Saturday, 18 May 2019

"Brother Thanks-be-to-God": St. Felix of Cantalice, the first saint of the Capuchins

Today, the eighteenth of May, is the feast of the first canonised saint of the Capuchin friars!

So I would like to share a little of his story with you...

(the following is a collation from various sources)

Felix was born to a family of farmers and so knew hard work from a very early age. He was known for his great physical strength, always an advantage on a farm in those days, and he was even a very good wrestler! From childhood he was known for his piety listening avidly to the stories his parents would tell him of the Desert Fathers, the first Christian Monks, and their deep ascetic mysticism. Wanting to dedicate himself to God he wasnt sure where to go until an Angel appeared to him in a dream and told him to go to the local Capuchin Friary and become a friar! Twice he journeyed to the friary and twice he couldn't find the Guardian and so came home again! The Angels must have been patient as he was told a third time to go and on this occasion he did meet one of the Superiors. He brought him before the Crucifix in the Church and told him to pray while he would go and fetch the Guardian to speak to him. The friar left and promplty forgot all about him until returning to the Church that evening he found Felix lost in prayer in the same position that he had left him in hours before. That was enough for the friars and they accepted him immediately.

Felix had hoped that in the Capuchins he would be sent to one of the mountain hermitages to pursue a life of prayer and contemplation but this was not to be! Instead he was sent to Rome where he became the chief Questor (official beggar) for the friars. He would begin his day at the crack of Dawn in prayer, and meditation and by assisting at Mass and then make his alms route around the city begging for the needs of the poor and the friary. He often laughed at the sense of Hunour that God must have, when asked why he thought this was so he would tell people that on becoming a friar he had renounced even touching bread and wine ever again as a penance, but the first job he was given as a Questor was to beg for bread and wine!

As he travelled around the streets of Rome he became a familiar and much loved figure to two generations of Romans. He was soon nicknamed Fra Deo Gratias, "Brother Thanks be to God" because this was his customary greeting and response to all circumstances. When asked once by a Roman society lady what his philosophy of life was he responded, "Eyes on the Ground, Hand on the Rosary, Heart on God".

He aimed to make every moment a living prayer and to recognise in every person, regardless of their station in life a brother or sister in the Lord. He was friends with St. Philip Neri and St. Charles Borromeo, he advised princes and cardinals, dukes and duchesses and never refused any person who was in need. He would bless bread and fruit to be sent to the sick who would eat it and then recover. Felix always attributed these miracles to the intecession of the Blessed Virgin for whom he had a particular love. He would make up songs and rhymes about her which he then taught the children to sing. On one occasion the Pope, who had been a franciscan before his election, asked for a piece of bread from Brother Felix. He immediately sent him a piece of mouldy black bread as a reminder that he was still a friar and should live like one despite his papal election. At a time when the Capuchins were still a young reform of the Franciscan order it was the holiness and fame of Brother Felix that won for them papal approval.

Nights were times of prayer and meditation for Felix when he would spend hours before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer of adoration and petition. During this time he was gifted with many visions and on one occasion one of the other brothers saw the Blessed Virgin appear and place the Child Jesus in his arms, a sign of his incredible purity of heart and devotion. Eventually worn out after so many years of unrelenting service he became sick, collapsing in front of the brothers to whom he wryly announced, "This little donkey has fallen and won't be getting up again!" At his deathbed he suddenly sat up and a light was seen to shine from his face. One of the brothers asked him, "Felix, what do you see?" "I see the Blessed Virgin surrounded by throngs of Angels!", he replied. Holy Communion was quickly brought to him and as the Host was brought into the room he sang the hymn "O Sacrum Convivium" in a loud voice, then received the Body of the Lord and gave up his spirit. As he passed away the bells in some of the nearby churches rang by themselves and some of the children of Rome ran through the streets shouting, "The saint is dead, the saint is dead" All of Rome turned out for the funeral of the little brother who had laboured amongst them for so long. Canonised as St. Felix of Cantalice he became the first of the Capuchin branch of the Franciscan Order to be canonised and remains in his joyful simplicity and deeply contemplative spirit and model for every Capuchin since.

