The Crib & The Cross

A reflection on reading The Green Booklet by Little Sister Magdeleine as part of the spiritual formation as a Companion of Jesus of Nazareth. He is from the U.K.

In my reading throughout this month there was always, at the back of my mind, the message I would share in my sermon at the Christmas Mass, at the old people’s home, Trinity Hospital, where I am the Chaplain. I was greatly struck by the passage where Little Sister Magdeleine of Jesus was reflecting on the Crib, making the connections between the Crib, the Workshop of Nazareth, the Passion and the Cross and the Glory of the Resurrection.

At home I placed my crib underneath a crucifix I bought, some years ago, at the great Cathedral of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. One reflection that has always spoken to me so deeply on the Cross is that of our medieval English mystic, Mother Julian of Norwich. At the end of her “Revelations of Divine Love”, her reflections on the Passion and Cross, she writes:

Mother Julian of Norwhich and her cat

“Would you learn your Lord’s meaning in this thing? Learn it well: Love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Only Love. And why did he show you? For Love. Hold on to this and you will learn more of the same. But you will never, without end, learn in it any other meaning.”

These words about the Passion are so important when we have hymns and other devotional material that suggest the Cross was, somehow, about placating and appeasing God’s anger with a bloody sacrifice. I was struck, when reading Little Sister Magdeleine’s words how this reflection of Mother Julian on the Passion can also be used as we reflect on the Crib and the helpless, vulnerable Babe laying in it – “What did he show you? Only Love.” Both the Crib and the Cross – at the heart of the greatest feasts in the Christian Year – speak of the glory and power of God revealed through weakness and vulnerability. I have always been aware of this but, somehow, the concept expressed in Little Sister Magdeleine’s words really seemed to speak to me this year. Our emblem is the heart of Jesus and the Cross – Jesus Love, Jesus Caritas. Thank you.

She also noted that: “you may find spiritual disappointment, because you may never see the fruits of your labour. Most of the time you will sow and not reap – like Brother Charles - - -”. These words, and this whole theme, reminded me of those words by T.S. Elliot I have shared before, given to me by the Bishop who ordained me, on my pre-ordination Retreat. These words have remained with me throughout my 42 years as a Deacon and Priest.

“I say to you: Make perfect your will. I say: Take no thought of the harvest, but only of proper sowing.” (Choruses from the Rock)

Little Sister Magdeleine’s mention of Br. Charles’ particular affection for Muslim people also connected deeply with me. Since 2002, I have worked in one of the UK’s most culturally, ethnically and religiously diverse cities. I have close friends who follow the Muslim faith and we have worked together on many projects to advance the well-being of the wider community and to oppose those who propagate the racist and divisive policies of the Far Right and Fascism. I have been honoured to receive hospitality many times as we have shared meals together.

I was also greatly honoured to speak at a Mosque, on behalf of our Bishop who was away, on a dreadful occasion when several members of a Muslim family were burned to death in a misdirected revenge arson attack on their house (the perpetrators attacked the wrong house). The father, a senior surgeon, was operating to save a child’s life, as his house and family burned. He was a most impressive man of incredible faith and humility, who has since raised the funds to build an educational Institute in memory of his beloved wife and sons.

I never understand fellow Christians, here in the UK, who live in fear of our Muslim sisters and brothers and who indulge in Islamophobic abuse. I have, occasionally, found it difficult in dealing with some Christians I have encountered who have fled from persecution, at the hands of Muslim people, in lands such as Iran and Pakistan (our city has many asylum seekers and migrants from all over the world). I have always tried to explain that all religions can be used to abuse others (as Christianity, sadly, sometimes is) but, we also that Islam reflects so much that is godly, inspirational and holy.

“The Kingdom of God, is a Kingdom of brothers and sisters”. Alleluia! So different from the Empires of this world which seek to divide and rule, to dominate and control, to foster fear and suspicion of the other. If we seek to be faithful to the Gospel, we will certainly be “signs of contradiction” in the imperial culture. “You will be ready to help all people, whom by the Lord’s providence you may meet” – ALL people, not just those who are socially acceptable but those who are on the margins of society, those who are despised, rejected, belittled. There was much in this month’s reading that encouraged me to continue walking on my journey, as a Companion of Jesus, the footsteps of Br Charles.

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