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Wednesday, 21 December 2011

St Teresa of Avila - 'a wandering, disobedient and quarrelsome woman'

I never tire of reading the Letters of Pope John Paul I (Albino Luciani), published as ‘Illustrissimi’ by Collins in 1978.
The letters were written when the author was Patriarch of Venice, and were published as ‘open letters’ in the Italian Christian paper ‘Il Messaggero di Sant’ Antonio’, and addressed to various individuals, some fictional, some historical. He writes to legendary figures, to important scientific, historical and literary people, to characters from their books, plays, operas and poems, to saints, and even to Christ Himself.


                                         *************


                       St Teresa of Avila - the mystic  


St Teresa of Avila, a Spanish Carmelite nun, born 1515 died 1582, came from a rich, noble family, becoming a Carmelite nun at the age of 21 years, and eventually succeeding in  reforming her Order, restoring it to its original austerity. In his letter to St Teresa, Pope John Paul I has this to say:-


Dear St Teresa,
Anyone who looks at Bernini’s famous marble group, in which he depicts you pierced by the seraph’s arrow, will think of your visions and ecstasies.  And rightly so: the mystical Teresa, rapt away in God, is a true Teresa.
But there is another Teresa, one I like better. A Teresa of everyday life, who experiences the same difficulties as we do and who skilfully surmounts them; who can smile and laugh and make others laugh; who moved about the world with great self-possession and lived through the most varied events, helped by her many natural gifts but even more by her constant union with God.


When the Protestant Reformation broke out, the situation of the Church in France and Germany became critical. It saddened you Teresa, ‘If I could have saved a single soul among the many lost there, I would have sacrificed my life a thousand times’ you said, ‘but I am a woman’.


A woman!  But one worth twenty men, who left no method untried, and managed to carry out splendid internal reforms and influence the whole Church with her work and writings.


You were a woman who spoke out frankly, dear Teresa, and wrote in a polished, cutting style.  Although you had a very elevated idea of the mission of nuns, you wrote to Father Graziano: ‘For the love of God, be careful what you do! Never believe nuns, because if they want something they’ll try every possible means to get it.’ And to Father Ambrose, refusing a postulant, you said:  ‘You make me laugh when you say you know her soul just by seeing her.  It’s not so easy to know women!’


Yours was the perfect definition of the devil: ‘That poor wretch, who cannot love.’


To  Don Sancho Davila you wrote: ‘I have distractions too, in reciting the divine office. I confessed it to Father Dominic, who told me to take no notice. I say the same to you, because it’s an incurable disease.’  This was spiritual advice, but you were very free with advice of all kinds.  You even advised Father Graziano to make his journeys on a better-tempered donkey, one without the bad habit of tossing friars to the ground; or else to have himself tied to the donkey to avoid tumbling off.


But when the time came to do battle, you seemed unconquerable.  The papal nuncio, no less, had you shut up in the convent at Toledo, declaring you to be ‘an unquiet, wandering, disobedient, and quarrelsome woman.’ But from your convent the messages you sent to Phillip II, and to princes and prelates, sorted everything out.
Your conclusion was this: ‘Teresa on her own is worth nothing; Teresa and a penny are worth less than nothing; Teresa, a penny and God can do everything.’


 
St Teresa of Avila   - a spiritual and practical leader


To me, you are a remarkable example of something that keeps turning up regularly in the Catholic Church.
Women don’t rule in the Church – that’s a function of the hierarchy, but very often they inspire, promote and sometimes direct. On the one hand the spirit ‘blows where it will’; on the other, women are more sensitive to religion than men and more capable of giving themselves generously to great causes.  This means that a great many women saints, mystics and foundresses have been recognised in the Catholic Church. There are also women who led religious movements, and influenced a very wide range of people.


Marcella, a noblewoman who directed a kind of convent of rich and cultivated patricians on the Aventine, collaborated with St Jerome in translating the Bible.
At the beginning of the seventeenth century Madame Acarie influenced distinguished people such as the Jesuit Coton, Friar Canflet, St Francis de Sales and many others, and thus had an effect upon the whole of French spirituality at the time.
Princess Amalia Gallitzin, who was appreciated even by Goethe, spread a current of intensely spiritual life through the whole of northern Germany.
Sophia Swetchine, a Russian convert in the early nineteenth century, turned up in France and became the ‘spiritual directress’ of all kinds of people, lay and clerical.
I could cite other examples, but I will come back to you, Teresa, who were not so much the daughter as the spiritual mother of St John of the Cross and the first reformed Carmelites.


Today there are no problems in the Carmelite Order, but in your day there was the row I mentioned earlier.
You were on one side, full of charismatic gifts, and of ardent luminous strength given to you for the benefit of the Church; on the other stood the papal nuncio, or rather the hierarchy which had to judge the authenticity of your gifts. At first, on the basis of distorted information, the nuncio decided against you.  Once he had things explained to him and had examined them better, everything was cleared up, the hierarchy approved, and your gifts were able to expand in the service of the Church.


