Do you have any idea of the agony I experienced in the garden tonight? Can you imagine what it was like to hear his voice whisper gently, “Judas, do you betray your master with a kiss?”
I tell you. Those words pierced me to the quick. That is why, at this moment, I am sitting in the darkness of the night, hiding lest someone sees me and asks the same question.
Only a few days have passed since I was at the Temple, looking for someone who could lead me to Caiaphas, thinking that the High Priest might have the answer. Yes, he had an answer, thirty of them, jangling at my side, shining bright silver in the light of a candle.
I loved Jesus. Do not think, even for one moment, that I did not. He was compelling. His words were full of promise. I believed him to be the Messiah for whom we had all been waiting. I had given my life to further his cause and that is why they called me a zealot. I burned with zeal for the day when the Messiah would appear and show his face to Israel, leading us from our servitude to the might of Rome, out towards a day when Israel and the Kingdom of God would reign supreme.
Jesus talked continually of a Kingdom, describing it so clearly and beautifully that I felt I could almost reach out my hand and touch it. He would have made a good King, a great one, if only he had acted instead of talked.
It is not that he did nothing. He cured the sick. He drove out demons, claiming to be able to forgive sins. He spoke of God as his Father in such a loving way that I could believe him to be truly the Son of God.
But where was the might that would call us to gather together, to rise up against the might of Rome, driving the legions from our sacred lands? Instead he spoke of meekness and gentleness, of humility and of caring for our neighbours. He spoke to women, treated Samaritans as though they were important. He told us to become like children, declaring that if we were not children, we could have no place in heaven…but what child ever conquered an invading army?
I was frustrated. I was also angry when some of the Disciples began to accuse me of theft. How honest were they? Did they not also use some odd coins for their own purposes? I put most of the money that we received into the common purse, but I am also a good manager of money and because the purse was rarely empty, I was not praised for my astuteness and ability to drive a hard bargain. Is the bookkeeper not the first to be accused of theft? Was I always guilty? I promise you, I was not. The disciples often spoke from jealousy, not from knowledge.
I thought that, if I went to speak to the High Priest, I could move things along and force Jesus to declare his hand. If he were to be taken prisoner, he would have to speak out and summon help, would have to prove himself to be the long-awaited Messiah.
But it did not happen in that way.
He sent me away from the Passover meal. The others thought that I had been instructed to give alms to the poor. Instead, I went straight to Caiaphas.
Surrounded by soldiers and temple Guards, we made our way to Gethsemane. I knew Jesus would be there because we have rested there on many occasions. It is in the city, but is only a few minutes away from the wilderness. It seemed logical that I should point out Jesus to the guard. That would give Jesus the chance to summon his angels.
Only he did not call even to his Father. He merely whispered to me, ”Judas, would you betray your Master with a kiss?”
Mine is the agony in this garden. I cannot describe my despair, just as I cannot describe the hurt and the love in they eyes of Jesus as they led him away. I cannot carry this pain. I am weak. There is nothing I can do in order to undo my actions. I cannot turn back time. Jesus will die and his death will be because of me. He could have escaped into the wilderness, but he remained.
I cannot bear my agony.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Do you have any idea of the agony I experienced in the garden tonight? Can you imagine what it was like to hear his voice whisper gently, “Judas, do you betray your master with a kiss?”
Sunday, February 24, 2008
In this season of Lent, as we draw, moment by moment, closer to Holy Week and Easter, can I offer anything more beautiful and real than this prayer by Michel Quoist?
To be here before you, Lord,
to shut the eyes of my body,
to shut the eyes of my soul,
and be still and silent,
to expose myself to you who are here, exposed to me.
To be here before you,
the Eternal Presence,
I am willing to feel nothing, Lord,
to see nothing,
to hear nothing,
empty of all ideas, of all images,
in the darkness.
Here I am, simply,
to meet you without obstacles,
in the silence of faith,
before you, Lord.
But, Lord, I am not alone.
I am a crowd, Lord,
for people live within me.
I have met them,
they have come in,
they have settled down,
they have worried me,
they have tormented me,
they have devoured me,
and I have allowed it, Lord,
that they might be nourished and refreshed.
I bring them to you, too,
as I come before you.
