Monday, 29 August 2011

Heads Up!

It's another feast of St John the Baptist today.  The Martyrdom/Passion or Decollation. I actually prefer it to the June one and loved this splendid Caravaggio depiction of it when I fist saw it in Valletta Cathedral (it's the only painting the geat artist signed).There is a splendid old account of this feast and its rational which was 1st printed in English by William Caxton  The collect says it all:

Almighty God,
who called your servant John the Baptist
to be the forerunner of your Son in birth and death:
strengthen us by your grace
that, as he suffered for the truth,
so we may boldly resist corruption and vice
and receive with him the unfading crown of glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday, 26 August 2011

The Black Madonna

Today is the Feast of the famous Black Madonna of Czestochowa in Poland.

The origins of the icon and the date of its painting are hotly contested by scholars. The difficulty lies in the fact that the original image was painted over, after being badly damaged by Hussite raiders in 1430. To this very day, the slashes on the face of the Virgin Mary are still visible.  Medieval restorers unfamiliar with the encaustic method found that the paints they applied to the damaged areas "simply sloughed off the image" according to the medieval chronicler Risinius, and their solution was to erase the original image and to repaint it on the original panel, which was believed to be holy because of its legendary origin as a table top from the home of the Holy Family. The painting displays a traditional composition well known in the icons of Eastern Orthodoxy. The Virgin Mary is shown as the "Hodegetria" ("One Who Shows the Way"). In it the Virgin directs attention away from herself, gesturing with her right hand toward Jesus as the source of salvation. In turn, the child extends his right hand toward the viewer in blessing while holding a book of gospels in his left hand. The icon shows the Madonna in fleur de lys robes.

Saint Luke the Evangelist, according to tradition, is believed to be the original artist of this painting in which Mary is depicted holding the Christ Child. This sacred picture was first brought from Jerusalem through Constantinople and was given to the Princess of Ruthenia. It was brought to Poland in 1382 through the efforts of Ladislaus of Opole who discovered it in a castle at Belz. However more recent Ukrainian sources state that it was taken by LadisÅ‚aus from the Castle of Belz, when the town was incorporated into the Polish kingdom and that earlier in its history it was brought to Belz with much ceremony and honors by Knyaz Lev I of Galicia .To ensure its protection, Ladislaus  invited the Monks of Saint Paul the First Hermit from Hungary to be its guardians.   The golden fleur-de-lis painted on the Virgin's blue veil parallel the French royal coat of arms and the most likely explanation for their presence is that icon had been present in Hungary during the reign of either Charles I of Hungary and/or Louis the Great, the Hungarian kings of the Anjou dynasty, who probably had the fleur-de-lis of their family's coat of arms painted on the icon. This would suggest that the icon was probably originally brought to Jasna Gora by the Pauline monks from their founding monastery in Hungary.

The foundation of the Monastery and Shrine in Czestochowa began with a small wooden church. Subsequent development (1632-48) led to the construction of the present basilica and defensive wall which surrounds the buildings. Under the heroic leadership of the Prior of the Monastery, Father Augustine Kordecki, the Shrine withstood the attacks of the Swedes during their Invasion of 1655. This great victory proved to be a tremendous boost to the morale of the entire Polish nation.
As a result, King Jan Casimir, in 1656, made a solemn vow proclaiming the Mother of God to be the “Queen of the Polish Crown” and the Shrine of Jasna Gora to be the “Mount of Victory” and a spiritual capital for Poland.

During the years of Poland’s partition at the hands of the Russian, Prussian (later German) and Austro-Hungarian empires (1772-1918) the Shrine at Jasna Gora became a vital centre of Polish national consciousness. The image at Czestochowa was a lighthouse of hope during the years of hardship.
Following the restoration of Polish independence in 1918, pilgrimages to the Shrine grew in number and size. As World War II ended, a nation devastated by the scourges of war drew new strength and courage from the Shrine to rebuild and recover from the war. Today the Shrine of Czestochowa in Poland attracts millions of worshipers and tourists who come to honor the miraculous image of Our Lady of Czestochowa.