Today we hear much about charismatic gifts and the hierarchy, but allow me to take the following principles from your works.  First; the Holy Spirit is above everything,  ultimately ensuring the unity of the Church.  Second;  Charismatics and the hierarchy are both necessary to the Church, but in different ways. The former act as accelerators, favouring progress and renewal, with the latter using the brake, in favour of stability and prudence. Third; the role of each sometimes overlap and even conflict, but since the hierarchy has to regulate all the main stages of ecclesiastical life, charismatics cannot, with the excuse that they have visions, remove themselves from its guidance.And fourth and last; Charismatic experiences are not anyone’s private reserve; but it is one thing to be able to have visions, and quite another to actually have them.


Dear St Teresa, if only you could come back today, the word ‘charisma’ is squandered.  All kinds of people are known as ‘prophets’, even the students who confront the police in the streets, or the guerrillas of Latin America. People try to set up the charismatics in opposition to the pastors. What would you say– you who obeyed your confessors, even when their advice turned out to be the opposite of that given to you by God in prayer?

Pope John Paul I - author of 'Illustrissimi'


Don’t think I'm a pessimist. I hope this business of seeing visions everywhere is just a bad habit that will pass. On the other hand I know that the authentic gifts of the Spirit are always accompanied by abuses and false gifts.  And the Church has gone on just the same.

In the young Church of Corinth, for instance, visionaries flourished. St Paul was rather worried about it because he’d found some abuses. Later these abuses became more noticeably aberrant.
Two women, Priscilla and Massimilia, who supported and financed Montanism in Asia, began by preaching a moral awakening ‘charismatically’; this involved great austerity, the total renunciation of marriage, and absolute readiness for martyrdom. They ended by setting up new prophets against the bishops.  These men and women, ‘filled with the spirit’, preached, administered the sacraments, and waited for Christ, who was to come and inaugurate the new kingdom of heaven at any moment.


In the time of St Augustine we find Lucilla of Carthege, a rich lady whom Bishop Ceciliano had scolded because she used to press a small bone of some martyr to her breast before Communion.  Hurt and angry, Lucilla induced a group of bishops to oppose Ceciliano.  They failed to establish their point in Africa, but protested successfully to the Pope, then to the Council at Arles, finally to the Emperor himself.  A new Church began.  In nearly all the cities of Africa there were thus two bishops, and two cathedrals frequented by two opposing categories of the faithful, who, when they met, came to blows. Catholics on the one hand; the followers of Donato and Lucilla on the other.

Donato’s followers called themselves ‘the Pure’. They never sat down in a place previously occupied by a Catholic without first cleaning it with their sleeve. They avoided the Catholic bishops like the plague, appealed to the Gospel against the Church, which they said was supported by the authority of the Emperor, and set up assault squads.


In the seventeenth century, there were the nuns of Port Royal. One of their abbesses, Mother Angelica, had started well: she had ‘charismatically’ reformed herself and the monastery, keeping even parents out of the cloister.  She had great gifts and was born to rule, but she became the soul of Jansenist resistance, intransigent to the last in the face of the ecclesiastical authorities. Of her and of her nuns it was said that they were ‘as pure as angels and as proud as devils’.


How far all this is from your spirit, Teresa!  What a gulf between these women and you!  ‘Daughter of the Church’ was the name you loved best.  You murmured it on your death-bed; while in life you worked hard for the Church and with the Church, even accepting a certain amount of suffering from the Church.  Couldn’t you teach some of today’s ‘prophetesses’ a little of your method?




    St Teresa of Avila -  daughter of the Church


"Christ has no body now, but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth, but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ looks compassion into the world.
Yours are the feet
with which Christ walks to do good.
Yours are the hands
with which Christ blesses the world."

                                                      (St Teresa of Avila)

Sunday, 20 November 2011

'A Common Catholic Looks Back' by David Read

This post is a  reminder of the shock and dismay bordering on despair, experienced world-wide in the years immediately following Vatican II, by thousands of devout and loyal Catholics, at the  debasement of so much of the liturgy of the Church; the brutal alteration some would say desecration, of so many beautiful churches; the unjust treatment by certain bishops of  priests who dared criticise; the disastrous relaxation in the rules and dress of Religious;  the adoption of a false ecumenism seriously weakening the primacy and Divine authority of the Church,  particularly applicable to schools, with great loss of young souls to the Faith; the abandonment of Catholic musical tradition; the list goes on.


This personal anguish and holy anger is manifest in the writings of David Read, notably in his poems, ‘A Common Catholic Looks Back’, printed privately between 1976 and 1981. 
In his writings David Read laments the rupture in the tradition and liturgical practices of the Catholic Church  following  Vatican II.  


Since 2007, with the 'Summorum Pontificum', of Pope Benedict XVI, the traditional Latin Mass has enjoyed a gradual, but perceptable re-emergence in many countries, although still experiencing hostile opposition in many powerful ecclesiastical quarters. This will undoubtedly dissipate as intolerant modernist Bishops retire or die, and  more obedient Bishops, loyal to the Magisterium, take their place.  Although progress is slow, it is happening and I believe it will accelerate over time. David Read will be encouraged, as are many Catholics, by the words and actions of Pope Benedict XVI re-asserting the importance of tradition in the Church and the unequivocable right of all priests to say the traditional Latin Mass at any time.


