WEEKLY REFLECTIONS FROM FR LOUIS
During this time of great change and uncertainty, Fr Louis will publish a reflection each week to be shared amongst as many as would like to read it.
The world has always and will always experience times of tension, uncertainty and fear. One way or another, humanity is tested, either personally or nationally in every generation. Biblically one can attribute the cause of mankinds’ struggle to cope with misfortune because of the disobedience and indeed the vanity of man who sought to ‘out God, God’ in the beginning, whenever that was.
As ever, it seems to be the lot of the massive majority of the people of this world to suffer because of the vanity, or selfishness, greed and arrogance of the ‘power-seeking few.’ Many of us who have been blessed with children are concerned in one way or another, about what the future holds for them. Besides the comic sideswipes our children have to cope with from their parents such as ‘God help the girl who marries you!’ or ‘God help the country when your generation is running it!’ despite the chiding, somehow, each generation does cope, and the gifts of genius God bestows on humanity are visible in every generation.
Mankind faces difficulties with a resilience which never seems to diminish. Often it’s the aftermath of conflict, either military or social, which takes longer to come to terms with or to resolve. I say that, because one of the topics of conversation my wife and I used to ‘chew’ over when children started to be delivered to the family with some regularity, was ‘how would we cope, or to be blunt, how would my wife cope should she be faced with the grave problems that hundreds of thousands of people on the Continent of Europe faced after WWII. The topic was the ‘displaced’ peoples in Europe, let alone all the other millions throughout the world at the end of that particular war, who were rendered stateless or homeless or both. Most have us have seen film footage of streams of the displaced traipsing seemingly aimlessly, tramping at crawling pace along dusty lanes or roads, their worldly goods piled on a rusty bicycle or a pram, or any mode of transport that relieved them of carrying their worldly goods, or because of lack of energy, the alternative of simply just dumping them in the ditch. The greater majority of the displaced were women, children and men too old to fight or had been wounded in conflict. All men capable of holding a rifle, even young boys were enlisted by the end of the war. Christ wept over Jerusalem: he must have wept buckets over Europe, the Far East, Japan and all theatres of war in 1945, and constantly ever since.
Two years after the end of the war in Europe, whether refugees or internally displaced persons, some 850,000 persons lived in ‘camps for the displaced’ across Europe: among them were Armenians, Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonians, Yugoslavs, Jews, Greeks and Russians. Even before the end of the war, the great part of the German population of East Prussia had fled westwards, although thousands drowned on route in overloaded ships that sank in the Baltic Sea. Germans, who were expelled or who departed voluntarily from eastern Europe at that time numbered some 11.5 millions!
How long did this situation last? Well World Refugee Year in 1959-1960, - some 15 years after the ceasefire in Europe - was designed as a ‘clear the camps’ drive. By the end of 1960, for the first time since before WWII, all refugee camps in Europe were closed. [for further information, check the BBC History website, or read ‘European Refugee Movements after WWII by Bernard Wasserstein]
Here, I add a personal comment which reflects on the impression I had on those Europeans, some of whom were incarcerated in those camps for up to 15 years. It made no impression on me what-so-ever.
Some of you may know that in 1951, aged 10, my Father sent my elder sister and me to Germany, arranged by a family friend – a German lady - who had married a British soldier serving in the army of occupation in Germany. I was sent to a Catholic family, Mr and Mrs Rolf, who lived in a small town called Syke in the north, a few kilometres south of Bremen, and my sister stayed with a Catholic family in the Saarland in the south. I enjoyed my stay immeasurably; attended school, made many friends and willingly would have stayed as long as my parents would have allowed. Mr Rolf had been in the German Army, captured by the Russians in 1941, and was imprisoned in a gulag until he was released in early 1951. During my stay in his home I never heard him say one single word.
After three months or so in the north, I travelled to the Saarland to join my sister, who also, had thoroughly enjoyed being part of the Maybaum family: mother, father and six children. Mr Maybaum had been a slave labourer for the duration of the war, and Mrs Maybaum had to survive and feed and protect her family as best as she could. Both my sister and I understood what war meant from a child’s perspective. We were born in Coventry, and had witnessed the mess caused bombing, and were aware of death, and yet we were treated with love and warmth as though we were family members. All this happened just 6 years after the war in Europe had ended.
What has that to do with Palm Sunday and Holy Week?
Without realising it, the people in this country as well as many others, are thinking of the common good. There is a willingness, a selflessness and an unending generosity from many and unexpected quarters.
The Season of Lent has started with added spice this year.
One doesn’t have to mention that the world as we know it is changing, Europe is certainly changing and this country is also under a period of tremendous change.
In a way the current situation is preparing us as a nation for the future. As Jesus suffered his passion, that passion was of course a preparation for his death and resurrection.
All of us when we reflect on our past lives experience times of awakening. Of realisation. Of preparation for the future. An example I thought of earlier this morning was the day I started at boarding school. My father took me to school and I was left in one of the main cloisters – the north cloister – we said goodbye and he turned and walked out of the front door of the school, and I was left there alone.
The thought that ran through my mind was very simple. It was this. How would I feel if I never saw my father again? I wasn’t shocked, but I thought that if he died at that very moment, I would still be breathing, life would continue. It would be different not having him as a mentor, and at times a very humorous mentor, and that thought of sudden change, and what I would do with the sudden change and how I would copewith the sudden change gave me the confidence to cope with many of the problems that I would face during my life.
