Lessons in Love from the Unloved

 

 

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A Lovely Saint Joseph in Corpus Christ london

I used to help with a club for people with learning disabilities. It met once a week in a room belonging to a Baptist church. The club was founded and run by a lovely man whose son had Downes Syndrome although his son didn’t live at home and only rarely visited. However, week after week, a small group of us met and, I can tell you, that the  helpers got as much out of it and perhaps more than the club members.

I originally decided to help because I felt called to do so but also because I thought it would be a good service. What a joke! The blessings I received from the club members far outweighed anything I contributed. The helpers took turns running the meeting and I’ll never forget one in particular. I realised that people with learning disabilities often have concrete thinking and abstract ideas can be difficult. We often talked about Jesus but how could he become real to our club members? So, I found lots of different images of Jesus from art on the internet, downloaded them, printed and laminated them. They were only small pictures but I had quite a pile of them. I spread them over a table and I remember the look of joy on faces as we looked at them and as each person got to choose their favourite to take home.

A simple example of a blessing I received. One of the club members came up to me at the end of a meeting, stood in front of me and said “I really like you!” I was so moved and it took me a while to work out why. I realised that it was something we never say. I would never think of going up to a friend and simply saying “I really like you!” I would just assume that the friend knows that and, anyway, it would feel strange to do it –  but the way this kind and genuine compliment made me feel was such a lovely lesson. I realised that I was learning how to love and appreciate others from our club members and that I was a novice compared to them.

There was no other support from the church although we were grateful for the room. However, once a year, some of the ladies organised a Christmas party. They decorated the church hall and we all brought in cakes and biscuits and mince pies as well as organising some games. It was always a lovely occasion.

During one particular Christmas party, one-by-one, individuals started to come into the hall, help themselves to chairs and then go out without acknowledging us or telling us what was happening. One of the helpers ascertained that there was a carol concert rehearsal in the church upstairs and that they were short of chairs. This went on for some time. People trooped in and out but not one of them acknowledged us. It was as if we weren’t there.

I felt very uneasy about this but couldn’t put my finger on why. Then it came to me why no one came up to explain or apologise or even to wish our club members a Happy Christmas – it was because they were learning disabled. For any other party or meeting, permission would have been asked and apologies given but, it seemed, that people with learning disabilities were not offered that common courtesy.

I have seen it over and over again, especially when I went on to work in learning disabilities. These lovely and special people are often not treated with even basic dignity. I thought Christian people would be different but I was wrong. What is wrong with us?

One last word. Whenever there was an open day or outreach at the church and a board of activities was put on display, which club do you think had pride of place? You guessed it and I use the word ‘pride’ on purpose. Our club members were ignored and forgotten by the church for 99% of the time but picked up when they were useful.

Don’t be like this.

“Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”

Mother Teresa
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Jesus is the Way

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Giovanni Battista Cima Da Conegliano c1510 National Gallery London

 

The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up and the Lord said to him, ‘Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.’

 Moses said to the Lord, ‘The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, “Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.”’

The Lord replied, ‘Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the Lord, or he will break out against them.’ So Moses went down to the people and told them. Exodus 19: 20 -25

Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorised fire before the Lord, contrary to his command.  So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord spoke of when he said:

‘“Among those who approach me
    I will be proved holy;
in the sight of all the people
    I will be honoured.”’

Aaron remained silent.  Leviticus 10: 1-3

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The Trinity with Christ Crucified c1410 National Gallery London

Those who say they know God or have God are kidding themselves. God is so holy, so ‘other’ that we could not stand in His presence and survive. Our sin would destroy us. That is why Jesus came – to take our sin on himself so that we can stand in the presence of God and live.  Jesus explains this himself.   ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

When Jesus takes our sin onto himself it is so that we can approach our Holy Father and so that He can commune with us. God loves us but He also feels the burden and responsibility of our estrangement. Pure love in the form of Jesus was his answer – and what an answer!

 

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
in light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
nor wanting, nor wasting, thou rulest in might:
thy justice, like mountains high soaring above,
thy clouds which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life thou givest, to both great and small;
in all life thou livest, the true life of all;
we blossom and flourish like leaves on the tree,
then wither and perish, but naught changeth thee.

Thou reignest in glory, thou dwellest in light,
thine angels adore thee, all veiling their sight;
all praise we would render; O help us to see
’tis only the splendor of light hideth thee!

Help My Unbelief

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Noli me tangere – Master of the Lehman Crucifixion c1370-5 National Gallery London

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

Hear my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray.

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands towards your Most Holy Place.

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: here am I.

 I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!

I lift up my eyes to the mountains –
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip –
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
 indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

 The Lord watches over you –
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
 the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

 The Lord will keep you from all harm –
    he will watch over your life;
 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and for evermore.

Mark 9:24 – Psalm5:2 – Psalm 18:6 – Psalm 28:2 – Psalm 72:12 – Isaiah 58: 9a – Psalm 121

Mary Magdalene first mistook the risen Christ for a gardener shown here holding a hoe. Mary kneels before him but he forbids her to touch him: ‘Noli me tangere’. This is an upper panel from an altarpiece by a Florentine master. Another pinnacle from the same work is in the Lehman Collection (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) hence the name given to the artist.

Pray against Corruption

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 Auxerre Cathedral, France

In your majesty ride forth victoriously
    in the cause of truth, humility and justice;
    let your right hand achieve awesome deeds.     Psalm 45:4

Prayer against Corruption

Name (person or organisation)

May they be like chaff before the wind,
    with the angel of the Lord driving them away;

may their path be dark and slippery,
    with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.    Psalm 35: 5-6

Lord, confuse the wicked, confound their words,
    for I see violence and strife in the city.
Day and night they prowl about on its walls;
    malice and abuse are within it.
Destructive forces are at work in the city;
    threats and lies never leave its streets.          Psalm 55 9-11

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 Norwich Cathedral England

 The Lord is my Banner – Alleluia

 Prayer for those who strive to do right

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
    and his ears are attentive to their cry;
 but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
    to blot out their name from the earth.