Holy Mary, pray for all who honour you and your Son and help us to follow him, whoever and where ever we may be.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

A Thought for today.

A thought for today from the Office of Readings:

From the Instructions of St Columbanus
You, God, are everything to us
"My brethren, let us follow this call. We are called to the source and fountain of life, by the Life who is not just the fountain of living water but also the fountain of eternal life, the fountain of light, the fountain and source of glory. From this Life comes everything: wisdom, life, eternal light. The Creator of life is the fountain from which life springs; the Creator of light is the fountain of light. So let us leave this world of visible things. Let us leave this world of time and head for the heavens. Like fish seeking water, like wise and rational fish let us seek the fountain of light, the fountain of life, the fountain of living water. Let us swim in, let us drink from the water of the spring welling up into eternal life.
  Merciful God, righteous Lord, grant that I may reach that fountain. There let me join the others who thirst for you, drinking living water from the living stream that flows from the fountain of life. Overwhelmed by its sweetness let me cling close to it and say “How sweet is the spring of living water that never runs dry, the spring that wells up into eternal life!.”"

Not sure there are "wise and rational fish", but poetic licence is Soo Irish!

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Out and about.

Where have I been today? Various spots on the East Neuk of Fife with Rachel and Mum.  We discovered the lovely beaches at Elie and Earlsferry, the reason why the Anstruther Fish Bar has won Chippy of the year so often (good and not over priced), the picturesue pottery of Crail and My personal favourite, Pittenweem, with its working harbour and holy cave.

St Fillan's Cave in Pittenweem in Fife, is historically associated with an Irish saint who settled over here by the name of Fillan. The cave contains a spring and a well named in his honour and has a colourful history. Pilgrims conversed with hermits (and possibly Fillan himself) inhabiting the cave on their way to nearby St Andrews. It was also used by smugglers for some time, as a store room for local fisherfolk (Pittenweem has been a fishing village since the time of early Christian settlement and later a harbour was constructed) and it was used as a rubbish tip which probably resulted in its disappearance for some time. While ploughing in the area, a horse apparently fell down a hole which allowed the cave to be discovered. In 1935 the shrine was emptied of centuries of debris, then re-dedicated. In 2000 the cave was again refurbished and reopened to visitors while, on occasion, the Holy Eucharist continues to be celebrated. The cave is owned by the Bishop Low Trust, is entrusted to St John's Scottish Episcopal Church in Pittenweem; the entrance can be found on Cove Wynd. From there we headed back to Dundee, where we are staying and getting to use a Rectory in return for my helping at the services (Mass with birreta and maniple tonight! And cat sitting!  We took Mum home first though

Saturday, 20 August 2011

St Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbot

O God, by whose grace your servant Bernard of Clairvaux, Kindled with the flame of your love, became a burning and a shining light in your Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.   Amen

[Saint Bernard of Clairvaux]

Today's saint was a great preacher, a significant theologian and someone who shaped modern Europe, through the impact the Cistercian Order had an our economic and social structures.  OK, he was French, but that isn't actually a sin (unless God is actually an Englishman).   his writings still have resonance today, even though they were written 1000 years ago.  This sample is a good one: 

"Love is sufficient of itself; it gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. It is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Its profit lies in the practice. Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be. For when God loves, all he desires is to be loved in return. The sole purpose of his love is to be loved, int he knowledge that those who love him are made happy by their love of him." - from a sermon by Saint Bernard .

Love is what raises us to one step short of the Angels.  Love of God, love of another, love of the poor, love of our fellow mortals.  May love of God be with us all today.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

St Clare's Day

St. Clare

Today is the feast of St Clare of Assisi.  She was a strong character, beating off well meaning Popes who wanted to dilute the radical poverty of the female Franciscans and make them more Benedictine (or, as that would have been at the time, "more conventional" and (of course) safer for the hierarchy,  I'm not particularly Franciscan myself, but have always had a soft spot for stroppy nuns!  As obviously did Pope Innocent IV when he wrote: 

"O wondrous blessed clarity of Clare!
In life she shone to a few;
after death she shines on the whole world!
On earth she was a clear light;
Now in heaven she is a brilliant sun.

