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Compassion and Empathy

‘An arch’, wrote Leonardo da Vinci, ‘is nothing else than a strength caused by two weaknesses; for the arch in buildings is made up of two segments of a circle and each of these segments, being itself very weak, desires to fall; and as one withstands the downfall of the other, the two weaknesses are converted into a single strength.’  (Mann, A Double Thirst, pp.87-88)  Quoted by Fr Bill Kirkpatrick to illustrate the need for compassion and empathy (The Creativity of Listening, DLT, p.42)

THE SACRED HEART OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT

Eight days after the Feast of Corpus Christi, on the Octave day, the Church celebrates the great Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Except, of course, most Anglicans have never heard of this celebration and even those churches which realise the Catholic heritage of the Church of England may not recognise this Feast.  This is to our loss for, as Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the USA, preached about at the wedding of their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, love is the way; and the one symbol that speaks to all about love is – the heart.  And the Church has the wonder of the Sacred Heart to offer people – a Heart which is not just concerned with the joys of love, but also knows about passion and pain.  It was while she was kneeling in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament that Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque displaying Hs Heart, “represented as a throne of fire with flames radiating on every side. It appeared more brilliant than the sun and transparent like crystal. The wound received on the Cross appeared clearly: There was a crown of thorns around the Heart and it was surmounted by a cross.”  This is the Sacred Heart of Christ’s Passion which, unlike other images of love, constantly reminds us of its true cost.  This is a gift the Church of England sadly neglects.

At Christmas we celebrate the Incarnation of Love is as Love reveals His Presence among us, a Presence we celebrate in and through each Eucharist.  It’s a Presence which is Real, a Presence which we need to penetrate and which needs to penetrate us if we are to encounter the Heart of God.  At Christmas we behold Love clothed in Flesh, Flesh which suffered, died, rose from the grave and ascended into heaven.  Love left us the sacrament of that Presence, and whilst the eye of the body beheld Jesus within Crib the eye of the heart can now begin to see the wonder of Emmanuel – the Love of God with us abiding in the Blessed Sacrament.  The great Franciscan saint, Bonaventure, wrote these beautiful words: ‘I have found this Heart in the Eucharist when I have found there the Heart of my Sovereign, of my Friend, of my Brother, that is to say, the Heart of my friend and Redeemer. …  Come, my brethren, let us enter into this amiable Heart never again to go out from It.’

In his book The Drawing of This Love the author, Robert Fruewirth, explores aspects of the way the 14th century English mystic, Dame Julian of Norwich, realised how that Divine Love is permeated by compassion.  In one chapter he quotes Julian saying: ‘Here I saw a great affinity between Christ and us … for when he was in pain, we were in pain.  And all creatures capable of suffering pain suffered with him … So was our Lord Jesus Christ set at nought for us, and we all remain in this way as if set at naught with him, and shall do until we come to his bliss…’ (Ch.18)  Divine Compassion lies in the depths of the Sacred Heart – indeed, is the way in which that Heart is to be understood and we can always be present to His compassion when we come before Him in the Blessed Sacrament.  So people have longed to look upon that loving compassion and can do so when the Sacrament is exposed to our gaze on the altar.   There we can be present to Him as He is present to us when the Sacrament is exposed on the altar; if only every church offered times when this practice so that all can sit or kneel in prayer in His Presence.  If churches helped people to come and adore Him who longed – and longs – to be with us!  There we can talk with Him or just rest with Him and know that He is fully present to all who come to Him.  We could just curl up before Him who opens His Heart to us in the Sacrament of Divine Love.

But even if we cannot find an open church where the brilliance of the Host shines out we can always take Him with us in the tabernacle of our heart for, as St Francis of Assisi wrote in his Rule of 1221: ‘We should make a dwelling-place within ourselves where He can stay, He who is the Lord God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’ Dame Julian echoes this theme when later she wrote: ‘Then with a glad expression our Lord looked into his side and gazed, rejoicing and with his dear gaze he led his creature’s understanding through the same wound into his side within. And then he revealed a beautiful and delightful place, large enough for all mankind that shall be saved to rest there in peace and in love.’ (Ch.24)  That ‘place’ is His Sacred Heart, a Heart large enough to contain all of us, a Heart enlarged by compassion.  This is the Sacrament of Love upon which we are invited to gaze, as Julian gazed on what was revealed to her.  It is a wonderful thing that we who have been made part of His Body can gaze on that Body which is lit up with Love – as one might look on a building flooded with light both inside and out, throbbing with all the colours there are against the darkness that surround it – a darkness of both sin and a lack of recognition. This is what we are to realise as we gaze on His Incarnate Body shown to us in the monstrance.

God enables us to fashion an inner-monstrance of the heart which is to be the dwelling-place for Jesus where we can adore Him whenever we visit that place.  Few churches can offer perpetual Adoration but He can always be with us and we can always adore Him whenever we choose to make this visit to our heart.  But wouldn’t it be wonderful if more Anglican churches – cathedrals, certainly – offered this facility?  There is a wonderful Tabernacle House, for example, in Southwark Cathedral (which may come from the Convent of the sisters of the Community of Reparation to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament founded in 1869 and ended with the death of the last sister in the early years of this century).

