This spring has given us plenty to celebrate. This Sunday saw two 4pm Mass regulars take their First Holy Communion. Both have been preparing by attending the parish course. It was very exciting to see two of our number take such an important step in their spiritual lives. To help them and their families celebrate we followed Mass with a cream tea:
Published on Tuesday 14 May 2013 | Posted by Julianne Chatfield
Published on Tuesday 7 May 2013 | Posted by Julianne Chatfield
We are well into Eastertide. The joint Easter vigil, with the diocesan congregation of St Agnes was one full of joy. We had particular reason to celebrate as three people were received into the church via the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. Robert, Val and Richard have been preparing since the Autumn. They are joined by Val’s husband John and Robert’s wife Jenny, who were already Catholics and now become Ordinariate members along with their spouses. It has been wonderful to welcome these people, some known already to some of us, some new, who we have got to know better over the last few months.
A couple of weeks ago we also had the joy of helping Robert and Jenny celebrate their Ruby wedding at the 4pm mass and afterwards with cake.
It is very good when the joy of the liturgical season is reflected in joyful events for us as a group.
Published on Friday 29 March 2013 | Posted by Julianne Chatfield
I was very cold by the time our walking tour group arrived at the Neue Wache. It has had various purposes but now houses a sculpture by artist Kathe Kollwitz called “Mother with her dead son.” A woman, wearing simple clothes cradles her son’s lifeless body. Her face is partly hidden, his obscured by her arm wrapped around it. Her left hand gently holds his fingers. It is a poignant and moving piece. It contains in it such sorrow, sorrow experienced by so many over history and so many who have over the years called Berlin home.
At the end of the walking tour, I walked back past the Neue Wache and across the road to St Hedwig’s Cathedral. In a small side chapel I sat in front of a more traditional Pieta to collect my thoughts.
It seemed to me then that they were the same. A mother cradling her son’s body, wrung out and devastated. I often wonder whether Mary heard Simeon’s words again as she sat at the foot of the cross with the body of her son being passed down to her.
Two images of mothers, standing for all mothers. Two images of sons, standing for all who were victims of war or injustice or hatred. In the Incarnation God enters our world and stands as a victim along side all who are victims. He hands himself over into the hands of those he created and they torture and execute him. Thinking about these two sculptures, these two pietas, I see how God had been the innocent victim, stripped, beaten and murdered. This is what God did in the face of great evil. He entered the place where he to would become a victim. His answer was to be one of those innocent victims and his mother cradled his dead body in her arms, like so many other mothers.
Published on Wednesday 27 March 2013 | Posted by Julianne Chatfield
Just down from the Brandenburg Gate is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. During one morning of my recent stay in Berlin, I visited the information centre, underneath the memorial.
The first room gives an overview of the Nazi policy to exterminate Europe’s Jews. The accounts are chilling not just because they contain detailed descriptions and photographs some of the events but also because it gives a glimpse of the mentality of those over seeing the ‘policy’. At different times new things were tried and didn’t quite kill the numbers they wanted or with the efficiency that was craved.
The next room contained letters, diary extracts and postcards from victims, giving a voice to the victims. After this came the Room of Families. Family photographs from all over Europe were accompanied by details of the family’s life. Each display gave details of the fate of each person. One family fled to the French border, where the mother and son received visas, while the father and daughter were turned away. Another photograph showed a wedding. It struck me as the bride wore a headdress in the same style as my grandmother at her wedding. Personal stories, personal voices, personal faces. At this point I was aware of people sighing. It was as if we had been giving a huge burden to carry and we were sighing with the weight of it.
One of the last rooms gave accounts of the sites of camps. A map showed the whole of Europe. Camps and places where atrocities happened went from Norway to North Africa, from Western France to Lithuania, the Ukraine and Greece in the East. What this gave was the scale involved. The first room had made it clear that nationals of most of the countries the Nazis occupied joined in. It would not have been possible with out the co-operation of people across Europe. In Denmark most of the Jews were saved because that didn’t happen, a whole nation worked together to save lives. This was a European problem, a human problem.
I found my visit over-whelming. Being faced with such a great evil shook me to the core. At it’s heart is the rejection of human dignity. Dehumanising people makes it far easier to kill them. It is a rejection that people’s worth come from knowing they are created, sustained and loved by God.
In the midst of all these images, extracts and stories I was faced with the knowledge that evil induces fear in me. I have little doubt that in such a situation my response would have been to keep my head down and keep my family safe. Yet to do so is to allow evil its way.
So much has to be faced, the truly terrible nature of evil, how easy it was for it to happen and how difficult to defeat. The numbers are huge and the personal details over-whelming. The gift of free will, given to us in order that we might love, produced a hatred so cold and calculating and powerful, that it is difficult to know how to respond.
Published on Thursday 21 March 2013 | Posted by Julianne Chatfield
Our fourth adult Lent group focused on the figure of the Father in the Prodigal Son. We began by looking carefully at Rembrandt’s painting, the focus for Henri Nouwen’s book.
We noticed the difference in the two hands, showing the maternal and paternal nature of God’s love. There is a great love in the embrace of the younger son; his head is on the Father’s chest, near his heart. The light of the father in the picture enfolds the son. Even the elder son’s face glows. Is he too standing in the light of the father’s love without realising it?