O how great the vehemence of the
brilliance of this clarity!
On earth this light was indeed kept
within cloistered walls,
yet shed abroad its shining rays;
It was confined within a convent cell,
yet spread itself through the wide world."

The words of the lady herself are worth noting:

(From a letter of St Clare to Blessed Agnes of Prague)

Happy the soul to whom it is given to attain this life with Christ, to cleave with all one’s heart to him whose beauty all the heavenly hosts behold forever, whose love inflames our love, the contemplation of whom is our refreshment, whose graciousness is our delight, whose gentleness fills us to overflowing, whose remembrance makes us glow with happiness, whose fragrance revives the dead, the glorious vision of whom will be the happiness of all the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. For he is the brightness of eternal glory, the splendour of eternal light, the mirror without spot.
Look into that mirror daily, O queen and spouse of Jesus Christ, and ever study therein your countenance, that within and without you may adorn yourself with all manner of virtues, and clothe yourself with the flowers and garments that become the daughter and chaste spouse of the most high King. In that mirror are reflected poverty, holy humility and ineffable charity, as, with the grace of God, you may perceive.
Gaze first upon the poverty of Jesus, placed in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. What marvellous humility! What astounding poverty! The King of angels, Lord of heaven and earth, is laid in a manger. Consider next the humility, the blessed poverty, the untold labours and burdens which he endured for the redemption of the human race. Then look upon the unutterable charity with which he willed to suffer on the tree of the cross and to die thereon the most shameful kind of death. This mirror, Christ himself, fixed upon the wood of the cross, bade the passers-by consider these things: ‘All you who pass this way look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow.’ With one voice and one mind let us answer him as he cries and laments, saying in his own words: ‘I will be mindful and remember and my soul shall languish within me.’ Thus, O queen of the heavenly King, may you ever burn more ardently with the fire of this love.
Contemplate further the indescribable joys, the wealth and unending honours of the King, and sighing after them with great longing, cry to him: ‘Draw me after you: we shall run to the fragrance of your perfumes, O heavenly bridegroom.’ I will run and faint not until you bring me into the wine cellar, until your left hand be under my head and your right hand happily embrace me and you kiss me with the kiss of your mouth.
In such contemplation be mindful of your poor little mother and know that I have inscribed your happy memory indelibly on the tablets of my heart, holding you dearer than all others.

Santa Chiara, ora pro nobis!

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Holiday time!

Well, that's me on a spot (2 weeks) of Annual Leave.  I started with a rather good AA meeting last night which got some head stuff into perspective and then went to the Chiropractor for my monthly "tweak"this morning.  I also treated myself to a fry up!  On return to the Capital, I pampered my self with a spot of massage (shiatsu, which is somewhat different from the Slavic I usually get) and then had a wee snooze!  My evening leisure was pure dead cultured - a HD showing at the Cameo of the Met Opera's 26 April performance of "La Fille de Regiment".  Great fun, although as ever with the Opera, the plot was pure mince!

Leisure, it strikes me, is important.  I used to feel guilty about it.  Perhaps, deep in my unconscious, there was a very working class instilled sense that being a cleric wasn't a "real" job.  Now I work 8 hour shifts 5 days a week, I feel no guilt whatsoever about doing things I like when my time is my own.  Also, my self confidence and sense of self-worth has improved greatly since I got sober and met Rachel, so I don't feel so odd or self conscious about pampering myself with a destressing massage or a hot shave or some other little treat.  God values both body and soul, so should we!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

