Sermon for Easter Morning

Some places are spoken of as liminal places, or holy places, places where the veil between heaven and earth seem very thin. Places that move us, places where we feel close to God, places where we feel a sense of peace and that God is close. For some people that place is building – maybe a church or cathedral; for others it may outside by a stream, by the sea, in a forest, or maybe up a mountain or hillside – or simply a place that is special to us. These places are important to us, because we know that if we go there we feel different, we are lifted, we gain a sense of calm and healing. Some people also have that effect upon us. We know that in their presence we feel connected to a deeper part of ourselves. Times of the year, and seasons can be liminal times for us also. Easter, Christmas, Spring, Autumn – times when we feel connected – connected with life, with God; connected with a sense of well-being. Lent and Advent are like that for me,
This day, this celebration, is a reminder to us that while we may have our special places, times, and moments – everyday is a sacred day, every place is a sacred place, every moment is a sacred moment, every experience in life is a threshold, a threshold that can open us up to God’s presence in life, whether we realise it or not.
Last night, at the Lighting of the Easter Fire, the Exsultet was sung, the Great Easter Proclamation, that reminds us that we live in a world of resurrection and new beginnings; a world touched, blessed, redeemed, by God. A world in constant renewal. “This is the night” – we heard sung – “when heaven is wedded to earth and all creation is reconciled.”
Yes, this is a world that has many Good Fridays to bear, a world scarred by violence, injustice, war, and suffering. But this holy day reminds us that in the midst of all that is resurrection; in the midst of that is God’s presence and love, continually bringing hope, bringing renewal, healing, growth, and holiness.
This is a holy, auspicious, liminal time, because it is a time that reminds us that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Holy week and Easter remind us that God is deeply present and embedded in besieged war torn cities. God is deeply embedded in the poverty of refugee camps. God is deeply embedded in sickness, viruses, infections and tragedy. God is deeply embedded in the midst of all the horror that human kind is capable of creating. Nothing can ever separate us from the loving Presence of God.
Easter does not deny the suffering in the world, it does not try and sugar coat it and say “everything is ok really.” What Easter does is remind us that suffering does not have the final word. The final word belongs with God. And that word is love.
Yes, we all have our special places, moments, events, and people. But these are not an escape from the real world – they are a reminder that if we stick with it, we will discover, that every event and experience is a doorway to God’s presence and love; because our living, loving God is behind every door.
May this Easter be for you a new opening into that Living Presence – and may each day be for you a thin place, a liminal place, that reveals the wonder and glory of the Risen Christ in the very midst of life – whatever it may bring.

Thank you for making this Lenten and Holy Week journey with us. May God Bless you this Easter time and renew you with His Risen Life.

Sermon Good Friday

This is the day that God weeps for this world, for creation. God hangs in the midst of us, in the midst of all this worlds pain and suffering – and weeps. God weeps out of love, out of solidarity, so the healing can begin.
Elie Wiesel was one of the children liberated from a Nazi death camp. He recalled how they walked out in stunned silence, while the soldiers who liberated them stood there and openly wept. He wrote that as he walked through the camp with all the others, he had an overwhelming sense of God weeping uncontrollably as well.
Where is God when the world suffers? When people suffer? When creation suffers? Where is God when our world falls apart? God suffers with us, falls apart with us, weeps with us. This day tells us that God is right in the midst of the suffering – weeping. Weeping uncontrollably – with us, for us, and through us. And through those tears God draws it all to himself, takes it all to the cross of love, where it can be healed, redeemed and transformed. Takes it all to the cross of love where Easter is conceived.
I remember being told by my church when I was younger that I should not wear a crucifix only an empty cross. The reason being that Christ is no longer on the cross, but has risen. I have come to understand that is not true. Yes, he has risen, and rises, and rises again and again – but at the same time he continues to be on the cross and will stay there until all sin and suffering cease. While the creation he loves suffers, God will continue to suffer, to die, and to weep – and then to rise and ascend again, until creation is complete and redemption fulfilled.
God does not stand outside his or her world – but at it’s centre; and at the centre of our lives, and each and every life. This day tells us that God is here – will always be here – and will never ever abandon us.
My goodness, the world God created and adores, has gone through much in these last few years and continues to do so. There is so much uncertainty in our world, and there will continue to be. But this day reminds us that one thing can always be relied upon. God’s love – that will continue to weep, to suffer, to die, to rise and ascend.
That is why this Friday is called Good. It is called Good because of Love. It is called Good because God is in it, and love will prevail.