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
    he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the broken-hearted
    and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

 The righteous person may have many troubles,
    but the Lord delivers him from them all    Psalm 34: 15-19

 

The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom,
    and their tongues speak what is just.
The law of their God is in their hearts;
    their feet do not slip.       Psalm 37: 30 -31

 The Lord is my Banner – Alleluia

Psalm for Politicians!

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The Friars, Maidstone, Kent, UK

A Psalm of warning for politicians who feel like straying from the straight path!

Psalm 64

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint;
    protect my life from the threat of the enemy

Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked,
    from the plots of evildoers.
They sharpen their tongues like swords
    and aim cruel words like deadly arrows.
They shoot from ambush at the innocent;
    they shoot suddenly, without fear.

They encourage each other in evil plans,
    they talk about hiding their snares;
    they say, ‘Who will see it?’
They plot injustice and say,
    ‘We have devised a perfect plan!’
    Surely the human mind and heart are cunning.

But God will shoot them with his arrows;
    they will suddenly be struck down.
He will turn their own tongues against them
    and bring them to ruin;
    all who see them will shake their heads in scorn.
All people will fear;
    they will proclaim the works of God
    and ponder what he has done.

10 The righteous will rejoice in the Lord
    and take refuge in him;
    all the upright in heart will glory in him!

We are All One in God

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Corpus Christi London, the Catholic Actor’s Church

 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,  for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3 26-29

The candidate for baptism was clothed in pure white robes symbolic of the new life into which he entered. Just as the initiate put on his new white robe, his life was clothed with Christ. The result was that in the church there was no difference between any of the members; they had all become sons of God. In verse 28 Paul says that the distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free man, male and female is wiped out. There is something of very great interest here. In the Jewish morning prayer, which Paul must have used all his pre-Christian life, thanks God that “ Thou hast not made me a Gentile, a slave or a woman.” Paul takes that prayer and reverses it. The old distinctions were gone; all were one in Christ … Only one thing can wipe out the ever sharpening distinctions and separations between man and man; when all are debtors to God’s grace and all are in Christ only then will we all be one. It is not the force of man but the love of God which alone can unite a disunited world.      William Barclay Study Bible, Galatians.

(Surely if we are all one in Christ no matter our worldly differences this wipes out the distinction between gay and straight?)

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A lovely gentle St Joseph from Corpus Christi, London

The Parish of Maiden Lane was founded in 1873 and consecrated on the 18th of October, 1956. Often referred to as the “hidden gem” of the West End, the then Archbishop Cardinal Henry Manning said during his homily at the opening mass that “a sanctuary has been opened to be specifically devoted to the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament”.

This was the first church dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament after the Reformation. The famous hymns Sweet Sacrament Divine and O Sacred Heart were written by the parish priest Fr Francis Stanfield (1835-1914). It is also known as “the actors’ church” and is the home of the Catholic Association of the Performing Arts (formerly, the Catholic Stage Guild).  It is situated very close to St Paul’s, Covent Garden, the Church of England Actor’s Church.

A very famous priest visitor to the parish over many years was Monsignor Ronald Knox. He first preached his Forty Hours Sermon in 1926, at the invitation of Father Kearney. This became a regular feature in Mgr Knox’s diary from 1926 until 1956. These sermons were published by Burns and Oates in 1956 under the title “The Window in the Wall”, and the charming and touching dedication of this book is, “To the memory of Father Kearney and to his successors.”

For decades the Latin Mass Society has also celebrated Mass here. A young adults’ prayer group meets here weekly and this is a vibrant place of worship and an oasis of prayer and calm – open all day long for visitors, tourists, those who work and live nearby and shoppers to pause and pray.

Jesus Teaches Tolerance

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La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

‘Master,’ said John, ‘we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said, ‘for whoever is not against you is for you.’ As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him;  but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’  But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village. Luke  9 49-56

Here we have two lessons in tolerance. There were many exorcists in Palestine all claiming to be able to cast out demons. No doubt John regarded this man as a competitor and wanted to elininate him. The direct way from Galilee to Jerusalem lead through Samaria but most Jews  avoided it. There was a centuries’ old quarrel between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Samaritans did everything they could to hinder and even to injure any bands of pilgrims who attempted to pass through their territory. For Jesus to take that way to Jerusalem was unusual and to attempt to find hospitality in a Samaritan village was still more unusual. When Jesus did this he was extending a hand of friendship to people who were enemies. In this case not only was hospitality refused, but the offer of friendship was spurned. No doubt James and John believed they were doing the most praiseworthy thing when they offered to call in divine aid to blot out the village.

Jesus directly teaches the duty of tolerance. In many ways tolerance is a lost virtue and, when it does exist, it exists from the wrong cause. God has his own secret stairway into every heart. God fulfills himself in many ways but, and this is intensely important, tolerance must be based not on indifference but on Love. We are not tolerant because we could not care less but because we look at the other person, not with the eyes of criticism, but with the eyes of love. When Abraham Lincoln was criticized for being too courteous to his enemies and when he was reminded that it was his duty to destroy them he gave the great answer “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” Even if a man be utterly mistaken you must never regard him as an enemy to be destroyed but as a strayed friend to be recovered by love.

William Barclay Study Bible Luke