I expose them to you in exposing myself to you.
Here I am, here they are,
before you, Lord!
Michel Quoist: Prayers of Life
Posted by Sr. Janet at 7:54 pm
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
The River Thames has continued to flow past the palace, today as then. It is easy to imagine Thomas More, summoned by Wolsey to discuss ‘the King’s business’ arriving in a boat paddled by one of the many who plied a sort-of water-borne taxi service up and down the river.
How did Wolsey feel as Thomas came up to those same gates? Did he half hope that his future successor would, somehow, have changed his mind and decided to support Henry’s wish to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon in favour of Anne Boleyn? Did he think that, somehow, his persuasive tongue had inspired in Thomas a desire to save his own skin and a great deal of inconvenience by throwing in his lot with those who had already opted to follow Henry? Did Wolsey think that, if the incorruptible Thomas were to change sides that the Cardinal’s own conscience would feel more at ease over the divorce proceedings and the subsequent petition to Rome to allow Catherine to be set aside in favour of Anne? Was Wolsey clutching at straws?
...and what of Thomas? Was he afraid as he walked through those gates of Lambeth Palace? He must have suspected why he had been summoned, yet again, and, even as his boat moved from its Chelsea mooring, was he rehearsing his arguments to be placed before Wolsey? How did he feel as one man against the authority and might of his king and a Cardinal? Did he already visualise his imprisonment in a bitterly cold, unheated cell in the Tower of London? Was he already preparing to say goodbye to the family he loved so dearly in order to remain true to his conscience? As the boat crunched on the stony shore outside the palace, did it make a strange, uncomfortable echo in his own heart?
At the end of his life, as he faced his death, Thomas More could write to his daughter Margaret, with absolute truth, "Mistrust him, Meg, will I not, though I feel me faint, yea, and though I should feel my fear even at point to overthrow me too, yet shall I remember how Saint Peter, with a blast of wind, began to sink for his faint faith, and shall do as he did, call upon Christ and pray him to help. And then I trust he shall set his holy hand unto me, and in the stormy seas, hold me up from drowning. Yea and if he suffer me to play Saint Peter further, and to fall full to the ground, and swear and forswear too (which our Lord for his tender passion keep me from, and let me lose if it so fall and never win thereby): yet after shall I trust that his goodness will cast upon me his tender piteous eye, as he did upon Saint Peter, and make me stand up again and confess the truth of my conscience afresh, and abide the shame and the harm here of mine own fault.”
By contrast, Wolsey, on his own deathbed, declared “Would that I had served my God as well as I have served my King!”
Where do I stand?
Posted by Sr. Janet at 9:55 am
Monday, February 18, 2008
This morning, high up in an ornamental cherry tree, a blackbird opened his yellow beak and carolled to the dazzling sun and blue sky.
Winter is passing and Spring is approaching. Whatever weather might intervene to disrupt the sunshine and beautiful weather, there is a promise in the air of good things to come. The dark, dismal days are disappearing into history.
However hard life might be, there is always hope, always a suggestion that good times are ahead, even if sometimes only glimpsed through the darkness. Yet stars can only be seen when there is no moon. If there were no winter, there could be no spring. If there were no Lent, there could be no Easter, no Resurrection, no Pentecost.
Posted by Sr. Janet at 7:43 pm
Sunday, February 17, 2008
We halted at the same traffic lights, waiting for them to change. This was a good opportunity for a lesson. “The road is clear now, why are we still waiting here?” the little girl asked her mother. “Because the light is red. We can only cross the road when we see the green man.”
But the lesson had not finished.
“Please, always take care when you cross a road. If anything happened to you, my life would be over.”
One child learned a great deal more than her Highway Code as she waited by those traffic lights. She also learned something of her mother’s love.
Posted by Sr. Janet at 5:35 pm
trying for podcast
Posted by Sr. Janet at 12:40 pm
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Unless someone happens to have been born in Eastern Europe, Sts. Cyril and Methodius have no meaning. St. Valentine is a much more appealing saint to honour, and yet we celebrate St. Valentine’s Day without sparing too many thoughts for the man himself.
There are all sorts of stories about St. Valentine, but it would seem that he was a bishop who helped three young girls to marry by providing them with the dowry they needed.
