All posts by Stafford Whiteaker

On Redemption: Meditation for Good Friday

Jesus on cross in monastery of Belem Lisbon
Jesus on cross in monastery of Belem Lisbon vicente

On Our Saviour’s Death

Now is the darkest hour. Now is the time you must wait on God. The hour approaches when there the light will leave this world. The shadow descends on the Beloved as he cries out, ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,’ in submission to God’s will. He dies to consummate the redemption of the world. Be astonished in contemplation of this incomprehensible mystery that Life itself should die in order to deliver you from death and to impart to you eternal life. Consider on this day and in this hour, who hangs there dead before your eyes: The Word, the Wisdom, and the Son of the eternal God. He is crucified and dead for the love of each of us. Draw near to him now in spirit and wait at the foot of his Cross, as did his mother. Mourn in prayers of hope and love. Pour out yourself in acts of adoration, praise, and thanksgiving. Above all renew the promises of your heart to be his both in life and death now and forever.

King of the Jews

Consider how even at this time Our Lord begins to reign. The title that hangs over his head declares him to be the ‘King of the Jews,’ All nature proclaims him: the sun withdraws its light for the hours that he hangs upon the cross; at his death the whole earth trembles, and the veil of the Continue reading On Redemption: Meditation for Good Friday

On Submission: Meditations for Lent Week 6

Jesus on the Cross
Jesus on the Crosséfalvay Kristóf

First Meditation: Lessons to be learned from Christ in his Passion

In the Passion of Christ, his submission to God’s will is no less admirable than his humility. We learn from his ministry about the place of this kind of submission as well as the place of humility in our lives. (Matt. 11:29) On the Cross, he taught these lessons too, being led like a sheep to the slaughter and not opening his mouth to protest. (Isaiah 53:7) Isaiah foretells for us how Christ will respond at the time of his death: The Lord God has opened my ear and I do not resist for I have given my body to the strikers, and my cheeks to them that plucked them; I have turned not away my face from them that rebuke me, and spit upon me.’ (Isaiah 50:5-6)

The Apostle Peter explains that we have been given these prophetic words as an example that we should follow. He tells us that when Jesus was reviled, he did not revile. When he suffered he threatened not, but delivered himself to those that judged him unjustly.’ (1 Pet. 2:21, 23) Let us learn from the Continue reading On Submission: Meditations for Lent Week 6

On Suffering: Meditations for Lent Week 5

Passion of Christ
Passion of Christ Brinkman

First Meditation: On devotion to the Passion of Christ

Meditating on the sufferings and death of Jesus ought to be a principal part of the Christian’s devotion during the time of Lent, because the time is approaching when we commemorate the yearly memory of Christ’s passion. Therefore, we need to focus on the crucified Saviour and make him the object of our devotion. His passion is an ever-flowing source of mercy, grace, and salvation to us, since all that is good flows from his cross. The more we approach him in his sufferings and place ourselves near the cross through our meditations, the more plentifully we partake of that mercy and grace.

As the great aim of Lent is that sinners should return to God, what better means for this return could we have for this than through the sacrifice of Christ? We do this by daily meditating on his passion. Such meditation will Continue reading On Suffering: Meditations for Lent Week 5

On Betrayal: Meditations for Lent Week 4

Porto da Cruz, Madeira Island, Portugal
Porto da Cruz, Madeira Island, Portugal Freitas

First Meditation: On the treason of Judas

We see in the example of Judas that no state of life or calling, however holy, can secure us from danger. Was not this Apostle, called by Christ and schooled by him in the way of light? Was Judas not called from darkness like the other Apostles? Was not Judas witness to the casting out of demons and the working of miracles? Nevertheless, Judas fell so far from grace as to rise no more. Let anyone, who is sensible, realize on what slippery ground he or she stands in this life, because we are all potentially a Judas. This means that we should distrust ourselves and place all our confidence in God. We must work out our salvation, then, with fear and trembling for the seductions of this world are waiting for us, ready to lead us from God—and even like Judas into death.