       
          The Transfiguration of Christ (Andre Ivanov)


The following is just a small selection of David Read's poems, all  protected by copyright.


PREFACE


Sweet Catholic lady, honoured Catholic man,
I crave your pardon, writing as I can.
If some poor words of mine offend,
Forgive me pray, for I do not intend to shock.


Upon my rude interior is laid
A thin veneer of culture, and is made
A poetaster in some humble wise,
Of rough-hewn lump,(although in gentle guise), of rock.


Please be assured, before the work’s begun,
My cruder words are never used in fun;
They break from me when silly men annoy;
When shepherds, by their foolishness, destroy their flock.


So read my lines, and do not me condemn:
They may be hard, but hurt love lives in them.
A little warmth, when they have read their fill,
Perhaps from some cold hearts may still unlock.

                                                                    (c)David Read


BLAME THE TEACHERS


Not far from where you live my friend, exists a Catholic school,
And four times out of five my friend, so-called progressives rule
The school is much the same my friend, as others round about;
No stress put on R.E., my friend, morality left out.


The modern teaching ways, my friend, are different you’ll see,
From those in your young days, my  friend, no simple A.B.C.
The Faith is changed as well, my friend, the old books in the bin.
Humanities they sell, my friend, and let’s not talk of sin.


“O” levels head the list, my friend, and mammon must be paid,
So something must be missed, my friend, when timetables are made.
D’you  search your daughter’s mind, my friend, to find out what she’s heard?
Her faith’s a different thing, my friend, from yours, in thought and word.


Does your son know the Creed, my friend? And what the phrases mean?
They may not feel the need, my friend, on the progressive scene.
You’ll blame the teaching staff, my friend, for failing to supply
A steadfast Catholic life, my friend, and ask the reason why.


They’ll all be wrong but you, my friend, when your kids go astray.
There’s nothing you could do, my friend, to teach them how to pray.
But when you go up there my friend, your soul is opened wide,
St Peter strips you bare, my friend, there’s nowhere left to hide.


Responsibility, my friend, for generations more
God gave to you and me, my friend, to even up the score.
He will not say, “Hard luck, my friend, the teachers have to pay.”
No passing of the buck, my friend, for us on Judgement Day.


So take a long hard look, my friend, at what is on the slate;
For wrong must be forsook, my friend, before it is too late.

                                                                (c)David Read




                     St George slaying the dragon  (Raphael)


NEW CHURCH


This the new church, Father? Just wait a while,
In a few moments I’ll get back my smile.
Yes, it’s impressive; mod-art? Is that true?
(Looks like a concrete and brick public loo).


Let’s go inside, tell me, which is the door?
Nice purple carpet you’ve got on the floor.
But first of all, I must just say a prayer.
Oh yes, the Sacrament’s right over there.


Where? Oh I see, in this hole in the wall.
(Wouldn’t have known You were here, Lord, at all).
Cross made of chipboard and nails, very nice;
Three thousand  pounds?  Very cheap at the price.


Got to be with it, and artists come dear,
Look at the Stations, they’re all over here.
This is the confessional? Oh sorry, no,
That’s where the new amplifiers will go.


Must you be off, Father? See you again.
Phew! Now he’s gone, this a church? What a pain!
Look round the walls, not a statue in sight,
Stained glass that looks like two dogs in a fight.


Altar just like a juke-box on a stand,
Everything spiritual must have been banned.
Who paid the money for this monstrous fraud?
Were we so bad,You allowed it, O Lord?

                                                              (c)David Read



BELSHAZZAR


M  odernism, well, what’s in a name?
E  verybody likes to feel they’re in the game.
N  o-one wants to be the odd man out.
E  ven popes and prelates join the silly rout.


M  eaningful is what it all must be.
E  xpert planning worship now for you and me.
N  evermore the truth shall be the guide.
E  nd the dogmas, let’s all join the winning side.


T  heologians change the basic facts.
E  levations soon will be symbolic acts.
K  eep the answers from the people’s eyes.
E  nd their questioning with sweet and crafty lies.


L  ove your neighbour first is what you do,
U  nder modern thinking, God is number two.
F  irst, though, come to think, is always me:
A  fter me, the neighbour, God is number three.


R  ise and shine, and sing and dance and shout!
S  peak up loud, That’s what the Mass is all about.
E  nd the fasting, feast in solemn state.
N  ow, the Medes and Persians live within the gate!
                               
                                                         (c)David Read




POST SCRIPTUM


Almighty God and Father of mankind
Before you here, I humbly bend my head.
Forgive the pain that honest men may find
In these poor rhymes, and words that I have said.


Be merciful, O Giver of all gifts;
Such talent as you gave I wish to use
To help to heal the ever-spreading rifts
Caused by the power that your priests abuse.


Emotion’s voice, Lord, I try not to heed
With small success, for souls are cast away.
My conscience, which the priests told me would lead,
Speaks in a muddled tone, and err I may.


His hands are black, who dares the pitch to touch;
But who loves greatly is forgiven much.
                        