All over the world, the 14th February, Valentine’s Day, is celebrated as a special day for those who love another person. We see so many special decorations in shop windows, hear of so many special offers which will help business people to make money out of their customers. All of these offers are supposed to increase the chances of showing someone that they are loved.
Yet, when it comes down to basics, what does love really mean? Is it love to receive expensive presents? Is it love to give magnificent flowers or boxes of chocolates? Does love mean going out for a meal? No. We can do any of these actions at any time and they don’t necessarily mean love at all. They only become signs of love when they are given with love.
Not really. I think that each one of us would say that these might be appreciated signs of love but that real love is something much deeper. Real love is something we cannot put into words because no words can really express exactly what we want to say to the one we truly love. Real love is shown by signs more often than by words.
When there is real love, there is something that is too deep for words. In the olden days, when there was much more talk of “love at first sight”, people simply meant that they were attracted to each other. Attraction, however, is not enough to make a foundation for two people to have a long and happy life together.
Sometimes, when people talk of love, what they are really talking about is the passion that accompanies the first few days of a romance. Passion can be something warm and beautiful, but it is like a flame. It doesn’t last forever. A flame will die if it doesn’t receive a constant supply of fuel. Very often passion is so all-consuming it doesn’t give two people the chance to look more deeply into each other’s hearts.
True love is something that lasts forever. True love demands self-sacrifice, understanding, compassion, kindness, giving and receiving, forgiveness, listening and sharing at every moment of every day. The real demands of love are so great that they can only be fulfilled with someone who is loved totally and unreservedly. True love is a unique gift of God.
Lord, you are Love and the source of love. Today I pray for that most special person in my own life. I pray for all those others whom I also love, that you will be with them at every moment of every day. I pray that you will make me a loving person, so that I might give your love, true love, to the ones I love. I pray for all married couples and for those who are thinking of marriage, that they will know true love and forever. Amen
Posted by Sr. Janet at 8:13 pm
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Have you ever noticed that it is sometimes ‘the power of one’ that can make a difference?
Without a spark, there is no fire. Without a raindrop, there is no rain, no waterfall, no river.
It only takes one person to create a little pool of goodness…Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Marie Curie… Where one led, others followed.
During this season of Lent, am I like the little tugboat? Do I lead others, perhaps bigger and more important in the eyes of the world, to a place that is more full of hope? Do I show them that life is worth living? Am I overawed by ‘bigger’ people and immobilised in the stream of life, or am I able to take a deep breath and carry on regardless?
Glancing through a booklet of Lenten reflections the other day, I read that the famous Jewish neurologist and psychiatrist, Victor Frankl, when a prisoner in Auschwitz, was forced to give food to his Nazi captors whilst naked and on his knees: yet he could forgive them for the indignity and humiliation inflicted upon himself. I am not sure that I could have followed his example. His was the goodness that showed the world that ‘the power of one’ is sometimes able to set an example for the rest of time.
Does my littleness shine in the darkness?
Posted by Sr. Janet at 8:32 pm
Monday, February 11, 2008
I used to love to visit the Barmah Forest, as the forest was called. It was so beautiful and peaceful that I would regularly go there for a day, just to pray. It was easy to pray in such magnificent surroundings. It was easy to see why the Australian Aborigines, the first inhabitants of Australia, saw the forest as a sacred place. God just seemed to be everywhere. For thousands of years, Aborigines had done just as I was doing. They had gone into the forest to be close to God and their spirit ancestors.
The River Red Gum trees are very special. They need to be flooded each year to a depth of 1m. or else the trees die. So, every year, the forest becomes an immense lake, far too deep to enter with any degree of safety. The flood waters had travelled down from the distant Snowy Mountains in order to give life to the forest, the animals and the fish of the Barmah Forest.
The trees are also interesting because some of them bear the marks of where Aborigines removed bark in order to make shields and household items. They were very clever. They removed the bark in such a way that the trees were never damaged.
The Aborigines believed that the land did not belong to them. They belonged to the land, which they saw as their father and mother. They had no private property or land. Everything belonged to everybody and everything. Even a stone had as much right to its existence as the people who might use it. Therefore, everything had to be treated with respect.