St. Felix pray for us!

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Homily for the Easter Vigil 2019

Homily for the Easter Vigil 2019

It begins with fire… a spark is struck and an explosion of light transfigures darkness…

It begins with a flame… courageous, strong, held aloft and carried into a dark and empty space

It begins with light… a point of luminescence that is shared and spreads without ever dimming or becoming less…

A light that is the light of all but kindled in the heart of each and every person…

A light that the darkness now discovers it can never overcome…

It begins with a cry an invocation of light called with hope into a darkness that seems to be the death of all things

Lumen Christi we cry and we hold our flame aloft…
Lumen Christi we cry before the forces of sin, and darkness and death…
Lumen Christi we cry and we watch in awe as sin is forgiven, darkness is swallowed by light and death touches life itself and so becomes no more…

This is our faith and this is why we gather all over this world on this holiest of nights to vigil from darkness to light, from dusk to dawn, from death to life
Keeping our watch as a vast flaming tide of faith catches fire and flows across the face of the earth as the people of God sing the song of resurrection…

Tonight, we exult with joy over a victory, not just promised but already given, as we see the ancient enemy thrown down and the cosmos healed and renewed in the light of the Risen One stepping from His tomb; his wounded and glorified feet gentle upon the soft grass of the garden as Mother Earth thrills to know that the seed buried within her not three days hence held within itself the gift of a new and eternal spring for all creation.
A new beginning for all that was, and all that is and all that will be…

For from this moment all is new and the One before whom the first seven days of creation unfolded in power and majesty is now become the eighth day Himself, the beginning and the ending, the alpha and the omega the origin and the completion of all things…

Now the great cry of resurrection is heard as the call of the Good Shepherd to all of creation to come home to the house of the Father!
The doors and gates of sin that we erected in our error and pride have been knocked down and the empty Cross stands as the key that gains us entry into Love for all eternity…

Now the lord Adam and the lady Eve and all their generations are loosed from the limbo of the ages and hear their Son and Lord call them home at last…

Now Peter is called from his tears to look into the eyes of love and become the rock the foundation stone of faith…

Now the Apostles will be woken from their grief and fear to become sparks of the flame of love that will over run the whole world…

Now even Judas is looked upon in love if only he can open his pride sealed eyes…

Now the mourning of the women will become the joy of the comforted…

Now the faith of the Mother is fulfilled at last and the Son embraces her in a moment so sacred so profound that even angels are rendered silent before the sight…

And down the ages the flame comes….

The light born by saints and sinners alike for only sinners can became saints…

The fire of Easter borne through days of joy and days of sorrow, through days of peace and days of persecution, through great and glad gatherings and lonely lives lived in isolation and pain…  

In every succeeding age the great of this world proclaim it quenched, the so called wise proclaim it stifled and lost, and yet always, always, it rises again, renews itself again, and from the long banked hearth it flames forth from One who can never die and whose five fiery coals kindle the Church as the harvest of the world eternally governed not by earthly power or wisdom but by the weakness and folly of the Cross…

The fire comes to us too who gather here this night on the holy land of Ards…

It crackles beneath our feet and drums in the heart of our being, gifted to us by Ancestors who saw their own story assume meaning in His greater story, who found hope in His fire and love in His light…