Sermon for Maundy Thursday

A couple of weeks ago on Passion Sunday I preached about Mary washing Jesus feet with her tears, kissing them, and drying them with her hair. I said how it potentially put Jesus into an embarrassing situation, but he just took it in his stride and allowed her to love him in the best way she knew how. “She has done a beautiful thing for me” – he said to those who criticised and muttered. He was also doing a beautiful thing for her, by allowing her to be so intimate and extravagant with her love.
At the last supper it was Jesus’ turn to potentially embarrass his disciples,
when he took a bowl, a towel, and water, and began to wash their feet. And he succeeded, especially with Peter, who initially was very resistant and reluctant. We always tend to imagine Jesus being very solemn while he performed this task, perhaps also a little melancholic as he anticipated all that was to follow. And perhaps this is so, but I have sneaky feeling that Jesus quite enjoyed himself making his disciples squirm! I bet he was very tempted to kiss his disciples feet as well, and maybe even dry them with his hair!
In this sense Mary Magdalen anticipated this moment with what she did,
or maybe she even inspired Jesus and gave him the idea, prompting him to become more intimate in his friendships during the his final days. Jesus was always willing to learn from others. Either way, Jesus knew that if his work was to continue after he had gone, then this strange assembly of misfits he had gathered around him were the ones who would have to do it. For that to happen they needed to shocked into opening their hearts, and embracing their brokenness, so they could truly love and serve, and be truly human.
Each of them in their way were broken vessels – cracked and vulnerable.
That is why Jesus chose them. It is only broken people that truly know how to love, care, forgive, accept. They were going to be broken even further in the days to come, Jesus began the breaking by gentle, intimate, maybe embarrassing, love.
“There’s a crack in everything,” wrote the singer Leonard Cohen in one of his songs. “There’s a crack in everything, it’s how the light gets in.” This night and the coming days, more than anything, are a calling to us to embrace our brokenness. To embrace the times we have messed up, to embrace our mistakes, to embrace our frailties and vulnerabilities and not be afraid of them. Because Jesus knew that it was how the light gets in. The light of God’s holy love and reckless generosity.
The saints we have explored during Lent were all broken people in one way or another. Their brokenness was the seed of their saintliness, as it is the seed of ours. So as we begin this holy and sacred journey with our Lord, may we embrace our own brokenness and allow the cracks in our lives, to be the conduits of our transformation into what God is calling us to be.

Holy Week 2022

Yesterday marked the end of our Lenten reflections for 2022, thank you for joining us on the journey. This week there will be further additions to this blog with the sermons for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Day.

Holy Week Worship at St Augustine’s, Grove Park

Holy Monday 11th April Midday Prayers at Noon 8pm Compline
Holy Tuesday 12th Midday Prayers at Noon 8pm Compline
Holy Wednesday 13th Eucharist at 10am 8pm Stations of the Cross
Maundy Thursday 14th 8pm Mass of the Last Supper followed by Vigil until Midnight
Including Prayers at 10pm and Compline at 11pm
Good Friday 15th Church open for silent prayer at Noon
Stations of the Cross at 12.45pm
The Good Friday Liturgy at 2pm
Holy Saturday 16th 11am Children’s Easter Workshop and Egg Rolling
8pm The Lighting of the Easter Fire
Easter Day Family Eucharist at 10am

Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 40

Day 40 10th April Edith Pargeter

All the saints included in these Lenten reflections are, of course, real people who have lived holy, and creative lives, contributing importantly to the development of our human journey into life and God. It would be tempting however, to write a series on fictitious saints from novels, films, TV series and the like. There have been some incredible characters over the years that have inspired and encouraged us. One such character for me is Brother Cadfael of Shrewsbury; a monk super-sleuth brought to life in the novels of Ellis Peters, and so wonderfully played by the actor Derek Jacobi, in the television serialisation in the 1990’s. Although I loved the television series, the novels had more detail and brought out more of Cadfael’s monastic life and faith; which reflected the faith of their author, Edith Pargeter, who wrote them under her pen name of Ellis Peters.
Although the Cadfael novels are probably her most famous work, she wrote 20 in all, she also she wrote many other novels and short stories during her writing career. She was in her 60’s when she began the Cadfael series. Edith was born in Shropshire in 1913 and began getting her novels published when she was in her 20’s. She was a successful writer, using a number of different pen names for her novels, as well as writing many under her own name. Though a number of her novels have a strong spiritual side to them, it was her Cadfael series that allowed her best to express her Christian faith. I include her in these reflections as a representative of many authors who have brought faith alive to people through works of fiction. A lot of people have discovered their faith or deepened their faith through works of fiction, and such writing is an important way of expressing and encouraging a spiritual life.
There are many instances in the Cadfael novels that express important spiritual disciplines and practices. One such moment comes in the novel “Saint Peter’s Fair” where Brother Cadfael becomes caught up in trying to discover the murderer of a trader at the Fair in Shrewsbury. His investigations seem to be going nowhere and he is becoming frustrated. He decides to let it go, and to throw himself into his life of prayer and the rhythm of his community. It is when he does this that the mystery he is investigating all becomes clear to him. He ponders on how turning aside to stillness and prayer often opens up new insights into problems.
Something we may all do well to ponder.