It’s exquisitely beautiful to come to Jesus in this way and be able to just rest with Him – ‘be there’ with Him who is in all places and fills all things yet who left us this way to realise His presence.  It’s a presence that doesn’t require any words and the only effort is to focus attention on Him and Him alone.  To be able to do this in places like Westminster Cathedral and Tyburn Convent in Hyde Park Place is a joy which all would benefit from realising.  And when that is not possible we can make a virtual visit to adore Jesus through a number of websites which offer that facility.

Thankfully even though we may not be able to visit those places, He dwells in the hearts of all who turn aside to Him and unlock the door to this inner sanctuary.  That Sacred Heart is like a door leading into the very soul of Christ, towards complete conformity to Him.

“Devotion to the Sacred Heart has a twofold object: it honours first with adoration and public worship the Heart of flesh of Jesus Christ, and secondly the infinite love with which this Heart has burned for us since its creation, and with which it is still consumed in the Sacrament of our altars.” (St. Peter Julian Eymard)

ENFOLDED IN CHRIST: The Inner Life of a Priest

On May 31st Canterbury Press will be publishing the book* I’ve written concerning priestly spirituality.  From my background as a Franciscan friar for twenty-five years, an interest in Ignatian and Benedictine spirituality and ten years as Rector of an urban parish, this book seeks to explore the heart of priestly spirituality.  It is not about ministry, mission, preaching, evangelisation, pastoral care etc.  but how, through our ‘abiding in the heart of Jesus’, we realise our vocation.

I have also addressed concerns that have emerged in my ministry of spiritual direction and pastoral supervision over many years and drawn on my experience as Vocations Adviser and Novice Guardian for the Franciscans.

It is different from some other books on this subject in exploring matters such as:. the place of confession in the life and ministry of the priest; life as a deacon; praying the Daily Office; Eucharistic living; spiritual direction and supervision; sexuality; letting go of our roles, detachment etc…  It also makes wide use of the Principles of the Society of St. Francis and the dynamic of the Ignatian Exercises and keeps in mind that not all priests will exercise their ministry in a parish context.  However I hold that for all of us, as St. John Vianney said, “the priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.”

It’s aimed at those considering and preparing for ordination as well as those who are ordained. It should also be of interest and help to spiritual directors, pastoral supervisors, clergy mentors, those concerned with the well-bring of the clergy – and any Christian interested in developing their spirituality.

Others have written about the ministry of the priest and some have sought to look at how ‘being’ can help ‘doing’ and I trust what I have written will complement some of these.  Apart from what one might expect in a book like this – chapters on Prayer, the Divine Office etc. it also includes material about:

⇒ Being rooted on God’s love for us;

⇒  Realising the need for constant ‘conversion of the heart’ and confession;

⇒  Issues concerning formation and formators;

⇒  Eucharistic living;

⇒  Looking at ‘being beneath the role’;

⇒  Issues of sexuality, celibacy and the single life;

⇒  Letting go.

For inspiration I take one of the motto’s of the Benedictines:

  Ut in Omnibus Glorificetur Deus:
That in all things God may be glorified

From the Foreword by Christopher, Bishop of Southwark: ‘The tradition he inherits, distils and passes on is a broadly based one, in which writers and thinkers as various as George Herbert, Maya Angelou and Paul Tillich all have a part to play. But at its heart is the deep hope of humanity this side of eternity, to take the shape which God purposes for each of us, to grow into our true selves, to become the people it is good for us to be.’ 

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*  ISBN-13: 9781786220462,  RRP £12.99 ($21)

 

OASIS DAY at St Andrew’s, Holborn, London: April 10th, 2018

‘Enfolded in Divine Compassion’

An Oasis Day led by
John-Francis Friendship SMMS
at St Andrew’s Church, 5 St Andrew’s Street, Holborn, London, EC4A 3AF

 

 Tuesday, April 10th, 2018 from 10.45 a.m. – 3.30 p.m.

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11.00-11.30       Session 1: Jesu, thou art all compassion

11.30-12.30       Time for silence and reflection *

12.30                  Lunch (1.10 optional Eucharist in church)

13.45-14.15        Session 2: Be compassionate as your heavenly father is compassionate

14.15-15.15        Time for silence and reflection *

15.15-15.30        Closing Worship

 

SPY WEDNESDAY

Spy Wednesday –
the day Judas betrayed his Master
for thirty pieces of silver.
How often have I betrayed Him
in thought, word and deed.
How often ignored His will and acted on my own. Too often.
Give me the grace to kneel and confess my sin and shame to you
through your priest
that I may hear the words of your absolution.
Strengthen me, Lord, to be faithful to you
this, and every day.