Yet the Aborigines themselves, people who had lived in Australia for 40,000 years, were themselves hunted almost to extinction. They lived in perfect harmony with Creation, lived in an incredibly close relationship with God, and yet they could be murdered without a second thought.
Thank God, today Australians are trying hard to give every Aborigine their full rights as Australian citizens…but what happens in other countries across the world? Do we give every person we meet the respect and dignity they deserve? Do we treat each individual as someone created and loved by God? Do we respect their history and traditions if they are different from our own? How do we look at the land on which we have our houses or our businesses? Do we look on it as a sacred gift of God, to be cared for and passed on to future generations? How did our ancestors care for the land? Do we respect the teachings and traditions they have handed down to us?
Lord, today we thank you for the richness you have given to us through our own culture and traditions. We thank you for our ancestors who gave us life. We praise you for the beauty of your Creation. We ask you to help us to do nothing to disfigure your work. We thank you for the wonders of your Creation. Amen.
Posted by Sr. Janet at 8:25 pm
Sunday, February 10, 2008
It had to have been a carefully planned operation, but one that happened calmly, peacefully and with only a slight disruption to pedestrians, who were guided around the scene.
It was Westminster Bridge during the Friday evening rush hour. With a background of the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, with a foreground of the magnificent waterfront of the Thames, three police vehicles had surrounded a saloon car. At the head of the group was an ordinary patrol car. Inches from the rear of the trapped car, a small van, normally used for the Dog Squad, prevented any reversing. A large van for transporting prisoners prevented any of the car’s occupants opening doors and making an escape. There was only one exit for them, and the police were making sure that it was in their control.
The scenario was actually blocking my own path, so there was no point in complaining about a diversion, especially as it gave a better opportunity for seeing what was happening as I approached.
One by one, five men climbed from the vehicle, assisted by the police. Determined to ensure that nobody escaped, two men had already been handcuffed to the side of the bridge. One was being searched and two others were in the process of giving information to officers with notebooks whilst handcuffs were fastened on their wrists.
I still don’t know the cause of the arrests, but what struck me was the total lack of aggression, weapons or violence. I have seen higher levels of stress on market stalls. Presumably a crime had been committed and the arrests had been carefully orchestrated, but there was nothing even to cause anxiety to passers-by as the lives of five men were about to take a big change of direction.
Wrongdoing does not need to create a great deal of fuss and bother. Sometimes our misdemeanours are known only to ourselves and to God.
Lent is a time for saying sorry and putting things right without the need of attention-seeking. God is very calm, understanding and forgiving…and does not need to use handcuffs!
Posted by Sr. Janet at 12:34 pm
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Once upon a time, an egg hatched and a very ugly baby bird came out of the shell. At first, it was damp and untidy. Then, when its feathers dried out, everyone could see that its beak looked too big for its head and its feet certainly looked far too large for its small body.
The mother duck was most unimpressed by her baby. For a start, it was much too big. The other ducklings were smaller and tidier. How on earth could such a large, ugly bird have come from one of her eggs? It didn’t look like either the mother duck or the drake that had fathered the brood.
Yet, the mother duck had to acknowledge that, even though her ugly duckling was very ugly compared to its pretty, fluffy brothers and sisters, it was a very good swimmer. As soon as they went to the river, the ugly duckling was the first to plunge into the water. It was a beautiful swimmer.
Still, the ugly duckling’s good swimming did not save it from the cruel comments made by the other ducks. Young and old alike, they made such nasty remarks that the ugly duckling was very sad. It was so ashamed of its ugliness that, in the end, the ugly duckling went away on its own. Sadly, it hid in a clump of reeds, only coming out when there were no other birds around.
From time to time a flock of large white birds, swans, flew over the reeds. The ugly duckling watched them. They were so beautiful, so graceful. It must be wonderful to be a swan.
One day, the ugly duckling emerged from the reeds to feed. Some ducks appeared. The duckling was afraid, expecting to hear more nasty comments. To his amazement, there were gasps of admiration. “What’s the matter?” “You’re a swan!”, the ducks exclaimed. “Me? A swan? Aah, go on!” “Take a look in the lake and you’ll see”, they replied. The ugly duckling looked into the water and saw his reflection. He truly was a beautiful white swan. He wasn’t a duckling! He was a swan! Somehow a swan had laid its egg in the nest of a duck and the ugly duckling was the result. The bird that had been so criticised for its ugliness was, in reality, the most beautiful of them all!