                                                             (c)David Read
                       

                         Resurrection of Christ   (Coypel)

NITTY GRITTY

Responsibility belongs to each of us alone,
Salvation still demands, you personally shall atone.
No standing up together shouting “We believe” will do,
The final nitty-gritty for your soul depends on YOU.

                                                                c) David Read

                                           ******************************

Finally a thought from St Alphonsus:-      
        
        "If beggars do not receive the alms they ask they do not cease asking;  they return to ask again.
         If the master of the house does not show himself any more, they set to work to knock at the door.
         This is what God wishes us to do:  to pray,  and to pray again,  and never to leave off praying"
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

'Oboedientia et Pax' - Blessed Pope John XXIII (1881-1963)


Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was born on 25 November 1881 in the Bergamo province of the Lombardy region of Italy. He was fourth in a family of thirteen, and the first born son. His family worked as ‘share-croppers’, and although poor, could trace their heritage back to  Italian nobility who had fallen on hard times.


He received his First Communion  aged seven years, and was confirmed the following year. He was a pupil at the minor seminary of Bergamo from 1892-1895, followed by a period at the major seminary until 1900.  He then attended the main Roman seminary, the Apollinare, and after a break of twelve months for  compulsory military service,  was ordained priest in  1904 .  The following year he was appointed secretary to Mgr Radini Tedeschi, Bishop of Bergamo, retaining this position until 1914.

During World War I he was drafted into the Royal Italian Army, responsible for co-ordinating religious assistance to the troops, and appointed Military Chaplain to the reserve hospital at Bergamo. Discharged in 1919 he was then appointed as Spiritual Director to the diocesan seminary at Bergamo. 




         Fr Roncalli (3rd rt. back) with Bishop Radini Tedeschi


In 1925 Pope Pius XI appointed him Apostolic Visitor to Bulgaria, and in 1935 he was appointed as Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece. 
In 1944 he was appointed by Pope Pius XII as Apostolic Nuncio to France, and in 1953 Patriarch of Venice and made a Cardinal.  
On 28 October 1958 he was elected Pope following the death of Pope Pius XII. 
He called the 2nd Vatican Council (1962-1965) but did not live to see it to completion, dying in June 1963. 
He was beatified on 3 September 2000.
                                   


                               Bishop Roncalli (front left) -  late 1930's?


From 1895 he kept a written record of his life, in the form of spiritual notes, in which is revealed that which he kept ‘a jealously guarded secret behind his smiling and innocent gaiety’: his prayer, his soul. In fact it contains notes, resolutions, meditations written on the occasion of various retreats and Spiritual Exercises from 1895, when the author was barely fourteen, until 1962, a few months before his death at the age of eighty-one. 
These notes, many written at night, by the  light of an oil lamp, were recorded in bundles of dog-eared papers and  crumpled copy-books, which were  kept  always close at hand, and over the years were re-read many times. In the spring of 1961, Pope John handed these notes to Mgr Loris Capovilla, an old and trusted friend, who asked him whether he might publish them. The Pope agreed somewhat reluctantly, for whilst recognising the potential world-wide interest in his diaries , he was sensitive to the personal and intimate spiritual matters revealed in their pages, and he thus stipulated that they were not to be published until after his death. 
'I was a good boy, innocent, somewhat timid. I wanted to love God at all costs and my one idea was to become a priest, in the service of simple souls who needed patient and attentive care.  Meanwhile I had to fight an enemy within me, self-love, and in the end I was able to get the better of it....Now, at a distance of more than sixty years, I can look upon these first spiritual writings of mine as if they had been written by someone else, and I bless the Lord for them.” (Pope John XXIII) speaking to Mgr Loris Capovilla.                                   




                         Pope John XXIII ( b.1881-d.1963)


'It has been suggested that initial perusal of ‘Journal of a Soul’ might leave a feeling of disappointment in the reader. The book could be adjudged as literal and formalistic piety .... a piety centred more on human contrivance than on the word of God, one that puts its trust in an exasperating profusion of wire entanglements, instead of that freedom based on familiarity with Sacred Scripture, the liturgy and writings of the Fathers; yet this was the  kind of spirituality that produced Pope John. This rigorously constructed spirituality was based on the letter of the law, but  within it lived and from it soared a great conception. Spiritual techniques degenerate if they remain purely mechanical, that is, isolated from all noble inspiration.  On the other hand no great conception can be realized without a rule, without a discipline. 
There is evidence in Pope John’s ‘Journal’, of a powerful and exalted evangelical impulse which dominated his whole existence.   Holy simplicity, the awareness of man's failings, scrupulous moderation and reserve, sensitivity, and above all, the will to aspire to the fullness of Christ, shine through his words. The ‘Journal’ records constant, yet gradual growth in understanding and knowledge of God’s purpose, reflected in both his personal life and ecclesiastical office. The formal framework becomes less rigid, the letter yields more and more to the spirit.'  (Fr Giulio Bevilacqua 1964)


                                         'oboedientia et pax'
                     
                        Coat of Arms, Cardinal Patriarch of Venice,
  -  the words 'oboedientia et pax'  inserted by Cardinal Roncalli,              describing them as - 'in a way, my own history and my life'.