It comes to us pure even of those who along the way corrupted its cry of compassion and peace and hurt so many… and it comes to us to use us to purify the past by becoming fire ourselves… by becoming places of resurrection, tombs that become gardens liberating the Christ life to love through us, with us, and in us the whole of creation and so reach out to the wounded, the poor, the downtrodden, the abused that they might hear their own hope sound anew in our Alleluias!
We saw this fire work its wonders this past week when in a country where so many thought the faith dying if not dead already, a burning building brought blessing… not in the flames that consumed a mere building but in the sparks suddenly kindled by that sight that gathered a people and brought them to their knees before their mother singing the hymns of their ancestors and resolving to find again the faith that would raise to the Mother of God such a tribute… The same fiery faith that sent a priest into the burning nave to rescue the Blessed Sacrament and the ancient relics, remembrances of His love for us and give a benediction to the city that burned hotter than any earthly flame…

So do not doubt the power of this resurrection flame… in every age it has burned and we are still dazzled by the light of Easter dawn when even Brother Sun
dances with joy!

A Christian fears no doubt, no danger, no darkness!

For all is aflame with love this night, and fire dances over our heads as we sing our Alleluias to the Rising Son!

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

My Gran and the Christmas Invitation

My Gran and the Christmas Invitation:

Today, St. Stephen’s day is a very sacred one in our family… not just because of the first Martyr’s witness and passing to the Lord, but because it isalso  my Gran’s anniversary.
My Mother’s mother she was, (and is), one of the greatest influences in my life growing up.

I have always regarded Gran as one of my first and best teachers, not only in the ways of faith but even on the contemplative path within it. 

Many, many hours were spent with her, listening to her stories and imbibing her teaching (though she would never have called it that… she simply taught by her very being, as all good elders do). Faith for her was as natural as breathing, and indeed, if you listened as closely as I often did to her whistled breathing as she went about her day, a short prayer to the Sacred Heart or to Our Lady was often just beneath the surface of her breath.

Like her own Mother and Grandmother before her she was a “sharp woman”, as they used to say in Dublin, meaning a wise person and one with a direct line to the Spiritual world. Her mother was sought out amongst the Dublin flats as she had “the way” of helping difficult births and deaths and was often asked for advice about a “match” between couples as she had a “good eye” for these things.
 Gran was no different and there were many times I would go over to her house to find her sitting beside the phone waiting for the call that would tell her so and so had died. She, of course, already knew as she had “the dream” the previous night… the phone call always came to confirm it and I soon learned to be used to it. 
On other occasions I would arrive to hear her chatting aloud with someone only to discover her alone by the fire when I entered the room.
I never asked.
She never said.
We didn’t need to.

She taught me those ways too. 
“Look into the fire and tell me what you see” she would say, and then smile when I saw. 
She taught me to look at people’s eyes when they spoke and at the way they stood and moved. 
She had tremendous devotion to the Blessed Virgin who had “been through it all” and her prayers to her were not so much novenas or devotions as a constant conversation born of a life long trust. She had great respect for the friars and religious orders much preferring their churches in town where she could attend anonymously, not liking the front seat parish people as she called them. 
She reminded me often never to judge anyone and taught me to give to the poor, especially beggars in the street. 
“There’s always a story there,” she would say, “No one is on the street because they want to be.” Women were on the street or poor because, “Men put them there.” 
Men were on the street or poor because, “Most men are fools for the bottle or for a story.” 
No matter the reason they were to be listened to and helped.
She had been sharp in other ways too. A hard life and losing her husband early on had made her hard in her mid-life and it was only as a Gran that she softened again. In her later years she would often tell me that she was glad she got to be a Gran after everything she had been through.

She often worried about her death. She was not afraid to die. "No one dies alone", she would say. 
She had seen enough deaths to know that, “They come to collect you.” 
She was, however, afraid that she would die in the house and that I or another grandchild would find her. So for the last few years of her life she prayed everyday the “Thirty day’s prayer” to Our Lady for a happy death and listed the way she wanted to go:
She wanted to die in her sleep so she could “wake up in Heaven”.
She wanted to die alone but having said her goodbyes and surrounded by love.
She wanted to be ready to go.
She talked about it often, not in a morbid way, but in the way you recite your shopping list.
Going and coming were natural in their very essence and death she had long taught and lived was nothing to be afraid of for a Christian soul.

