An upholding presence

Charles Causley describes some ghastly and unhelpful visitors to a hospital patient in his poem Ten Types of Hospital Visitor. One has the ‘neon armour of virtue,’ another ‘a melancholy splurge of theological colours’ …

But the poet also describes the saintly visitor:

The sixth visitor says little,
Breathes reassurance,
Smiles securely.
Carries no black passport of grapes
And visa of chocolate. Has a clutch
Of clean washing.
Unobtrusively stows it
In the locker; searches out more.
Talks quietly to the Sister
Out of sight, out of earshot, of the patient.
Arrives punctually as a tide.
Does not stay the whole hour.

Even when she has gone
The patient seems to sense her there:
An upholding
Presence.

Women, mothers, often give comfort – ‘upholding presence.’ Most people have experience of this. The Bible also gives many examples. Ruth travels with her mother in law, a guide and support as they journey into the unfamiliar. Mary Magdalene, whom one tradition says was a prostitute, supports Jesus in his work. Above all Mary, the Mother of Jesus, stands at the foot of the cross in Jesus’ dying moments.

This comfort, presence and care, typically feminine, is found throughout our world today. It frequently involves sacrifice by the woman.

16th century representation of the martyrdom of Ss Fusca and Maura

St Maura and St Fusca were 3rd century martyrs, (feast day 16th January). Maura was the older woman carer of 15yr old Fusca. Fusca’s brutal father tried to force his views on Fusca and when she resisted he tried to kill her in his anger, she escaped accompanied and supported by Maura. Eventually the two were captured and martyred. Maura accompanying Fusca on her road to martyrdom.

TODAY

Remember women who like Maura have been ‘alongside’ you at difficult times.

Pray for women who care for children in difficult circumstances.

Act: Read again the verse above of Charles Causley and consider to whom you could be a reassuring presence. Plan how to do it.

There are far too few women saints honoured in the calendars of the churches. In a modern calendar of saints and holy ones of the Church of England 80% of those honoured are men. (Click here for more on this) This is one of a series of posts currently being posted on our blog on women saints who do not appear in the Church Of England’s calendar.
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“What three things please God?”

If you were asked what three things please God and what three things displease God how would you answer?

With difficulty may be your first thought. Well, we have a wise woman from over 1400 years ago to help us answer these questions.

St Ita

The sixth century St Ita of Killeedy (feast day January 15th), is the best known Irish woman saint after St Brigid. Ita was a strong and influential woman who built up a Christian community. The Celtic church of Ita’s day took a different attitude to women from other churches of that time (and even of our own time!). Women were encouraged to become church leaders, and not just of women but of men also. Ita had considerable influence on the church of her day. She welcomed St Brendan ‘the voyager’ to her community for five years.

While he was living in Ita’s community Brendan asked Ita what were the three works most pleasing to God, and the three works most displeasing.

Ita answered that the three things that please God most are:

  • Faith in God
  • A simple life with a grateful spirit
  • Generosity inspired by charity

And the three displeasing things, she said, are:

  • Gossip that is unkind
  • Harbouring resentment
  • Confidence in money and wealth

Simple wisdom from a great woman of the sixth century. Do you agree with it?

TODAY…

Remember Ita’s words, and remember women of wisdom who have influenced you.

Pray to grow in faith, simplicity and generosity.

Act: Ita encourages us to be generous. Do a generous act today. For example giving to a needy cause.

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Refugee, grandmother and saint

Our mothers and grandmothers often shape our outlook on life and our faith. It is in the home that we learn to love and explore what life is about. Very often the women of a household have a key role in helping children develop, and to grow in their beliefs and faith.

St Macrina, (feast day 14th January) was remarkable in having a household of saints. She was the mother of St Basil the Elder and the grandmother of no fewer than four saints: Macrina the younger, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa and Peter of Sebaste.