‘After having skimmed through the doctrine of various ascetical authors, I am now quite content with the Missal, the Breviary, the Bible, The Imitation and Bossuet......my spiritual life must be intensified.  No overloading with devotions of a novel and secondary character, but fidelity to those which are fundamental, with passionate fervour ....gathering speed as I near the end.’(John XXIII Pp.)


‘Journal of a Soul’ is an interesting and fascinating account of the life of Pope John, deeply spiritual-often intimately so, always sincere and sympathetic to human frailty. Unlikely to be read in one sitting, but essential reading for those interested to learn more about Blessed Pope John XXIII.  The book includes several appendices  relating to specific events and devotions particularly dear to Pope John, also a copy of a letter written by him to his brother Severo, some 18 months before the Pope’s death, a letter described as a 'spiritual testament to all the Roncalli family',  which  reflects his great  love of God, the Church,  and  his family. Below are some extracts:-


My dear brother Severo,
Today is the feast of your great patron saint, who bore your own real Christian name, which is Francesco Zaverio, the same as that of our dear great-uncle, our ‘barba’, and now happily, the name of our nephew Zaverio.
.....  I used to enjoy typing so much and if today I have decided to begin again, using a machine that is new and all my own, it is in order to tell you that I know I am growing old -  how can I help knowing it with all the fuss that has been  made about my eightieth birthday? – but I am still fit, and I continue on my way, still in good health .....  For the present at least I can continue in the service of the Lord and Holy Church.
This letter which I was determined to write to you, my dear Severo, contains a message for all, for Alfredo,  Giuseppino,  Assunta,  our sister-in-law Caterina,  your own dear Maria,  Virginio and Angela Ghisleni,  and all the members of our large family,  and I want it to be to all of them a message from my loving heart, still warm and youthful.  Busied as I am............ I cannot forget the members of my dear family, to whom my thoughts turn day by day.
.......Now the great manifestations of reverence and affection for the Pope, on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, are at an end and I am glad, because rather than receive the praises and good wishes of men, I prefer to enjoy the mercy of God who has chosen me for so great a task and who, I trust, will uphold me until the end of my life.
......  You are very wise to keep yourselves very humble, as I too try to do, and not let yourselves be influenced by the insinuations and tittle-tattle of the world. All the world wants is to make money, enjoy life, and impose its own will at all costs, even with violence, if this should unhappily seem necessary.
My eighty years of life completed tell me, as they tell you, dear Severo, and all the members of our family, that what is most important is always to keep ourselves well prepared for a sudden departure, because this is what matters most:  to make sure of eternal life, trusting in the goodness of the Lord who sees all and makes provision for all.
I wish to express these sentiments to you, my beloved Severo, so that you may pass them on to our closest relatives.... wherever they may be..... Go on loving one another, all you Roncallis, with the new families growing up among you........I like to remember the names of those among you who have most to bear:  dear Maria, your good wife, bless her, and the good Rita who with her sufferings has earned paradise for herself and for you two, who have cared for her so lovingly, and our sister-in-law Caterina,  who always makes me think of her Giovanni and ours, who look down at us from heaven -  and all our Roncalli relations....
I am well aware that you have to bear certain mortifications......  to have a Pope in the family, a Pope regarded with respect by the whole world, who yet permits his relations to go on living so modestly, in the same social conditions as before!  But many know that the Pope, the son of humble but respected parents, never forgets anyone; ...... and a Pope does not honour himself by enriching his relations, but only by affectionately coming to their aid, according to their needs and the conditions of each one.
At my death I shall not lack the praise which did so much honour to the saintly Pius X:  ‘He was born poor and died poor.’  
I always keep by my bedside the photograph that gathers all our dead together with their names inscribed on the marble:  grandfather Angela, ‘barba’  Zaverio,  our revered parents,  our brother Giovanni,  our sisters Teresa,  Ancilla,  Maria,  and Enrica.  Oh what a fine chorus of souls to await us and pray for us!  I think of them constantly.  To remember them in prayer gives me courage and joy, in the confident hope of joining them all again in the everlasting glory of heaven.
I bless you all, remembering with you all the brides who have come to rejoice the Roncalli family and those who have left us to increase the happiness of new families, of different names but similar ways of thinking.  Oh the children,  the children,  what a wealth of children and what a blessing!
                                                              Joannes XXIII Pp.
                                                                Vatican.  December 1961.
Ack.  'Journal of a Soul'
Published by Four Square Books,  
New English Library,1966


'Blessed Pope John XXIII,  pray for the Church, especially for those who have strayed'

Friday, 16 September 2011

Essential Reading - 'Our Father's House' - h/t 'Countercultural Father'

A very few lines to recommend a wonderful post on the 'Countercultural Father'  blog-site,  entitled 'Our Father's House - a Short Fable ....'   
http://ccfather.blogspot.com/
- don't miss it!!    Thank you Ben Trovato!

