculateness of devotion of each saint, the circumstances in which their worship took shape, and the absence of the saints’ names in the polemic works on struggle against the Eastern Christian Church or its rite,” Dr Legoida said.

When it came to engaging in polemics or ridding Ireland of its snakes, St Patricius decided to concentrate on removing the reptiles. And, lo, his chosen land has been blessed since. “Russians to invade Trump’s luxury Irish golf resort” crowed the Sunday Business Post at the weekend, adding that “Up to 100 wealthy Russians will visit Doonbeg, Co Clare, to celebrate St Patrick’s Day.” What a saint!


Ash Wednesday

Wednesday, 1 March, 2017 0 Comments

“In Young Mother, the ash is used to portray anonymous woman, her humble and demur demeanour is reminiscent of depictions of the Madonna.” — Zhang Huan

A founding member of Beijing’s conceptual artists movement in the 1990s, Zhang Huan moved to New York in 1998 and developed a unique style that mixed East and West. Upon returning to China a decade later, he had an epiphany, which he described as the “magic” of prayer and the power of the incense ashes. For him, ash has a metaphoric connection to memory, the soul and the spiritual. “Everything we are, everything we believe and want are within these ashes,” says Zhang Huan.

Your mother