In Nouwen’s book he talks about a previous version of the painting that Rembrandt began when he was much younger. There is far more a feeling of movement in the earlier work, whereas the famous version, painted when Rembrandt was an old man has a sense of stillness about it.
We listened to an extract about how God does not compare. We noticed that comparing is connected to self-worth: if they are…I am less. Comparing brings about a feeling of being left out; of absence of recognition that we saw so clearly last week in the Elder son. Sometimes we live with the expectations of others and sometimes the expectations we live with are only what we perceive to be the case. The elder son made a judgement about how his father saw him and his brother but in reality this was only his perception and not the reality of the father’s love. Sometimes our perceptions of what others think of us feed something inside us. We can create false images of ourselves: perfect; dutiful; life and soul of the party. We live with a public face, a mask which we present to the world. It is there to protect us so that people don’t see who we really are.
We also talked about the Elder son. In his stand outside, is he trying to snatch away the Father’s joy at the return of the younger son? Yet the Father in the story can’t even conceive of comparing the two in the way the elder son does. Like him, do we have no perception of the vast expanse of God’s love? We grow up with messages from the world around us that tell us ‘if…then you are acceptable.’ We find it difficult conceiving a love that isn’t conditional. However, it is possible to transform and it requires an encounter with God the loving father.
The second extract focused on how God comes to find us: “Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realised that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me and to love me.” We talked about how God ‘first chose me.’ How can I open up to receive God’s love in the light of this? It requires loss of control on our part. Do we want to earn our faith rather than receive it? God, like the father in the parable rushes out, ignoring all rationalising and just embraces us where we are. Some people imagine God’s approach as somewhat over-whelming and ‘too much.’ Others felt the image was much more gentle encounter; the father pottering out rather than rushing up. These two ideas depend very much on the personalities of individuals but can also, we noticed be seen in the painting; the father rushes out to meet the younger son and goes out gently to the elder.
The final extract talked about joy and presented the image of God as rejoicing and of the heavenly feast. Sometimes our faith doesn’t always feel like a celebratory banquet. Nouwen talks about this image touching “a resistance to living a joyful life.” In this parable there is an invitation and it is an invitation to joy. Will the sons in the story accept it? Will we? The extract talked about the chasm between this vision of joy in the kingdom and the reality of the Church and the world, which often seem empty of it. At the end of the parable the younger son has accepted this invitation to joy and the question is will the elder brother? This is a story being directed to the scribes and Pharisees who resented Jesus talking to those they saw as sinners. In the Church, we can be the worst of the elder brother trying to rob others of joy. We talked for a while of those people we had encountered who did display a joy, which seemed to bubble up from deep inside. All the examples we came up with were those who had spent years praying. It reminded us of the Beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit. Are those who display God-given joy those who understand their need for God? Does receiving joy require us to be open to God’s invitation?
There is always a temptation to move away from God’s loving embrace. When do we say yes or no to God? In difficult times do we say ‘No’ more readily? It seemed to some that joyful people stay in the reality of the difficulties of life and are accepting. Awareness and gratitude are important to this kind of response as is our knowledge of the gift of freedom God has given us.
Tonight we have our last Lent session when we will re-visit each of the characters of the parable and reflect on what God has taught us over the last few weeks.
Published on Saturday 16 March 2013 | Posted by Julianne Chatfield
Here is the story used in our third Family Lent Group. It focuses on the son’s resentment and anger as well as the father’s loving reaction.
Jesus told a story of two sons.
The eldest son had been working all day in the hot sun. “This is my life,” he thought. “Work, work, work.”
As he walked back home he thought again about his younger brother. He ground his teeth. “How could he have treated my father like he did” the elder son thought.
As he walked back home his anger flared at the thought of his brother out spending his father’s money, while he, the faithful son, worked at home.
As he walked back home he thought of how sad his father had been since his son left. “But what about me?” thought the elder son. “I’m here. Don’t I matter?”
As he walked back home he heard music.
He heard voices
He heard laughter.
He was puzzled. A party? Tonight? He started to relax and think about a happy evening ahead. It would be good after such a hard day.
He called over one of his father’s servants. “What is going on?” he asked.
“Oh good news sir!” said the servant. “Your brother has come home. Everyone is celebrating.”
Suddenly the anger and bitterness flared up again and again he ground his teeth. “Shall I tell your father you are back sir?” asked the servant, who hurried off before the elder son could reply.
After a little while the Father came out.
“Come in and join the celebration!” he said, smiling and holding his arms wide. At that moment all the resentment the elder son had been feeling spilled out.
“I don’t believe this. After all he did to you, after he left, after he squandered all your money, you give him a party. I have been here all the time. I’ve worked hard. I kept the farm going. And I haven’t even, even been offered a small party with my friends. And you roll out the red carpet for HIM.”
The father was taken a back for a while. Then he said, “Look round, son. Everything here, every calf, every sheep, every blade of grass, every stone in the wall…all of it belongs to you. Everything I have is yours. I lost one of my sons. I thought he was dead. And now he has come back to me. All my worry about him is finished. He is back where he belongs. That is worth a celebration. Come in join us. Let go of your anger and come and be joyful.”
Here Jesus ends the story we do not know what the elder son did. Did he let go of all his anger, bitterness and resentment and go in to join the party or did he hold on to to it and stay outside in the darkness?