That Christmas she had been very unwell.
Pneumonia had followed a chest and kidney infection and a stay in hospital was called for. She did not want to go but acquiesced at my Mum’s request. Feeling a little better after a few days of antibiotics she was to be released for Christmas by the Docs even though Mum was not happy that she was ready. She came home to us. She was weak and a slim figure of her former self though I still wondered at the muscled arms of her small frame, a result of countless years of housework when that still meant a physical ordeal. She spent most of the next couple of day’s in bed sleeping. She smiled a lot and we got to visit with her and hold her hand and chat. 
Christmas Eve came and her children and grandchildren all visited with presents and smiles and the occasional worried whispered conversation with my Mum and Dad as to how she was doing. Christmas Day she was very quiet and slept a lot. As the house was beginning to settle down she called my Mum into the room and very deliberately and unusually for a woman of her time thanked her for all she had done and told her she loved her. My Mum was somewhat taken aback but at that moment Gran asked her who it was that was standing behind her. 
There was no one there that Mum could see. 
Gran’s eyes focused on the spot behind her and she relaxed.
“It’s alright,” Gran said, “I know them.”
Mum said her smile was a beautiful thing at that moment.
She told Mum, “You can go down to the family now, I’m fine”.
Mum did, though to the end of her own days she often wondered why she did. 
As she went downstairs she could hear her talking quietly in the room.

Later Mum checked in on her to find her sleeping deeply and gently.

That night a Blackbird sang outside the house all night.
I remember looking out to try and see it.
I could not.
I should have known.
Gran had often taught me to watch out for Blackbirds.
“They are special to our family,” she would say, “Your Grandfather loved them and they come to warn us of things.”
“Whenever you see one, say a prayer to your Grandad.”

I still do.

The following morning, very early, Mum woke suddenly and went straight to check on her.
Gran had passed away.
She was still warm and she was smiling gently.

Mum called for the Priest and the Doctor and then carefully woke us all. I still remember that there were no tears in the house that morning. It all felt very peaceful and quiet. The Priest administered the Last Rites as he felt that she had only just gone before Mum found her. 
A little later myself and Mum stood in the room with Gran looking out the window. 

On the lawn a hen Blackbird was hopping around.

We smiled at that.

“Well”, I said, “She certainly got the death she had wanted!”

Mum told me then about the things that had happened the previous night and about Gran seeing someone in her room.
Someone who had made her smile.
“Do you think it was Grandad?” I asked.

At that moment, right in front of us, a Cock Blackbird, all shiny and bright yellow beaked flew down beside the Hen on the lawn outside. They greeted each other and flew off  together.
After that there was nothing else to say.
Gran had gotten the death she had asked for and we had received the little signs of her going.
In Ireland there has always been the custom of the “Cuireadh na Nollaig” the so called “Christmas Invitation” the feeling that a death at this time of the year is especially blessed and that the signs around it are powerful. Today, almost thirty years later I write this so that this story of my Gran’s passing may be remembered and may bring peace and hope to all who read it…

And perhaps the next time you see a Blackbird you might say a prayer for all your loved one’s gone before you…

(Photo unattributed found on google)

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Encountering the Crucified One: The Beginnings of Franciscan Christology as seen in three encounters of St. Francis with Jesus as depicted in the Legenda Major of St. Bonaventure

In this short article it is my intention to indicate the beginning of certain themes that will influence the future development of Franciscan Christology. We find them present, though in seed form as it were, in the conversion narrative of St. Francis as given in Bonaventure’s Legenda Major. 

To do this I will look at the three fundamental encounters with Christ that Francis has en route to his full conversion and embracing of a life of evangelical mendicancy. The first, his dream of a house filled with arms and knightly apparel while already on the road to battle; the second, his encounter with Christ under the guise of a leper; and, thirdly, the encounter with Christ through the crucifix of San Damiano.