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Cricket is such a Simple Game



                                Lords Cricket Ground


The summer of  2011 has been an eventful  one. In spite of economic doom and gloom, civil unrest, natural  disasters around the world, et al., one event will  forever be recorded  in the annals of sporting history, namely  the achievement of the England cricket team , under the captaincy of Andrew Strauss, in attaining  the no.1 spot in the World Cricket League. Their magnificent victories this summer  against India,  previously  the top team, crowned their achievement  in Australia last year, when they defeated the home country to retain the Ashes. 
Regrettably the cricket season will soon be over, with football ‘mania’ encroaching ever deeper into the summer months, historically the preserve of the ‘gentleman’s’ game. However, cricket lovers need not fear, for nothing can match the special  pleasure of playing in, or watching a  cricket match on a summer’s day in our 'green and pleasant land'.  The unique sound of ball against bat, or ball striking the stumps, the pleasure of watching a skilled batsman or bowler practising their craft, the air of peace and tranquillity, the often beautiful surroundings;  ‘ah those were the days’ says he reminiscing, and happily still ‘are the days’ and will ‘continue to be the days’,  for generations to come.
   
                                      Village Cricket


Some years ago a kind friend gave me a copy of ‘The Cricketer’s Bedside Book’, edited by  R Roberts. and published by  B.T.Batsford Ltd (1966), a fascinating anthology of cricket events, personalities, and anecdotes. Contributors include such legendary cricketers as Colin Cowdrey,  Richie Benaud, Alec Bedser, Mickey Stewart, Wally Grout, Gary Sobers, and others , also those forever associated with this great sport, such as John Arlott, E.W.Swanton, and Brian Johnston.
There are numerous amusing anecdotes - contributed by Brian Johnston, some reproduced below, which  reflect the light-heartedness and a certain ‘esprit de coeur’, shared by the vast majority of cricket lovers; N.B. a miniscule knowledge of the rules of cricket and cricketing terms  is recommended, although  not absolutely essential!
                                       
                           ****************************


In a Lancashire match a fast bowler was bowling on a bad wicket, and the opening batsman – who shall be nameless- had to face a number of terrifying deliveries. The first whizzed past his left ear; the second nearly knocked his cap off; and the third struck him an awful blow over the heart.  He collapsed and lay on the ground – then after a minute or two got up and prepared to strike again. The umpire asked him if he was ready. He replied, ‘Yes, but I would like the sight-screen moved.’
‘Certainly’, said the umpire. ‘Where would you like it?’
The batsman replied, ‘About half-way down the wicket between me and the bowler.’
                                
                              ***************************


Alec  Skelding was umpiring a match in which the bowler had a complete set of false teeth.  As he delivered a particularly fast ball all his teeth  dropped out. The ball hit the batsman on the pad, and the bowler turned round and mouthed un-intelligible noises. Alec quick to see what had happened, said, ‘I beg your pardon, I cannot tell what you say.’ The bowler tried again but Alec still pretended he could not distinguish the words, so the bowler stooped down, recovered his dentures covered in dust, replaced them and turning round, said, ‘How’s that?’
‘Not out’, said Alec.

                            *****************************


In a match against Gloucestershire Brian Close was fielding at forward short-leg  with Freddie Trueman bowling.  Martin Young received a short ball which he hit right in the middle of the bat. It hit Close on the right side of the head and rebounded to first slip, who caught it.
Close seemed none the worse, but when he returned to the pavilion at the next interval someone asked him: ‘That was a terrible blow; aren’t you worried standing so near? What would have happened if the ball had hit you slap between the eyes?’
‘He'd have been caught at cover,’ replied the indomitable Yorkshire captain.

                              ***************************


The Nottinghamshire Club and Ground used to play an annual match against a local village club, and the club’s captain, feeling very sure of his side’s strength, warned the Nottinghamshire secretary that he had better send a strong team this year, otherwise they were ‘in for trouble’. He got what he asked for, and Harold Larwood was a member of the strong side that came from Trent Bridge.  The village club batted first, and their opener was a huge, massive ‘village blacksmith’ who took guard and settled down to face the great Larwood. The first ball was a typical thunderbolt. It shaved the off-stump and landed viciously in the gloves of the wicket-keeper standing very well back’
As the ball looped its way back from wicket-keeper to bowler, via slip, cover and mid-off, it was noticed that the massive batsman had not moved a muscle.  His brawny arms still held the bat firmly in the block-hole, his menacing crouch was unchanged and his eyes were still fixed firmly on the far end of the wicket.  A second Larwood thunderbolt, again whistling past the off stump, had the same effect: not a move, not even the flicker of an eyelid from the vast and massive batsman.  As the third ball was delivered the umpire’s arm was flung out and his shriek of ‘No ball!’ echoed round the ground.  For the first time the batsman unbent. He strained ponderously upwards, turned to first slip and confided, ‘’E couldn’t fool me, I knew ‘e never ‘ad one all the toime!’

                                 **************************

Finally, cricket is such a simple game:-

You have two sides, one out in the field and one in. 
Each man that's in the side that's in goes out, and when he's out he comes in and the next man goes in until he's out. 
When they are all out, the side that's out comes in and the side thats been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out.
Sometimes you get men still in and not out.
When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in.
There are two men called umpires who stay out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out.
When both sides have been in and all the men have out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game!
         