My faith ha ins been greatly influenced by numerous novels, films, and television series over the years. Fictional characters can have an amazing influence upon us and often express faith more succinctly than many serious spiritual writings that can leave us cold. Some of my favourites over the years have included Kwai Chang Caine from the Kung Fu series that was popular in my childhood; Yoda from Star Wars; G.K. Chesterton’s wonderful creation Father Brown, whose books I love. Also Simon Parke’s character Abbot Peter, a retired desert monk who turns up in a South-Coast seaside town and has a knack for solving crime. Susan Howatch wrote a wonderful series of novels about a fictitious diocese and cathedral that was full of amazing characters, particularly Jon Darrow and ex monk with psychic abilities. Rev. Merrily Watkins is an enthralling character in the novels of Phil Rickman who ends up as a diocesan advisor and investigator for the diocese she works in. Rev. Clare Fergusson is an intriguing character in the Episcopalian church in the United States, created by the novelist Julia Spencer-Fleming. And Rev. Adam Smallbone played so brilliantly by Tom Hollander in the Television series Rev had the ability to make me both laugh and cry as his character was one that so many clergy could related to.
All these, and many more besides, have had a profound effect on the development of my thinking and faith over the years. I thank their creators not only for their brilliant characters and storylines but also for the profound spiritual insights that they shared in their novels, films, series. They should all be in every theological college library.

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Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 39

Day 39 9th April Cuthbert

I feel a strong affinity to this Celtic saint. My childhood village church bore his name and he is held in great esteem in the North where he is affectionally known as Cuddy, the gentle saint. He was one of the great Saints of Lindisfarne in the 7th century. Cuthbert was a monk, a reluctant bishop, and a much less reluctant hermit for periods of his life. He was born in Dunbar, which was then in Northumberland, now in Scotland. There are numerous stories of events that took place in Cuthbert’s childhood that marked him out as one who had a particular calling from God. For example, at the age of eight Cuthbert was playing a rough boisterous game with friends. Suddenly a three year old child who was watching them began to cry, which at first they all ignored, until the cry became great howls of distress. Cuthbert went over to him to find out what was wrong. “You are what is wrong” wailed the young boy. And then in a strange and eerie voice the boy continued: “O holy priest and bishop Cuthbert, these games are not becoming of one of such high calling.” The boy would not stop crying until Cuthbert stopped playing and went back home. After that the young Cuthbert had encounters with angels, and also many experiences of his prayers being answered. On one occasion Cuthbert was again out playing with friends by the sea shore, when a group of monks got into danger as the tide changed and a violent wind arose pulling their flimsy rafts out to sea. The boys all jeered and laughed at their distress, but Cuthbert fell to his knees and prayed. Suddenly the wind changed direction and blew their rafts back to shore and safety. Cuthbert was stunned by what had happened.
As a child, and into adult life, Cuthbert had a strong affinity with animals, especially the sea otters around the Northumbrian coast. Cuthbert went on to become a monk, and later a bishop; though throughout his life he spent time in solitude and prayer out in the wild. He was popular among the poor and needy, and was known for his generosity, kindness and love.
Cuthbert, for me, has always been a reminder that we should treat all children with respect and reverence. We never know what we have in our mist and, as Cuthbert’s early life attested, children seem have a special relationship with God that we so easily lose as an adult. Out of the mouths of children often come wise and innocent words that we need to hear. Children bring a unique holiness to every church and community.