In all three of these events we will see the seminal beginnings of elements and themes of an implicit Christology which will inform the life of Francis and the Franciscan movement through the ages. We will see that each of these events is characterised by an encounter with a hidden Christ who, when manifested or recognised through contemplative awareness, is then responded to by action and affective movement on the part of Francis. Thereby situating from the very beginning of the Franciscan vision the understanding that we must discern an apprehension of who Christ is, and how we are called into the fullness of life by Him, at the nexus of both contemplation of, and action on behalf of, the same Christ we encounter.

The first encounter: The Knightly Dream:

Bonaventure situates the first of the acts that we will look into at the very outset of Francis’ conversion. Post a period of illness that could “enlighten spiritual awareness” (LM 1:2) he tells us that Francis at this time is still in a state of ignorance as to both his future and the ability to discern God’s plan for himself. After charitably clothing a poor knight that he meets in the town he receives the first part of the knightly dream being shown “a large and splendid palace with military arms emblazoned with the insignia of Christ’s cross.” ( LM 1:3) The figure of Christ is present through the symbol of the cross. He is at one and the same time both the centre of the dream in its primary symbol and its hidden heart, just as surely as the meaning of the dream is hidden from Francis. Upon waking, Francis, whom Bonaventure tells us is not yet skilled in interpreting the symbolic schema of dreams, attempts to bring about its fulfilment by taking up arms. This course of action is summarily stopped by the second dream of the cycle wherein he is asked,
“Who can do more for you a Lord or a servant, a rich person or one who is poor?” (LM 1:3)
This time Francis recognises that the dream is inviting him into mystery. He realises that he has interpreted his future course incorrectly and asks,
“Lord what do you want me to do?” (LM 1:3)
When the Lord answers that he is to return to his town and there await a spiritual outcome he obeys immediately, the fruit of this actioned obedience being a spirit of care free joy. This care free joy is seen as the fruit of true obedience throughout the monastic tradition but is especially a fruit of it in the Franciscan vision of religious life.

Already in this encounter with the “hidden Christ” of the dream, aspects of just who Christ is for Francis, (and later the Franciscan movement), can be seen. He is firstly the one who calls us to joy. Joy that is revealed and accessed through conformity of our will to His will in obedience. Just as Christ conformed His will to that of the Father, so the follower of Christ, (and of Francis), will have to walk that path of obedience. For Francis setting out on the path of obedience is both a contemplative act, in the surrendering of the will to the hidden Christ of the dream, (“Lord what do you want me to do?”), and an affective action of instant obedience that frees him and brings a state of spiritual joy.

The second encounter: The Leper on the road.

Setting the scene of the second encounter Bonaventure tells us that Francis is still seeking the discernment of God’s will for himself while slowly separating himself from the “pressure of public business” (LM 1:4) We already see in Francis the beginnings of an oscillation between contemplative withdrawal and the call to the market place of action that will only find its balance in the later Spirit filled discernment of Sylvester and Clare. Francis is described now as a man in whom the heavenly flame has been kindled through the practice of fervent prayer, and it is in this spirit that he will meet the leper on the road. Recalling the earlier images of knightly aspirations Bonaventure begins the story by seeing Francis as a Knight intent on the conquering of himself for Christ and the encounter with the leper as one of the trials of chivalry that the great heroes of the romances would go through. Francis is even pictured on his horse, like a spiritual Galahad riding into battle. To begin we are told that even seeing the Leper in the distance struck him with “not a little horror” (LM 1:5) but that Francis overcame his feelings of repugnance and humbling himself by descending from the horse he gives the leper both the alms he seeks and a kiss. On resuming his seat he finds the Leper vanished, (to all of Bonaventure’s medieval primary audience this would have at once indicated that the Leper was either an Angel or even Christ Himself), and so Francis immediately begins to sing the praises of the Lord.