What could be more simple?


Sunday, 31 July 2011

STORM AT SEA


"Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father." (John X, 37-38)

*******

‘It had been a hard day, the last of a series of hard days. The weight of the burthen was pressing on Him heavily; the future was dark, and He knew it would be full of storm.  It is easy, with all this, to understand the spirit which impelled His next movement. He was with His Twelve, in the cottage by the shore.  In the streets outside, and along the water’s edge, many of the  people still hung about, squatting in their little groups and discussing far into the night the events of that day;  others had settled down to rest here and there, wrapped from head to foot in their blankets.  He must get away, if only for a night and morning.  The old desire to be alone at times was never long absent from Him; He must get away, and give Himself a few hours of peace.  He turned to the fishermen; He looked towards the lake.  The moon was up, there was a gentle ripple on the water. 
               
'Let us go over the water', He said,                           
‘To the other side of the lake’.

   It was a welcome order.  These men had already learnt, and they were yet to learn more and more, what a different, what a wholly precious possession Jesus was when He was with them alone.  In His company, when His heart would soften towards them, and He was with them as He was with no others, how different life became!  Then they felt they had power; then they would do any deed, brave any danger, without so much as giving it a thought; then they would ‘do all things in Him who strengthened them’. So it was on this occasion.  Characteristically, with not a little noise and demonstration, they went out into the streets;  pompously they bade the remnant of the people disperse. With their new-born authority they bustled about, and without more ado, without thought of further preparation, they escorted the Master to the shore.

‘And sending away the multitude
   They take Him even as He was to the ship’.

There were several of their boats lying in.  One was chosen for Him; they scrambled in after Him and put out into the lake.
       
Let it be remembered that the Lake of Galilee is about fourteen miles long from north to south, and about six miles across at its broadest part, which is opposite Genesareth and Magdala.  It lies more than seven hundred feet below the level of the Mediterranean, and is skirted on east and west by mountains, which shut it in as between two walls.  On the north and south are open plains, though these too lie between mountain ridges. Through the plain on the north the Jordan flows into the lake, on the south it creeps out again, to make its way to the Dead Sea.  From this it will be seen that a wind, especially a north wind, comes down upon the lake as through a tunnel, the mountains on either side confining it, the lower level of the lake’s surface giving the wind greater force.  Even a slight breeze, as may be seen almost any evening, will soon raise a ripple; a gale, coming down this tunnel on a sudden, will stir a storm in a very short space of time.
       
The objective for the boatmen that night was Gerasa, a village, or rather valley, on the opposite shore.  It lay somewhat south of Capharnaum, opposite Magdala,  and therefore the trip would have been about six miles, in a south-easterly direction, but much more east than south.  A wind coming down the tunnel from the north would have caught the boat almost broadside; hence, even without a storm, a sudden gust of wind might easily have brought danger with it.  
These fishermen were accustomed to be out in their boats at night, therefore the darkness in itself had no fears for them.  Nevertheless we have many indications, some of which prevail to this day, that they did not care to cross the lake at night; they feared the sudden winds that might catch them, especially in the springtide of the year.  When the darkness came upon them they preferred to moor where they were and wait till morning.

It was a quiet hour when the little boat put out. As it left the shore the lamp swung at the prow, its light reflected on the water. From behind them as they rowed a few lights glimmered, marking the long line of habitations from Bethsaida to Capharnaum and beyond.  Here and there a pariah dog barked, one answering another.  At a distance, on the outskirts of the town, a band of foraging jackals could be heard, with the laugh of a hyena added to their shrill yelping.  Once in a way a cock crew, and another replied, a striking feature of an eastern night.  For the rest all was silence, a silence only the more emphasized by these cries.  The boatmen submitted to the spell.  They went about their work saying nothing; if they had to speak they spoke in low whispers.  As soon as they had got away they put up their little sail, and nothing now was heard but the swish of the water around the vessel, and the creak of a mast as the sail yielded to the wind or the guiding rope.  In the stern, on the boards between the sides of the ship, Jesus lay down.  A rough cushion had been found for His head, and almost immediately He was fast asleep.  This must have been so, from the very nature of the voyage.  Jesus, the Son of God, was asleep, like any child, rocked in the cradle of the bark of Simon.

For a time all went well, and the boatmen settled down contented.  The breeze from the north filled the sails, and before daybreak they would be at Gerasa.  They relieved each other at the sheet and the rudder;  for the rest they, too, settled themselves to sleep.  But no sooner had they left the shelter of the shore than trouble began to arise; a mile out, or a little more, and they caught the full force of the wind coming down the upper valley.  The wind grew stronger, the cold air falling on the lake following the heat of the day, provoked it to a gale.  Rapidly it increased, the sail became difficult to control; the route they were taking, almost due east till they could come under the shelter of the mountains opposite, exposed them to the full force of the storm on their side;  they were in imminent danger of capsizing.  Presently the waters began to rise;  first an ominous splash of spray flew across the deck, then a wave curved over the edge and a stream of water ran down to the stern.  Wave followed wave and the ship began to fill.