The Transfiguration of Christ

File:Transfiguration Raphael.jpg 

The feast of the Transfiguration of Christ is a major festival.  In Christian teachings, the Transfiguration is a pivotal moment, and the setting on the mountain is presented as the point where human nature meets God: the meeting place for the temporal and the eternal, with Jesus himself as the connecting point, acting as the bridge between heaven and earth. "What does it mean to say: He was transfigured?" asks St John Chrysostom. He says: "It revealed something of His Divinity to them, as much and insofar as they were able to apprehend it, and it showed the indwelling of God within Him." 
The mysterious combination of the two perfect natures, divine and human, within the Person of Christ, (Hypostasis as we learnt to call under the late great James Torrance at Aberdeen Uni). is "without mingling, without change, without division, without separation."  (The Chalcedonian definition, still the official doctrinal position of nearly every mainstream Christian Church).

Why did Christ choose three Apostles and lead them up onto the Mount with Him? To show them something great and mysterious. As we consider the Mystery of the Transfiguration  we need to seek to be illuminated by the Light of the Divine ourselves and to nourish within us a deeper  search for the Unfading Glory and Beauty of God,    We pray today for a deeper knowledge of the everlasting Light of Christ transfigured  in His Glory, and of the Father from all eternity, and the Life-Creating Spirit, Who are One Radiance, One Godhead, and Glory, and Kingdom, and Power now and forever.

These words of the current Pope in Lent 2006  may be helpful:

When one has the grace to live a strong experience of God, it is as if one is living an experience similar to that of the disciples during the Transfiguration:  a momentary foretaste of what will constitute the happiness of Paradise. These are usually brief experiences that are sometimes granted by God, especially prior to difficult trials.  No one, however, is permitted to live "on Tabor" while on earth. Indeed, human existence is a journey of faith and as such, moves ahead more in shadows than in full light, and is no stranger to moments of obscurity and also of complete darkness. While we are on this earth, our relationship with God takes place more by listening than by seeing; and the same contemplation comes about, so to speak, with closed eyes, thanks to the interior light that is kindled in us by the Word of God.
The Virgin Mary herself, among all human creatures the closest to God, still had to walk day after day in a pilgrimage of faith, constantly guarding and meditating on in her heart the Word that God addressed to her through Holy Scripture and through the events of the life of her Son, in whom she recognized and welcomed the Lord's mysterious voice. 

Our vision will only be clear momentarily as we journey towards the radiant glory of God here on earth. Let us each walk onwards towards that life strong in faith, hope and trust - for the Way of Christ is one of faith rather than certainty.  And in God we trust.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Back from the outlaws!

Love is the extra effort we make in our dealings with those whom we do not like and, once you understand that, you understand all. This idea that love overtakes you is nonsense. This is but a polite manifestation of sex. To love another you have to undertake some fragment of their destiny.
Quentin Crisp

A fair bit of truth in that - certainly undertaking some fragment of the beloveds destiny.  "In sickness and in health" for example.  Or commitment to be prosaic.  Old QC (The Naked Civil Servant) has neatly delineated the difference between "caritas" and "Eros", the former being at least in part an act of will.  Which brings me to the weekend spent meeting Rachel's clan at a gathering or Bar B Q as it is known.

Meeting (and impressing) such a crowd might not come naturally to me Asperger's and all, but I forswore the suggested tin helmet and instead donned a kilt of the Gordon tartan (well, it worked liked a dream on the Afghan's at Dargai!).  All seemed fine and we even managed a Sung Eucharist in Rochester Cathedral (where her Grandad was Dean after ceasing to be Heid Chaplain of the Royal Navy!) on the Sunday morning.  (OK but Common Worship is just that -"common" in comparison to any Scottish Liturgy)  Flank on in a aisle to a "nave" altar we saw little, heard it well and generally got fed by a decent sermon, good music and intercessions involving the "Ave" which only the intercessor recited, suggesting that it was one of the Congregation's pet spike's being given a wee run off the leash, rather than an integral part of the congregation's spirituality.  Still the weather was lovely and we enjoyed a few days together which was brill!  And so back to work for a week before 2 weeks of proper annual leave!