Despite being well established in her home town of Neocaesaria (modern day Niksar in north Turkey) Macrina was forced to flee the city with her husband during a time of civil unrest. She fled as a refugee and lived in poverty in the forest near the Black Sea for seven years.

Undoubtedly Macrina’s life experience and the privations she suffered shaped the faith and outlook which she shared with her family.

Many women who have suffered have found themselves strengthened through the experience.

The experience of women refugees can be very traumatic. All refugees suffer greatly. Women and girls often have specific gender related issues and needs. Levels of sexual abuse and rape can be high in refugee camps. In some countries, for example Lebanon and Jordan, women and children make up the majority of refugees.

The life of Macrina reminds us that refugees come from all sections of society, the wealthy and educated, the poor and marginalised. Her life also reminds us of the vulnerability of social situations – sudden political actions can lead to whole groups of people being displaced.

TODAY

Remember the example of Macrina. Recall that somewhere in your own family history there may well be people who sought refuge or a better life in another country – perhaps England.

Pray with thanksgiving for women in your family who have shown resilience and faith.

Act: Find out the story of a refugee in our country today. (Here is an example of a teacher in Hull who is a refugee from Congo). What do you learn from it?

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Fewer women can read this than men

Fewer women can read this sentence than men.

Two thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women. It is estimated that about 500 million women in our world today are illiterate. This is an astonishing figure.

St Veronica, 19th century painting

Today, in our series remembering women saints, we honour Veronica of Binasco. (Feast day 13th January). Veronica came from a humble family which clawed a hard living on the land in a village in what is now northern Italy. Veronica grew up illiterate, like most girls of her village. She only managed to read and write a little by teaching herself, with determination over a long period. It was a long and difficult journey for her. Finally her self education allowed her to enter a convent where she was renowned for her care and thoroughness in her work. In her spiritual life she was enriched with strong imagery of the passion of Christ and she also received remarkable visions.

Veronica encourages us to give thought to the millions of women in our world who would benefit greatly by learning to read and write.

In the United Kingdom it is estimated that 5 million adults are ‘functionally illiterate’ that is they have literacy levels below those expected of an 11yr old. Often simple straightforward things can be read and understood, but the unusual or different causes problems. Often adults with literacy problems have developed ways of hiding the issues they face.

Much good work is being done in the UK and around the world to raise literacy levels and so open up new opportunities for women and men.

TODAY

Remember St Veronica and her struggle with reading and writing.

Pray for those who help women and men to read and write.

Act: Look at the National Literacy Trust website and be more informed about issues of literacy in the UK and what can be done to help.

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Margaret Bourgeoys: Challenging church authorities

A determined and pioneering French woman in her 30s, grasped the opportunity in 1653 to become a schoolmistress in the newly founded colony of Ville-Marie in Canada (now the great city of Montreal).

Margaret Bourgeoys is our woman saint for today (feast day January 12th).

On arriving in Canada she worked as a carer for children, a hospital nurse and in 1658 arranged for a stone stable to be converted into a school. She had the vision to see future growth and so returned to France and recruited more women helpers. More women joined her and she sought to begin a religious order for women. The church authorities, led by men, disapproved. They wanted the women to be enclosed nuns. Margaret’s community of women were abjectly poor but also determined.

Their mission to educate flourished, despite church opposition. Margaret was an indomitable and pioneering figure who challenged the church authorities of the day with a different outlook and vision. She was a woman of great courage and devotion to her work. Her biographer comments ‘her best praise is the record of her deeds’

Today churches are called to look at the needs of society and to respond with courage and determination, come what may, as Margaret did. Church authority should rightly be challenged, and ecclesiastical authority needs women of spirit to do this.

Remember Margaret’s work.

Pray that God may raise up women of spirit and determination, like Margaret, to challenge the complacency of authority wherever it may be found – in church and society.

Act: – support by volunteering, or financially, work, such as our language classes at St Chrysostom’s, which helps educate those in great need around us. Praise, in conversation, a woman of determination and spirit working for God’s kingdom.