Evidently there was serious danger, just the danger which none of the fishermen living on those shores ever cared to face. They had come on board without a thought; the excitement of the day had made them forget that at this spring season the lake was particularly treacherous.  Besides He had asked them to take Him away by boat, and that had driven every objection from their minds.  But now they were anxious; anxious for themselves, and anxious for Him.  He was asleep and wholly in their keeping, so soundly asleep that neither the howling of the wind nor the splashing of the water nor the creaking of the vessel could awaken Him; they had only one another to consult and were in a dilemma.  To put back to Capharnaum was now impossible; they dared not attempt to turn the boat round.  Their only hope was to run down the lake before the wind, or to keep on their course trusting that they might yet reach shelter; in either case they knew their condition was perilous.

Still the storm increased.  Soon the boat was utterly beyond control; neither sail nor rudder could be governed. It was filling fast, a little more and it must go down, even if it did not capsize.  The men began to lose courage; presently they lost their nerve; in a few minutes they were as helpless little children, seeking succour anywhere.  And yet through it all He was lying there, fast asleep. As they clung to the sides and the thwarts they looked at Him where He lay.  They loved Him, that none could deny; still there began to creep over them the feeling that if He were awake, if He knew all the trouble around them, all would cease. There came a little resentment;  while they were in such danger, while they were doing for Him all they could, and that at His own bidding, He was apparently indifferent, unconscious of it all.  They could endure it no longer; they were at the last extreme; they dropped sheet and rudder, they let the vessel go where it would.  In a panic they crept along the deck to where He lay, and began to cry in one voice:
‘Master
Does it not concern thee
     That we perish?
Lord save us
We perish.’

Instantly the sleeping Jesus opened His eyes.  Through the noise of the storm which drowned every sound, He nevertheless heard their appeal;  what the clamour of the elements had failed to do, their cry succeeded in doing, and He awoke.  At once He took in the scene; the howling wind above, the ship filling with water, the frightened men clinging to His feet.  He made no delay;  He made no show;  He acted as though it were an affair of every day.  These were His Twelve, His own, and for them there must be no terms, or formalities, or conditions.  He stood up where He was;  He stretched out His arm to the wind, looking at it, speaking to it, rebuking it, as if it were a thing of life.  He turned to the water lashing round Him, as a master would turn to a barking hound.


               ‘Peace, be still,'
He said;  no more.

The obedience was instantaneous.  The wind ceased; there was a dead calm on the surface of the water.  The battered sails hung listlessly above the masts;  the boat rocked gently up and down, to and fro and from side to side, staying where it was, as if it rested after a heavy struggle.  The men crouched still beside Him; for the moment they were paralysed.  They had come to Him expecting succour. If only He were awake among them they had felt they would be safe,  but they had never expected anything like this.  They had feared the storm, but now fear of a new kind crept over them.  They did not know what to say or think.

Meanwhile Jesus looked down upon them where He stood.  They did not yet recognise what He had done.  He had worked this wonder, not for the multitude, but for His own, His Twelve.  He had worked it in their own vessel, where He was always with them. He had worked it under conditions which, by all the laws of nature, were hopeless.  He had worked this wonder, and He had worked it for them; why did they not see?  But the time would come when they would.  If that day He had begun to speak to the people in parables, that night He had begun to act in parables to them.  One day they would read its meaning and would know that so long as He was with them in the boat, not till the end of time would any storm, would the gates of hell itself, be able to prevail against them.

All this they would one day understand,  but at present they were only little children.  They had much yet to learn, and as little children He must continue to teach them, now drawing them gently on, now with seeming sternness urging them.  He would seize this moment for the latter.  True they had been in trouble and come to Him; true they had appealed to Him for help.  All this showed faith, and He loved them and in His heart thanked them for it.  But He wanted more, He for ever wanted more, and not till He got that more could He be content.  So He would rebuke them; gently He would urge them; He would stir them to things yet greater, to faith that would ride over every storm.  He said:
‘Why are ye fearful
O ye of little faith?
Have you not faith in you yet?
   Where is your faith?’
The men awoke from their paralysis.  The boat was still, and if they would reach Gerasa by morning they must take to their oars.  He seemed not to need them any more,  He wished them to return to their labour.  They stepped down the deck and settled to their tasks, each man in his place.  But as the boat began again to move forward, as the late moon rose above the hills and streaked the waves with silver, they would whisper in awe to one another:
  ‘What manner of man is this?
Who is this, think you,
That he commandeth both the winds and the sea
And they obey him?

It was indeed another discovery, a new revelation of this Man who had already won their hearts and their allegiance. It would not now be long before they would find for themselves a full answer to their question, even on the very spot where they were then sailing, and under not unlike conditions.’
          
 From - ‘The Public Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ’ - An Interpretation.  By Archbishop Goodier S.J.  Published by Burns, Oates & Washbourne 1934
(‘The Storm at Sea’ – ref. Mathew VIII, 18, 23-27; Mark IV, 35-41; Luke VIII, 22-25.)