ST JOHN OF GOD

Today, March 8th, is the Commemoration of St John of God (1495-1550).  He was a Portuguese-born soldier turned health-care worker in Spain whose followers later formed the Hospital Order of Saint John of God, a worldwide Catholic religious institute dedicated to the care of the poor, sick, and those suffering from mental disorders.  He is considered one of Spain’s leading religious figures.  Here is an extract from a letter he wrote that is read during the Office of Readings:

‘If we kept before us the mercy of God, we can never fail to do good so long as we have the strength.  For if we share with the poor, out of love for God, whatever he has given to us, we shall receive according to his promise a hundredfold in eternal happiness.  That indeed is a fortunate and happy way of gaining a profit!  Who would not entrust his possessions to this best of merchants, who handles our affairs so well?  With outstretched arms he begs us to turn toward him, to weep for our sins, and to become the servants of love, first for ourselves, then for our neighbours.  For just as water extinguishes a fire, so does love wipe away sins.’

COLLECT
O God, who filled Saint John of God
with a spirit of compassion,
grant, we pray,
that, giving ourselves to works of charity,
we may merit to be found among the elect in your Kingdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

GOD OF COMPASSION AND FORGIVENESS

In his book Confession: Looking into the Eyes of God (The Columba Press, Dublin, 2013) Paul Farren writes about the way we are all caught up in a wen of sin and comments on the way we need to confess our sin against those who are made poor in our society. ‘Exclusion of the poor’; he writes, is the sin that Jesus speaks about most. It goes totally against the compassion of God – the Father who waits for and loves his broken son in his fragility. (p.57)

‘God is compassion. So what better way of revealing that God is compassion than by ushering into the Kingdom all those who were made to suffer here on earth, all those who were unwanted, rejected, cast out, despised.  They enter the Kingdom of God, not because they lived better lives than the rest of us, not because they were more moral than the rest of us – but because God is compassion.

And the rest of us?  We will be lefty scratching our heads and wondering if we, too, might get n.  We will get in if we have made friends with the poor. If we have reached out to the poor and tried to relieve their pain, then they will turn around and invite us into their Kingdom. If we have simply ignored the poor, then how can we expect them to0 invite us into their Kingdom? They will – through forgiveness.’ (Fr. Peter McVerry SJ,’ Jesus, Social Revolutionary?’, Dublin, Veritas, 2008, p.123)

“You will find out that Charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the kettle of soup and the full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give soup and bread. This the rich can do. You are the servant of the poor, always smiling and good-humored. They are your masters, terribly sensitive and exacting master you will see. And the uglier and the dirtier they will be, the more unjust and insulting, the more love you must give them. It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them.” (from the Jean Anouilh’s screenplay for the 1947 film, “Monsieur Vincent.”)

DRAFT LETTER TO SUPERMARKETS CONCERNING PLASTIC PACKAGING

Dear Sir,

I am writing to you as a major producer of plastic waste to ask that your company take seriously your need to substantially reduce the amount of non-biodegradable packaging used in your stores.

Like thousands of others I share a deep concern at the growing amount of such goods damaging our environment and the long term effects for future generations. During this holy season of Lent many of us are trying to use less plastic but it is clear that supermarket chains are not helping in this effort. From products unnecessarily packed in plastic to packaging that is almost impossible to break into you must be aware that you, like other chains, are a major cause of such waste. Could you not do far more to reduce the use of this product? Take some simple examples: cucumbers don’t need to be wrapped in plastic. Why can’t cheese bought from the counter not be wrapped in grease-proof paper as it used to be? Why do many vegetables and fruit need to be wrapped in plastic? And if you really need to use plastic why is it not always recyclable?  Is there any ethical argument as to why, by now, you still use non-biodegradable plastics? And why not use cardboard or paper packaging which provides a traditional, degradable means of wrapping goods? For centuries we did not need over-wrapped products but everywhere I look in your stores and elsewhere plastic has a strangle-hold on the products sold.

So I am asking you to organise a survey of the non-degradable packaging you use; to ask your suppliers to do the same, and to think about and do your part to reduce this dangerous tsunami of plastic which is endangering our environment and, in places, killing it. Why not, for example, offer paper rather than polythene bags? It’s only recently that you’ve felt it necessary not offer such bags for people to place fruit and vegetables in.

I am sure you want to be known as an ethical retailer who takes your responsibility to the environment seriously but until you are clearly committed to stemming this awful tide that is flooding our world your commitment cannot be taken seriously. What steps will you take to protect our future?

Yours faithfully,

(A downloadable version available here)

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SOME SUPERMARKET CONTACT DETAILS:

John Allan (Chairman), Tesco PLC, Tesco House, Shire Park, Kestrel Way, Welwyn Garden City, AL7 1GA

David Potts (CEO – david.potts@wmmorrisons.co.uk), Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC, Hilmore House, Gain Lane, Bradford, BD3 7DL

Michael Coupe, (CEO), Sainsbury’s Store Support Centre, 33 Holborn, London, EC1N 2HT

PLASTIC-LESS LENT 2018

Lent is the time when we remember the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness, facing challenge and temptation. It is a time when we reflect on God’s purpose for our life. This year we’re invited to join others who are promising to try and live a PLASTIC-LESS LENT – to reduce the actions which damage God’s Creation. Over 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since the 1950s. That’s enough plastic to cover every inch of the UK ankle-deep more than ten times over. Just 9% was recycled.

To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth’ The Anglican Communion’s Fifth Mark of Mission. Share your journey with others on the Plastic-Less Lent Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/148636355799566/