In this encounter with the Christ who hides beneath the guise of the poor and the marginalised, (the Christ of Matthew’s judgement scene), we see another seminal layer of Franciscan Christology laid down, wherein the contemplative withdrawal of the follower of Francis should go hand in hand with a growing awareness of the presence of Christ in all people and especially in the poor and particularly those exiled to the edges of society. Francis finds a silent Leper Christ. One who always assumes the lowest place and whose taking on of leprosy as His “disguise” issues a challenge to find the Lord God in the lowest place. Indeed, as this event happens while Francis is still trying to discern his own vocation, we can say that it is only in the letting go of our own privilege and ego, (dismounting from our horse as it were), that we become open enough to the revelation of the hidden silent Christ so that our purpose may be revealed to us. Bonaventure expressly demonstrates this movement as being essential in the following of Christ as in the very next paragraph he links the encounter with Christ as Leper to the vision Francis has of the crucified Jesus and the appropriation that Francis makes to himself, (an appropriation that we are all called to make), of the Gospel text to deny ourselves, take up our Cross and follow Christ.

This leads us beautifully to the third and final encounter we will consider.

The third encounter: The Christ of San Damiano

We find this encounter at the beginning of the second chapter of the Legenda. Here Christ is not hidden anymore, though His purpose and command are at first misunderstood by Francis. In the crucifix of San Damiano Francis continues his deepening dialogue with the Lord, “who became humbler even to accepting death.” He is “led by the Spirit” and enters the church to pray, and there beholds the crucifix. While the Christus figure of the San Damiano Cross is depicted as alive and triumphant He still bares the bleeding wounds and the loin cloth of the moment of crucifixion and death. Like the Fisher King of the Arthurian legends wounded and yet a healer, (a figure that Francis would probably have been familiar with), Christ is represented on the Cross both in His eternal divinity as the Lord of History and the impassable Logos, and at one and the same time, in His humanity as the suffering servant of Isaiah who silently endures. Here on the Cross of San Damiano Jesus is the Lamb of revelation, dead yet alive upon the Altar. In the triune perfection of the call that issues from the Cross telling him to, “go and repair my house, which as you see, is all being destroyed.” (LM 2:1) Francis once again moves from contemplation of the Crucified to action. Action which, though at first is misguided in its literal interpretation of the command, eventually bears fruit in not just rebuilt churches, but in the service of a universal Church who, in its chief shepherd, will recognise him as the one who will help in holding up the sinking edifice of the faith.

So we may see the unfolding conversion of Francis characterised by a growing realisation of just who Christ is. We are the witnesses, through Bonaventure, of the beginnings of a life lived for God alone. A life which, in its distinctive character and expression, will set the foundations of a Franciscan Christology that, arising from these charismatic and contemplative insights of Francis, will centre the movement on relationship with the Christ who is both near in the poor and the marginalised, and far above us as the hidden Lord of the castle of our knightly desires. He is revealed as the One whose sacramental presence will be venerated beneath the veils of leprosy and isolation just as truly as beneath those of bread and wine. Above all else, He is the crucified who calls us to share in His mission of reconciliation and peace, eternally suffering and dying, rising and reigning. It will be on these foundation stones that the vast work of Franciscan Christology will be built, always calling us back to the contemplation of our own moments of encounter with Christ, hidden or revealed, so as to lead us through Him, with Him and in Him to the building of the Kingdom within us and then within the world.