We all know an ugly duckling. We all know someone who is criticised or ignored by others because they are not quite like the rest of us. We see ourselves as better than they are, but that’s because we don’t see them with the eyes of God. Jesus ate with the tax-collectors and the prostitutes, saying that they would be the first to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus invited the Good Thief to be with him in Paradise.
Perhaps I know the ugly duckling all too well. Perhaps I’m the duckling who doesn’t realise I’m a swan. Perhaps I’ve been so afraid to let people see the loveliness inside me that I’ve kept them at a distance. Perhaps I’ve been so protective of myself that I’ve not opened up the windows of my heart to let the light shine into its darkest corners. Perhaps today could be the day when I let the rest of the world and myself see that I’m not an ugly duckling. I’m a very fine swan indeed!
Lent is, perhaps, a time of moulting, of shedding some of the scraggy feathers that detract from the loveliness that is within me, that God placed there in his love for me. When I think I am the ugly duckling, he sees only the swan.
Lord, today let me see the loveliness that you placed within my heart. Let me celebrate your love for me. Let me sing a song of thanksgiving and rejoicing. Fill me with your gladness. Amen
Posted by Sr. Janet at 2:51 pm
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
A few days before Lent began, I had a flash of inspiration. Using the strongest expression of obligation in the local language, I told my class that not only was Ash Wednesday an important day, they absolutely, positively had to go to bed hungry that night. To my amazement, the faces of the girls were covered with beatific smiles. Here was one occasion when they could teach the Muslims a thing or two! Ouch! I’m not sure that had been my intention or that of the Church!
This is the season of conversion, of turning back towards God. We’ll hear a great deal about forgiveness and reconciliation. That can also be a big Ouch! It can sound so easy. It is not, at least, not for those of us who are not great saints and sometimes have a struggle not to say those few words that will mean that ‘I have given just as good as I got’ and made sure that someone else has been hurt just as much as they hurt me, if not more, so that there is a warm feeling of payback and of balance.
It can be all too easy to say the ‘Our Father’ and miss the words “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. It can be all too easy to offer the Sign of Peace at Mass without a second thought.
Have you ever deliberately avoided giving so-and-so the Sign of Peace because you would prefer to be a million miles away rather than in hand-shaking distance? It has happened to me, I must confess.
Yet how can we ask forgiveness from God if we are not prepared to offer it in return? Can we pray the ‘Our Father’ and keep holding onto resentment, bitterness, anger and a desire to lash out for hurts received? Can we really and truly offer the Sign of Peace if there is actually anger?
I can think of one occasion in particular when I discovered, to my discomfort, that I was standing next to someone whom I thoroughly disliked (it was mutual) and that, although I had been on the receiving end of her nastiness, it would not be possible to avoid the Sign of Peace. At the time, I could have prayed for a paralysed right arm! Most of the Mass until the Sign of Peace was an argument with myself…and then God put in a little word. “Would you seriously wish for someone not to be at peace?” Guess what. My arm moved almost by itself …and what a difference.
During Lent, perhaps all we need to do for our penance is to take the Our Father and the Sign of Peace seriously. There is no room for one-upmanship, but there is plenty of room for reconciliation and for the healing that it brings.
Posted by Sr. Janet at 8:52 pm
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
People have different approaches to their relationships with others. I remember an Australian couple with whom I used to be friendly and whom I used to meet almost weekly. When they left the town they severed their ties with most, if not all, of those whom they had previously called friends. From the day they left, they didn’t write, phone or visit and yet their new home was only a three-hour journey from their old one. Strange. I didn’t even begin to understand their approach to friendship. What did they understand it to mean? Is friendship something temporary and disposable?
There are some people who call others their friends after only knowing them for a few minutes. They call a casual encounter that has no lasting quality a friendship. Here today. Gone tomorrow. I’m not sure. I think it is entirely possible to meet someone and to have a feeling, even after only a moment, that this person could become a friend, but this doesn’t happen very often. I’m not sure that a momentary, untested relationship is worthy of being called a friendship. To be a friend is not a trivial encounter, not something to be taken lightly.