Life is a time of preparation, sometimes it is accompanied by suffering, other times by great joy.
From our Christian perspective, Jesus suffered and died, but the Resurrection gave his followers then, and still gives us today, an opportunity for tremendous rejoicing. There are many parallels in life which prepare us for the future, and those parallels give us the opportunity to change. Hopefully, for the better. My first day at boarding school set a tone for my life; it has given me a sense of the present - it has given me a sense of people’s worth; how much they matter to me. I say that simply because I often think of a parishioner who made a tremendous impression on the parish, her name was Beth Crathern. She did a tremendous amount of work, mostly unseen and yet her effect and influence remains with me to this day.
In his book ‘The Passion and the Cross’, Ronald Rolheiser writes ‘we cannot walk from self pampering to self sacrifice, from living in fear to acting in courage, and from cringing before the unknown, to taking a leap of faith without first, like Jesus in Gethsemane, readying ourselves through a certain agonia, that is, without undergoing a painful sweat that comes from facing what will be asked of us if we continue to live the truth’.
The parallel with that aspect of Christian faith is the same situation which is facing the nation. Those people who are suffering bereavement, will slowly become accustomed to separation. Those people who are now in splendid isolation are also slowly becoming accustomed to separation. When my father left me at school, I too had to become accustomed to separation.
Our Faith tells us that although separation may be a physical reality, it is never a spiritual reality because Faith has no barriers. When those we love die, they never die in our minds and hearts and in the same way that Jesus knew he would rise from the dead, we know that such glory will also be ours.
Lent is a time for looking forward with joy to a joy that gives temporary solace on this earth, but personal glory in eternal life. Our life is a jigsaw of many passions, and the full picture will only be seen when the last piece is put into place and we see the Glory of God.
‘Utilities’: For many of our fellow citizens, the word is associated with public services such as water, gas or electricity supply, bus and train services, in fact anything that is of practical use. However there are smaller utilities which are used for a more personal and practical reason, and one that springs to my mind is a trunk!
I was the proud owner of a trunk. As many other trunks it was a large strong case, measuring about four feet by two feet by one foot, solid in construction, and held in shape by wooden bands, which gave the trunk added toughness. That extra strength was essential, as three times a year it travelled by British Rail from Bristol to Leicester and back again, and it had to be tough to survive the treatment it received. For seven years it carried all my worldly belongings, until after its final journey from Leicester to Bristol, it was laid to rest in the attic at home.
Gone were the clothes, sporting kit and accessories that it used to protect, to be replaced by seven years of memorabilia; photographs, letters and personal items which had been accrued and were to be a reminder of my very happy days avoiding the chores of education. The trunk had become a time-capsule protecting the confidential thoughts, associations and personal letters amassed during those seven heavenly years, to remain frozen in time, only to see the light of day after my demise. And so, I left home and sought refuge in London to seek wealth and happiness. It hadn’t happened by Christmas of that year, so I went home to enjoy family hospitality. It reminded me of the return of the prodigal son, but without the fatted calf or the big party!
The day after my homecoming I went into the attic to check on the time capsule containing the secrets of a life well-lived. I should explain that it was easy to get into the attic. We lived in a large bungalow, and the attic was the full length of the bungalow with a dormer window at either end, and was boarded throughout its length. It was used as a playroom, with a full-sized table-tennis table at one end and enough room to have a snooker table and a bar if required in the remaining area. The access was via a standard sized staircase and unrestricted! One simply walked up the stairway and directly into the attic.
I entered the attic and familiarised myself with the layout and noticed that my trunk had been moved! I walked over to have a look, lifted the lid, and knew that the contents had been rifled. I am tidy by nature, and the contents of the trunk were not as I had left them. I was annoyed, and being disgruntled sought an explanation from my mother who at the time was chatting with my elder sister.
‘Someone has been nosing in my trunk’ I said, ‘and they’ve made a mess of it.’ My mother, completely unflustered said ‘It was the little girls.’ ....... The little girls were my two youngest sisters who were aged 5 and 7, and there was no way I was going to cross-examine them, and my mother knew it. She continued ... ‘we tidied the contents as best as we could ... no harm done!’ Defeated and infuriated I turned to walk away, and at that moment my mother and elder sister, as one, threw this grenade of a question, ......
‘And who is Angela? .........................
So, the both of them had sat down and read every damn letter in the trunk, ferreted through all my personal belongings, and thought they would have fun at my expense. I tried to regain my composure, and said in the most dignified and polite tone I could muster, ‘Well, you have read her letters, which means you know as much about her as I do, and I can assure you, I did not reply to any of them. However, there is nothing to stop either of you from writing to her, and asking her of her intentions towards me.’ [end of scene]
My trunk, including most of its contents [and I stress MOST] has long since decayed, and I am delighted that many aspects of my youth will no longer be scrutinised by members of my family or anyone else for that matter. Did the contents amount to any earth-shattering scandal? No, ... but as in so many youthful indiscretions, they are best forgotten.
As many of you may have observed over recent weeks during the steady creep known as the Corona virus [COVID 19], some people are hoarders. They hoard food, some of which is perishable and not suitable for freezing, and unless consumed within a certain time will decay. It becomes waste, and it is left in overflowing bins for all to see and is a clear advertisement for their selfishness. I am sure that such people would be more than angry if they were challenged about their indiscretion and selfish attitude.
Equally I am sure that if you are like me and feel offended when challenged over one’s personal life, one would feel justified in retaliation!