Br. Richard Hendrick OFM Cap
(Originally written as an essay for the Franciscan Formation Studies Course in Canterbury 2013)
Picture credits: Pics 1 & 3 Piero Cassentini, Pics 2 & 4 uncredited)

Saturday, 27 October 2018

The Hunter's Moon

The Hunter’s Moon

Seeking the graced sight
of the Hunter’s Moon,
I left the bright lights
of the house behind me,
and, bundling myself
against the cold,
I took the wooded path
to the place
where I could watch her rise,
fierce and cold against
the purple dark sky.
There I blessed her
for blessing me in turn
with such light:
pure and cold and bright,
gilding the sea golden beneath her
as she rose;
my silver sister of the sky above:
the Lady’s lamp,
a guide for all who wander
and wonder in turn.
Finally, when the cold bit
into my already aching bones
too much,
leaving moon to her meditations,
I left for home.
Trudging darkly along
the wooded path
discerning its grey
pebble skinned presence
barely a step or two ahead
I was gifted
with the sudden
awareness of unaloneness
and paused
in the pitch dark
not sure of what old sense
had been alerted, nor why.
Then, carefully kindling
the little lamp I carried
I sudden saw twelve sets of eyes
gaze glowing from off the path
and realized in front of me,
our holy herd of deer.
Down from the rutting hills
they had come silent as the dusk
that surrounded us, perhaps,
to pay their own homage to the lady
high above us all.
Horse high and seeming huge they were,
I heard now their breathing,
their antlers broad between the branches,
utterly still they stood and stared
as we regarded each other,
“Well met by moonlight”, I thought,
as I, awestruck in stillness also
bowed deeply to these
old ones of the woods,
the first Lords and Ladies
of these sainted lands.
Then, stepping back into the dark
I left them to their silent vigil
and made for home,
my heart elated by that moonlit magic
recalling eden’s evenings
when all were one
before Him.  
Later, making tea,
I wondered how often
on our grey and often seeming
daily darkened path
we have, all about us beings
carrying such, and even
greater blessings,
but never notice, shut in
as we are, behind
our curtained glass,
sitting lost before
our flickering screens,
while they,
keep their ancient vigil too,
waiting for us to touch
stillness long enough,
deep enough, to discern their
moonlit presence
and, at last, know ourselves to be,
with them, one
before the One, from whom
the light and dark
and deer arise.

Sat Oct 26th 2018

Monday, 17 September 2018



That Morning
the people 
to a mountain top
on fire.
A red gold dawn seemed
to forget 
the ancient 
bounded truce 
between Heaven
and Earth,
and, descending, christened 
the forested crown
with flame.
They wondered 
what had become 
of them,
the small 
band of brothers
who had passed 
barely a month ago,
begging their way
the foothills
lost in the mad 
heart song
of faith, of divine desire.
Seeking the solitude 
of spirit
that only the wild bestows 
as blessing.
They were three, 
and one 
they did not come 
to know, 
cowled as he was 
in smiling silence, 
yet with the look of loss 
about him, 
as though he did not 
live fully 
now upon this land.
Sometimes, later, 
if the wind blew right
they swore that 
in the starlit silence 
of the night 
they could hear them 
They felt sad then,
as you do
for those you do not really know.
To be lost on a mountain
in a forest fire.
How terrible.
They did not listen to 
the child
whose piping voice asked
there was no sound 
of burning,
no stampede of furred 
and feathered 
from this strange flame, 
but only light and silence
and a stillness 
until then unknown
except before 
a summer storm 
or sudden fall of 
winter snow?
The child 
was shushed, 
they always are,
and sad and solemn words 
were said, 
and then the business of the day 
Eyes averted by all
the child
who stood and stared long
and finally 
as others' faces 
turned towards 
the ground 
of ordinary hours, 
fell into the 
forgetfulness of fire,
as we so often do.
And when, by chance, 
they looked again
they saw now only 
a September sky
over a forest turning 
autumnal gold,
and thought, well now
we must have been mistaken,
a rare dawn, 
no doubt.
Some days thence,
the brothers came again,
thinner for their 
mountain days
yet seeming wrapped 
in wonder and singing as they
Save for him, 
the silent one, 
bowed and bent around 
an inner burden
none could see 
but all could feel.
His hooded face 
they all kept their distance, 
fearing the mad 
of faith, perhaps. 
All that is except 
the child 
who found him sitting alone 
beneath a tree 
and offered him
the raw innocence 
of her unflinching gaze,
he smiled 
at her then, 
with the noble courage 
of her age 
she said,
They thought you burned in the fire you know?,
He lowered his hood
she saw his hands then,
their centres 
splashed with scarlet 
and with iron
from which a golden flame 
now sparked,
as though 
the light of Heaven,
earthed in him,
could not be contained
in him,
a vessel small
and broken 
in such 
I did.
he said,
I did.
Then they laughed
a while 
and singing,
went forth