Real friendship is something that stands the test of time and separation. It is a kind of loving. A true friendship takes a moment to establish and a lifetime to bring to fulfilment. It is a lifelong commitment to another person. It is a gift of all that I truly am to another individual, who makes the same gift of himself or herself to me. That is why, when someone puts his or her life into my hand in friendship it seems a contradiction if, after only a short while, I spread my fingers and let that gift trickle away like sand. That is why it is sometimes said that a friend is “a once in a lifetime experience”. It doesn’t mean that I have only one friend. It does mean that each friend is uniquely precious and irreplaceable.
Someone once said that a true friend is “someone who knows all of my shortcomings but likes me anyway”. True, but a real friend is also someone who notices “all the secret belongings that nobody else cared enough to notice”, the qualities that even I hadn’t known were within me.
Each of us is like a swimming pool with a deep end and a shallow end. Some of the people in my life are only allowed into the shallow end of my heart. Some are allowed into deeper water. A true friend is allowed to swim anywhere even though it means that my weaknesses and shortcomings will become clearly visible. Such a person will also discover and enjoy all the precious treasures that I don’t put on public display.
My friends change me, help me to become more truly myself, make me ever more beautiful and lovable. They help me to bring out into the daylight my best qualities. If my companions don’t do this and I become a worse person through being with them, then they are not friends. Changing for the better is not always comfortable and pain-free, but it is only someone who truly loves me, who is a friend in the best sense of the word, who will both challenge me to make the necessary changes and will accompany me on that journey.
Friendship doesn’t just happen. It takes commitment and time. It means sharing, not only laughter, but also tears. Anybody can be good company in good times. What about those times of pain, discouragement, failure, tragedy, sickness, when perhaps I’m not very good company?
Friendship means the sharing of values, not just superficially, but at the very deepest level of my being. Sometimes we don’t even have the opportunity to talk about those values: we simply recognise that they exist. In the last few days someone to whom I was saying goodbye made the comment “...but you don’t really know me!” Really? Do you think I’ve not seen the ease with which you can put a charitable construction onto a negative situation? Do you think I’ve not heard some of the words which you probably didn’t know that I’d noticed, words that showed me you have your values, your thinking and your judgement right? Didn’t you know that you let me glimpse a deeply good person? Somehow I think I know you much better than you realise!
Sharing of interests and concerns are an important aspect of friendship. We are not clones of each other, so there are areas where we will differ, but there is enough common ground for a relationship to grow, develop and flower. There is a determination to spend time together, perhaps not always talking. Sometimes it is necessary to share silence. It is because of the attitude of total giving, receiving and sharing that are the very fabric of true friendship that its highest human form is found in marriage, where two individuals give themselves heart and soul into each other’s hands in a lifelong commitment.
True friendship is a celebration of the life and goodness of another person. It is unselfish and outward looking. It helps to make life worth living, to make life an ongoing adventure of discovery. A true friend is a priceless treasure: no one can measure its worth.
Posted by Sr. Janet at 8:41 pm
Monday, February 04, 2008
Some people are dismissive about nationality and culture and say that these are unimportant, thinking that by taking up this approach, they are levelling out any possible sources of division or conflict.
But this is where such people are very wrong. My nationality matters very much as far as I am concerned. If, when I relate with you, I pretend that I am not English and that whatever nationality you are, we’re all the same, then I am blinkered. It is denying an opportunity for mutual enrichment. You can learn from me and I can learn from you when we acknowledge our differences. If there were no differences, then there would be nothing to learn.
Chinese New year is celebrated this week, inconveniently for Catholics, beginning on Ash Wednesday. That is why my Community, which boasts of a Singaporean, has anticipated the New Year and has eaten this evening. Thus I have just had the chance of renewing my acquaintance with chopsticks. I am no expert, but this evening I managed better, I think, than ever before… but had I not had the occasion to mix with Chinese people, chopsticks would have been beyond my experience. Had I not been given the opportunity of celebrating Chinese New Year, I would probably never have learned of its significance in reconciliation, healing of wounds and uniting families.
Culture, language and family ARE important. Let us celebrate our differences and enjoy each other.
Posted by Sr. Janet at 9:02 pm