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St Cuthbert has always held a special place for me in that my home church, in the village I was born in, is dedicated to St Cuthbert. St Cuthbert was always remembered on his feast day, March 20th, in our village school and I grew up on the stories of this wonderful Celtic saint. I have always felt that my calling to ministry was inspired by the stories that I heard and loved. Like one of the saints we remembered earlier in Lent, Gilbert White, Cuthbert’s ministry was not merely to the human aspect of God’s creation but also to the natural world – and this has drawn me to both of them. They felt that the whole of God’s creation should be served, honoured and ministered to, and that the whole of God’s creation ministers also to us.
There is a lovely story of him visiting a monastery while on a preaching journey, and sneaking out in the middle of the night to be alone. One particular monk from the monastery saw him leave and out of pure curiosity followed. He watched as Cuthbert walked to the water’s edge, and then into the cold icy Northern Sea up to his neck and raised his arms in prayer. He prayed there for some time while the spying monk watched hidden close by on the shore. After a long time Cuthbert came out of the water and knelt on the dry ground shivering. Then the spying monk watched amazed as two otters followed him out of the water and wrapped themselves around him breathing hot breath on to him to warm him. The next day the monk sought Cuthbert out to confess to him that he had followed him and had witnessed his prayer, and the otters later ministering to him. Cuthbert told him that he would forgive his indiscretion on the condition that he told no one what he had seen until after his death. The monk promised he would keep the secret and did so until Cuthbert died, when he seems to have told anyone who would listen!
The longer my ministry goes on I have come to believe more and more that my parishioners are far more than the people who live in Grove Park; that they include animals, birds, insects, plants, trees and every other aspect of God’s creation. I am also called to serve them and recognise their presence, as I believe they serve me by their presence and, on my daily morning walks, help equip me for all that lies ahead each day.

Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 38

Day 38 8th April Francis de Sales

Francis was a 16th century Bishop, author, and spiritual guide. He was born the eldest of six sons into a noble family and enjoyed a very privileged education. In his late teens he underwent a personal crisis which caused him to be physically ill and filled with despair. When his crises was at its peak he prayed before a statue of Our Lady and had a spiritual experience that was to change his life. He became committed to his Christian faith and dedicated to prayer. He went on to be ordained and eventually to serve as a Bishop. His father, who had planned for him a military career, was extremely vexed with the turn of events. He finally relented, but Francis had to sign over his title and right of succession to his younger brother.
Francis de Sales became well known for his gentleness, kindness and patience. He was also a renowned preacher, and was said to hold his listeners spellbound. His motto was, “He who preaches with love, preaches effectively”. Francis was, more than anything, a man of prayer and was well known for the gentle guidance he gave to others on the spiritual journey. He understood both the strengths and weaknesses of humanity; and he understood how important it was to develop the gift of gentleness. He encouraged those who went to him for counsel to be gentle with themselves, and to be gentle with others. A famous quote of his is: “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, and nothing so gentle as real strength”.
His teaching on gentleness is something that our world today could do well to hear and remember. Francis was well aware that many who went to speak with him were often very harsh on themselves. They would mentally beat themselves up for not being different, for not being better; for not being what they thought they should be. The message of this great saint to us is simple: Be gentle. Be gentle on yourselves. Be gentle with others.
We do not live in a gentle enough world. We live in a world of cut and thrust; we live in a world that demands we show something for our lives; a world that tells us we should push and push ourselves to achieve as much as we possibly can. Time is precious, we are told, don’t waste a minute; aim high, don’t settle for second best; be single minded, and push yourself to the very limits; you can achieve anything you want to achieve.
Francis de Sales knew the consequences of such attitudes and his message is simple: Be gentle. Be gentle to yourselves and others.

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Quotes by Francis de Sales

Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.

While I am busy with little things, I am not required to do greater things.

Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit.
Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever,
even if your whole world seems upset.
What is anything in life compared to peace of soul?

Be who you are and be that well.

Have patience with all things, But, first of all with yourself.

God takes pleasure to see you take your little steps;
and like a good father who holds his child by the hand,
He will accommodate His steps to yours
and will be content to go no faster than you.
Why do you worry?

Do not become upset when difficulty comes your way.
Laugh in its face and know that you are in the hands of God.

It is wonderful how attractive a gentle, pleasant manner is,
and how much it wins hearts.

Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 37

Day 37 7th April Gerard Manley Hopkins

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame

Once I had read the first line of the above poem I was hooked on the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, though his unusual rhythms and complex style does not always make him the easiest to read. Each poem, however, is full of strong emotion in describing both the beauty and the pain of life; and Hopkins experienced both in his rich but turbulent life.
Gerard Manley Hopkins was an English priest born in 1844. He was brought up an Anglican, but opted to join the Roman Catholic church when pursuing ordination, which in the end was probably not the best choice for him, especially as he joined the very strict Jesuit order. He was regularly posted in very tough areas, which he had no choice about, and his sensitive personality was not suited to this ministry. This played a big part in his ongoing health issues and bouts of depression, and he sadly died when posted in Dublin, aged only 44.
Before being ordained he was a prolific poet but after ordination he chose, or was encouraged, to give up writing poetry which left him somewhat bereft, because it was his primary way of expressing himself. He began writing poetry again after reading about a disaster at sea in which a ship was wrecked leaving 157 passengers drowned, including 5 Franciscan nuns. Hopkins was so affected by the tragedy that his superior suggested he wrote a poem about it. He did. It is a lengthy poem called “The Wreck of the Deutschland” which became one of his most famous poems, though not one of my favourites! This opened a window once again for him to express his faith, and also his love of God’s creation, in poetry. He went on to produce some of the most beautiful, if complex, poetry ever written. However, as with many artists over the years, he did not live to see how popular and influential it was to become.
His poetry often expressed what he called “inscape”, a word he used to describe God’s imminent presence in all created things. Nothing is just as it appears on the outside; everything has a greater depth, and in that depth lies the glory of God. So kingfishers catching fire, and dragonflies drawing flame, describes not only their vibrant colours but also their divine energy, which gives them life. Today take time to look at the things around you, look beyond the surface, and remind yourself that they contain the vibrancy of God, as do you.

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Some poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins

God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs–
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

The Starlight Night

Look at the stars! look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!
Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves’-eyes!
The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!
Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flare!
Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!
Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.

Buy then! bid then! — What? — Prayer, patience, alms, vows.
Look, look: a May-mess, like on orchard boughs!
Look! March-bloom, like on mealed-with-yellow sallows!
These are indeed the barn; withindoors house
The shocks. This piece-bright paling shuts the spouse
Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 36

Day 36 6th April Nan Shepherd

Anna Shepherd, known as Nan, was born in 1893 in Cults, now a suburb of Aberdeen. She lived there, in the same house, for almost all of her life. The only time she lived away from her family home was when she moved to a nursing home shortly before her death in 1981, at the age of 88. Nan was by all accounts a remarkable person, who was certainly a trailblazer for women who were born at the end of the Victorian period. She received a good education, went on to university and lived life on her own terms. She was much loved by those who knew her, and was as much at home in middle class company with all its finery as she was with the working class country folk around her. She was a teacher, lecturing at the Aberdeen college of education, and was particularly concerned with giving young women every chance to make independent and educated choices in life. Nan wrote three novels in the 1930’s that are well regarded, depicting the lives of women in small Scottish communities in changing times. She also wrote poetry that was influenced by her love of the Grampian landscape and the Cairngorm mountains. Her greatest love in life was hill walking, which is reflected in her wonderful, and now classic, book “The Living Mountain”. Nan wrote it in the 1940’s, but chose not to have the book published until the latter part of her life, in 1977. It is almost like she knew that it would bring her celebrity status which, being a woman who enjoyed solitude and her privacy, she would certainly have wanted to avoid. Since her death she has been commemorated on a new series of £5 notes by the Royal Bank of Scotland in 2016.
It was upon reading this book that I began to explore more about her life, and is why I chose her to be a part of these reflections. Her descriptions of the Cairngorm mountains are so alive and vivid, and her relationship to them was almost mystical. She saw hill walking as a spiritual experience, and describes how, after hours of walking, something would open up within the still centre of her being. She is certainly one of Nature’s saints and is one of those rare people who show us how the Divine is uniquely accessed through spending time in wild places.
Nan wrote that we should spend enough time in the hills, by rivers, mountains, sea, forest and meadow to hear them speak to us. She is vital reminder that God speaks to us through the wonder of creation, and that walking, sitting, working, or exploring in nature is a valid form of prayer.

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From Nan Shepherd’s wonderful book: The Living Mountain

Mountain flowers look inexpressibly delicate; their stems are slender, their blossoms fragile; but burrow a little into the soil and roots of timeless endurance are found. Squat or stingy, like lumps of dead wood or bits of sinew, they conserve beneath the soil the vital energy of the plant. Even when all the upper growth is stripped – burned or frosted or withered away – these knots of life are everywhere. There is no time, nor season, when the mountain is not alive with them. Or if the root has perished, living seeds are in the soil, ready to begin the cycle of life afresh. Nowhere more than here is life proven invincible. Everything is against it but it pays no heed.