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Our Lady of Sorrows: A Meditation

Our Lady of Sorrows: A Meditation for the Feast.

Each year we come to this celebration like a full stop.
It arrests us, holds us, freezes us as we look inwardly at that scene we think we know so well.
The Woman and the Man,
the Mother and the Son…
and the Cross; always the Cross…

Mother of Sorrows we call her and she is the Mother of Sorrow today, for her Son is not just the God who is Love, but the God who is the Sorrow that Love becomes when it is refused, rejected, even hated…
In a universe of hate and betrayal she will be the one point of pure light, the one point of pure love, the one point of pure sorrow over Sorrow’s pain.

Mother of Compassion we call her. “Cum Passio” is the phrase at the root of this word; to be with the suffering. For all she can do is be with Him in His Suffering and long, as so many mothers have longed over countless ages, to end His suffering, to take His place, to stand in the place of her child.
How many war zones, sick beds, hospitals, prisons have been hallowed by such prayers over the ages?
In a universe of pain and suffering she does not look away, she stands, strong for Him who has become weakness itself in this moment, that the wound at the heart of it all may be healed. She chooses yet again, as surely as she chose in the light of the Angel all those years ago. She utters a Yes once again, this time not with words but with presence. Words without presence mean nothing… but presence, even when it is silent, is louder than thunder.

Mother of the Seven Sorrows we call her. Her life graced and blessed has been punctuated with pain. The pain of the moment and the pain of knowing, darkly at least, what is coming. Seven great sorrows we name, but they are only the beginning. Every mother knows sorrow… the sorrow of knowing that her child is not her own, not really, not in their essence, and that they must be set free to become all that they were meant to be. For her this natural letting go is revealed as a graced begetting of blessedness anew. She will let Him go, she will let Him go to His death and her faith will be the point of light and love that will call Him home to her when first He rises. The prophecy of Simeon, the Flight to Egypt, the first Loss in the Temple, the Meeting on the Road, they will all lead inevitably to the Cross, to holding her dead Son in her arms, to entombing in the womb of the Earth the One she had carried safely in her own womb. And yet, when all will be death and despair she will stand as Woman, as Mother, as the faithful witness, as the one who walks the path of living martyrdom, as the one who, on our behalf, believes past believing; doing this as only a mother can, as only a woman can, winning the victory by the purest kind of faith, unselfish Love.

Our Lady of Sorrows we call her. Ours! Yes she is ours… for in the moment of her greatest pain she says Yes to another, deeper call within her consecration. His last words will bequeath His greatest gift. Present to Him with all her love, with all her still strength and grace she is now ours too. Behold your Mother. This is the generosity of God, of Grace, of Love itself… holding nothing back for itself it gives its greatest gift away. This is the generosity of Mary that she says Yes and accepts us all in the very moment of our greatest rejection of her Son. At the pinnacle of hate she becomes the very first fruits of love, and compassion, and peace, the place where the fruits of the Cross are first tasted, the one through whom grace is liberated and the one in whose immaculate heart, pierced in the piercing of her Son’s the song of our resurrection will first be sung.

Our Lady of Sorrows, Mother of Compassion be with us and help us to carry our own Cross in faith and hope and love.

Pics above: The First is the famous rendering of Our Lady's face based upon the proportions of the Face of the Holy Shroud. The second is by Angela Yerber.