There are far too few women saints honoured in the calendars of the churches. In a modern calendar of saints and holy ones of the Church of England 80% of those honoured are men. (Click here for more on this) This is one of a series of posts currently being posted on our blog on women saints who do not appear in the Church Of England’s calendar.
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Honorata, and women unjustly in prison

There are far too few women saints honoured in the calendars of the churches. In a modern (!) calendar of saints and holy ones of the Church of England 80% of those honoured are men. (Click here for more on this)

For the next few days we are honouring a woman saint of the day and finding out about her and how her example inspires and encourages us today.

We begin with Honorata a fifth century saint. (Saint’s day January 11th) She dedicated her life to prayer and good works in a turbulent time in her land – modern day north Italy. During one raid by a Germanic chieftain Honorata was kidnapped and unjustly held captive. Her brother, St Epiphanius, arranged for a large ransom to be paid and Honorata was finally released. She spent the rest of her life quietly as a nun.

It is perhaps telling of how much of church history is written that far more is recorded of her brother’s life, than of Honorata’s.

Honorata’s life is reminder of the great number of women who today are unjustly held captive and who seek freedom from tyranny. Like Honorata many women are prisoners without ever having committed a crime. Amnesty International gives an example.  Teodora suffered a stillbirth in 2007 in El Salvador.  She was later sentenced to 30 years for ‘aggravated homicide’ under El Salvador’s total ban on abortions in a trial which was marred by irregularities. Eventually, after serving nine years, and after intense pressure from human rights bodies Teodora was released.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

TODAY as we remember St Honorata:

  • Pray for women like Honorata and Teodora who are unjustly imprisoned.
  • Suggested action: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is a British-Iranian woman imprisoned in Iran. She’s serving a five-year prison sentence but she hasn’t committed any crime. Amnesty International seek help to get her home. Click here to read more
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20 + C + M + B + 18 Blessing homes

20 + C + M + B + 18 Bless your home!

Our homes are places of rest, places of hospitality, places of refreshment and love. At the beginning of each year St Chrysostom’s encourages everyone to pray for God’s blessing on their homes. Why not share this with friends and family.

The glorious Feast of the Epiphany celebrates the coming of the wise men to the home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The blessing of homes around the time of this feast, at the beginning of the new year, expresses the blessing of Christ born for us, and loving us wherever we are, and especially blessing our homes.

We suggest a simple form, and also give the traditional full form for those who wish for a grand style!

At the end of the Epiphany Mass, this year, small candles to take home are blessed. Everyone is given a candle and the words of a prayer of blessing. We are encouraged to light the candle at home, pause for a time of peace and quiet and say the prayer.

Blessed Chalk is also available for those who like to follow the tradition of marking the door with chalk.

The chalk is used in this way: Using chalk either above the door, outside, or at the side of the door, outside or inside, the markings

20 + C + M + B + 18 are made, or (20+K+M+B+18). 

20 and 18 being the year, the + being the Christian sign, C (K), M, B being the initials of the traditional names of the wise men, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, they can also stand for Christus Mansionem Benedicat, the Latin words meaning, May Christ bless this home.

Or instead make a simple cross mark + is made with chalk.

 

These prayers are used in our parish at a blessing of a home:

God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only Son to every nation by the guidance of a star. Bless this home and all who live in it. Fill us with the light of Christ, that our concern for others may reflect your love. We ask this through Christ who dwells among us. Amen.

Loving God, visit this home and bless it. May there be no evil here. Let your holy angels dwell here and keep all who live here in peace. May you bless us, and all whom we love, today and for evermore.    Amen.

We have been delighted to receive news that many people in different places of the world have found our encouragement of this simple custom helpful. The blessed chalk has even travelled: See, for example, here and here. 

You can read earlier posts on Home Blessings: for 2016 here, for 2015 here, and here is an example of a family using it, – and a little boy asking if it protects from vampires!
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