Scent – fragrance perfume – is very much pertinent to the theme of life, for it is largely a by-product of the process of living….. The smells I smell are of life, plant or animal. Even the good smell of earth, one of the best smells in the world, is a smell of life, because it is the activity of bacteria in it that sets up this smell. Plants then, as they go through the business of living emit odours. Some, like the honey scents of flowers are an added allurement to insects…. but in other cases – as the fir trees – the fragrance is the sap, is the very life itself. When the aromatic savour of the pine goes searching into the deepest recesses of my lungs, I know it is life itself that is entering. I draw life in through the delicate hairs of my nostrils.

Knowing another is endless. And I have discovered that man’s experience of them enlarges the rock, flower and bird. The thing to be known grows with the knowing…. it is a journey into being; for as I penetrate more deeply into the mountains life, I penetrate also in to my own. I am not out of myself, but in myself….this is the final grace accorded from the mountain.

Lent 2022 A Saint a Day for Lent Day 35

Day 35 5th April Francis of Assisi

One of the great moments of my life was the opportunity that I had to visit Assisi and walk in the footsteps of Francis. To sit in the chapel of the Portiuncola, which Francis had restored, was a deep and moving spiritual experience – it is now in the centre of the great Basilica at St Marie de Angeli at the foot of Assisi.
The story of St Francis is well known. He was born into the wealthy family of a cloth merchant and his younger years were spent in frivolity and partying with friends. A number of spiritual experiences caused him to renounce wealth and to live the life of a poor Friar. He was soon joined by others and the Franciscan order was formed. His life was dedicated to being a troubadour for Christ and spreading the Gospel of love by both word and action. He became famous for openly embracing and caring for those who suffered with leprosy, though in his younger days he had found such people abhorrent; and also for his love of nature and wildlife. There are numerous stories of St Francis communing with the natural world, reasoning with wolves, preaching to birds, cultivating flowers outside his chapel. In contrast to earlier life he chose a life of poverty, but it was also a life of great joy also, as many accounts of his life show. He was a man of intense prayer, as well as action and knew how to find the right balance between the two. St Francis was also a writer of poetry and prayers. His “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” and “Canticle of the Creatures” have both been made into hymns we often sing.
It is very difficult to limit St Francis to one day in these reflections because there are so many stories and sayings I would love to share. But on this occasion I am going to focus on a famous saying of his that I believe is so important for today’s church. The saying is this:
“Do all you can to preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words.”
On another occasion he said:
“The deeds you do today may well be the only sermon some might hear”.
There is great power in living lives of love, kindness and gentleness. The simple acts of caring, listening, empathising, understanding, Francis knew were far more potent sermons about the love of God than many eloquent words. A true evangelist is not one who preaches on street corners; it is one who follows Christs call to love. “There is no point in walking to preach if we do not preach as we walk” St Francis rightly said.

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Canticles written by St Francis

You are the holy Lord God who does wonderful things.
You are strong. You are great. You are the Most High.
You are the Almighty Father,
Holy King of heaven and earth.

You are three and one, The Lord God of gods;
You are the good, all good, the highest good,
Lord God living and true.

You are love, charity; you are wisdom, You are humility.
You are patience, You are beauty, You are meekness.
You are security, You are rest.
You are gladness and joy, You are our hope, You are justice.
You are moderation, You are all our riches to sufficiency.

You are beauty, You are meekness.
You are the protector, You are our custodian and defender.
You are strength, You are refreshment, You are our hope.
You are our faith, You are our charity.
You are all our sweetness, You are our eternal life:
Great and wonderful Lord, Almighty God, Merciful Saviour.

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Praised be to You, my Lord, with all Your creatures,
Especially Sir Brother Son,
Who is the day and through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour;
And bears a likeness of You, Most High One.

Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the Stars,
In heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be to You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
And through the air, cloudy and serene,
And every kind of weather,
Through whom you give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
Who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be to You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
Through whom You light the night,
And he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be to You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth,
Who sustains and governs us,
And who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.

Praised be to You, my Lord,
Through those who give pardon for your love,
And bear infirmity and tribulation.
Blessed are those who endure in peace
For by you, Most High, shall they be crowned.

Praised be to You, my Lord
Through our Sister Bodily Death,
From whom no one living can escape.

Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks
And serve Him with great humility.