Friday, 13 October 2017

Failure to plan is planning to fail.

It’s been a long day. I’ve spent much of it planning ahead, preparing future services and compiling grant forms. I’ve spent time phoning colleagues and agencies. All these conversations seem to start with questions like, “Are you free next Tuesday?” or “Can I have such and such by next week … ?” Sometimes it feels like hard work. But planning and preparing is always time well spent. As they say, failure to plan is planning to fail.
    Much of what passes for Christian spirituality emphasises a living in the present moment. That can be a good start. But we need to plan any spiritual encounter. Coming into the presence of God the Almighty without any prior preparation is actually telling God that he is not really worth our attention. If we would prepare before meeting the Queen or the Prime Minister, how much more should we prepare ourselves before any encounter with God.
    There are many ways of preparing before we enter God’s presence. If we intend a time of intercessory prayer, we can fruitfully draw up a list of the needy during the day. Spiritual reading and fasting are a good start if we need to seek God’s counsel before a big decision. Even our “routine” time of prayer each evening can become a more intimate encounter if we put everything else to one side at a pre-determined time beforehand. (Twenty minutes is a useful start.)
    My long day is over. I’ve switched off my computer and fled from the phone. I’m seeking God, as I knew I would need to be at this time in the day. And it was well worth waiting for. After all, what else can, ”Seek the Lord while he may be found” mean?


A Christogram is a monogram or combination of letters that forms an abbreviation for the name of Jesus. They are traditionally used as a religious symbol within the Christian Church.
       After images of the cross, in the Latin-speaking Christianity of medieval Western Europe, the most common Christogram was ‘IHS’. These three letters represent the three consonants of ‘Jesus,’ when written in Greek: Jesous = ΙΗΣΟΥΣ; and this name starts iota-eta-sigma, or ΙΗΣ. (In Latin, the letters I and J were not distinguished so ‘JHS’ and is the same as ‘HIS’.) So we are being invited to bring Jesus to mind each time we see the letters IHS.

Francis de Sales

Francis de Sales was a Bishop of Geneva. He is best known for his gentle approach to the religious divisions in an era characterised by religious divisions between the Catholic and Protestant Churches.
    He was born into a noble family in the Duchy of Savoy on 21 August 1567 in what is today Haute-Savoie in France. He was baptised ‘Francis Bonaventura’ after two of the greatest Franciscan saints.
    In 1583, Francis went to study in a Jesuit institution in Paris to study rhetoric and the humanities. Within the year, Francis attended a theological discussion about predestination that convincing him he was damned.
    It caused a personal crisis of despair which made him physically ill. He was even bedridden until December 1586 when, with difficulty, he visited the old parish of Saint-Étienne-des-Grès in Paris, where he prayed before a famous statue of Mary. He rededicated his life to God; took a vow of chastity; and soon became a tertiary of the Minim Order.
    Francis ultimately concluded that God had good in store for him, because (1 John 4 says) ‘God is love’. His faithful devotion to the God of love not only removed all his doubts but also influenced the rest of his life and his teaching.
    Francis completed his studies in 1588 and joined the University of Padua in Italy to study law and theology. He also decided to become a priest. He was consecrated as Bishop of Geneva, but he continued to live in in what is today France because Geneva was then under Calvinist control and therefore closed to him. His diocese became famous throughout Europe for its efficient organisation, zealous clergy, and well-instructed laity. He worked closely with the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, which was very active in preaching the Catholic faith in his diocese.
    Francis’ way of teaching Catholic spirituality is often referred to as the ‘Way of Divine Love’, or the ‘Devout Life’ — the phrase comes from a book he wrote of a similar name: Introduction to the Devout Life. One ancient story says Francis saw a vision of St Francis of Assisi on the south shore of Lake Geneva.
    During his long years as a bishop, Francis acquired a reputation as a spellbinding preacher and something of an ascetic. His motto was, ‘He who preaches with love, preaches effectively’. Certainly, his goodness, patience and mildness became a byword for holiness.
    All Francis’ writings suggest a quest for holiness, especially in his most famous book Introduction to the Devout Life, which — unusual for the time — he wrote specially for laypeople. In it he suggested the most potent way of progressing in the spiritual life is charity rather than penance. Francis also left a mystical work, A Treatise on the Love of God and many letters of spiritual direction. The letters to his disciple Jane Frances de Chantal were compiled to form the book Letters of Spiritual Direction. The book is a profound display of common sense and good psychology both applied to the pursuit of holiness and the love of God.
    In December 1622, the Duke of Savoy required Francis (in his role as bishop) to accompany him on a Christmas visitation of his vast domain. Francis suffered a stroke in Lyon from which he died on 28 December. He was 55 years of age. He was buried on 24 January 1623 in the Monastery church of the Visitation in Annecy, which he helped found. 
    Francis was called ‘the Gentleman Saint’ after his patience and gentleness. He was beatified in 1661 and made a saint four years later.

I am two men

I am two men;
and one is longing to serve you
utterly, and one is afraid.
O Lord, have compassion upon me.
I am two men;
and one will labour to the end,
and one is already weary.
O Lord, have compassion upon me.
I am two men;
and one knows the suffering of
the world, and one knows only his own.
O Lord, have compassion upon me.
And may the Spirit of our Lord
Jesus Christ fill my heart
and the hearts of all men everywhere.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Love's choice

Love’s choice

This bread is light, dissolving, almost air,
A little visitation on my tongue,
A wafer-thin sensation, hardly there.
This taste of wine is brief in flavour, flung
A moment to the palate’s roof and fled,
Even its aftertaste a memory.
Yet this is how He comes. Through wine and bread
Love chooses to be emptied into me.
He does not come in unimagined light
Too bright to be denied, too absolute
For consciousness, too strong for sight,
Leaving the seer blind, the poet mute;
Chooses instead to seep into each sense,

To dye himself into experience.
Malcolm Guite

Strengthen my hands

Strengthen for service, Lord,
the hands that have taken holy things;
may the ears which have heard your word
 be deaf to clamour and dispute;
may the tongues which have sung your praise
be free from deceit;
may the eyes which have seen
the tokens of your love
 shine with the light of hope;
and may the bodies which have been fed
with your body
 be refreshed with the fullness of your life;
glory to you for ever.

The post-communion collect for
the Ninth Sunday after Trinity

The great Chi-Rho

We often see a combination of a Greek chi (which looks like an X) and a Greek rho ρ (which looks either like a rounded P or an r). These two are the first letters of ‘Christ’ in the Greek word ‘Christos’.
      The chi–rho is a favourite image on an altar frontal or a stylised image on the front of a priest’s vestments. For artistic reasons, we often see the symbol depicted with a small X and a very long ρ, although it is still common for their lengths to be equal. The chi–rho symbol can also be shown with a miniature alpha on its left-hand side and a small omega on its right.
    It’s common to see the X of the chi crossing the rho, for example in art. The great chi–rho (left) comes from the Book of Kells, which was written and illuminated by Celtic monks in about 800 ad.In this example, the letter Chi dominating the page with one arm swooping across most of the page. The letter rho snuggles beneath the arms of the chi. Both letters are divided into compartments that are lavishly decorated with knot work and other patterns.

This image occurs on page 34r of the Book of Kells.