But what was it that brought Judas to this evil state? It was the love of money. This he indulged in at first by the opportunity of carrying the common purse of the Apostles. Here he found temptation. Thus by degrees, he fell into evil, which took possession of his soul to the extent that Continue reading On Betrayal: Meditations for Lent Week 4

Chapter 6: Stalin’s Library

It was on a fine spring day just as the strawberries were blossoming that Thomas-Jean Barracult took to his bed. He said that as he was now in his ninety-eighth year he had a right to rest. When the mayor came to visit him, Thomas-Jean announced that he intended to leave the village something of great value. Speculation swept over Banios like a sudden wind up from Africa, hot and impatient, turning this way and that in its excitement. Even Marcel Fontan who kept sheep in the Lacaze came down to find out what was happening. Gisèle de Saint Phalle spat out her cigaretto and said that, as Thomas-Jean had spent his entire life only milking two cows twice a day and had never been outside the village, he could hardly have a fortune. But she was wrong. While it was true that Thomas-Jean had lived all his life from selling the milk, he had made one trip outside the village and he was rich thanks to Stalin.

Long before Gisèle de Saint Phalle had been born, Thomas-Jean had attended the 1928 Communist Party Conference in Warsaw. When he came back, he would stand outside the church on Sundays and make speeches about Communism and the glory of the Red Revolution to anyone who would listen. After the first week, no one was interested. One Sunday a journalist from a national newspaper passed through the village on his way to mountain-climb and listened to Thomas-Jean. The result was an article headlined Is this the Nation’s Last Revolutionary? Someone of high rank in Russia, perhaps even Stalin himself, decided Thomas-Jean should be rewarded for his loyalty. So, for fifty years a small pension had arrived in cash, neatly tucked into a brown envelope with a Russian stamp. Thomas-Jean had never spent a penny of the money. He put it in a box in the loft above his cows.

Speculation rose again each year when Thomas-Jean celebrated his birthday. He would surely die soon, so expectations climbed ever higher: Was it to be a new bridge over the Adour? A new community centre? A new infant school? But as years rolled by and Thomas-Jean continued sitting up in his bed to eat his supper of fried bacon and red wine, the village lost hope. Death and the village forgot about him until he was one hundred and six. On that anniversary he announced that Madame Sarthou was coming to live with him. “She is bound to discover his fortune!”, exclaimed Guilliaume, “We’ll have to be on our guard!”

Elizabeth Sarthou ran a dog grooming business from an old yellow van in which she lived as well, so she was glad to move into Thomas-Jean’s house. She was very tiny and dressed in children’s clothes and always wore a surgical mask. Madame Petillon said Madame Sarthou was so deaf from barking dogs she probably had not even heard about Thomas-Jean’s fortune. This also proved to be wrong.

From the moment Elizabeth Sarthou moved into the house, she hunted for the money. There were only two rooms but she went over them carefully, feeling the walls for secret hiding places and even checking for the tiles on the floor just in case there was a place beneath one. Eventually she dug up the tiles and piled them outside the door. She even moved Thomas-Jean out of his bed so she could turn over the mattress.

“I told you so!” Guilliaume warned me, “She’s hunting for it! Auguste Pontico saw her on the barn roof yesterday.”

That was the day she found the moneybox, held it close to her flat chest and fell through the rotting loft floor boards. She wasn’t hurt, but she was caught on one of the boards, dangling between heaven and earth. In the end, heaven won because her cries for help were muffled by her mask. Even dead, she still gripped the box.

Pierre Dauriac took over and the Mayor declared it was time to settle the matter of Thomas-Jean’s legacy to the village. Everyone in Banios is buried within three days so it was not long before everyone gathered at Thomas-Jean’s house. A solid wood chair was brought by Madame Buisson from her house and Thomas-Jean was carried downstairs to sit in the sun. It was the biggest audience he had ever had. He took his teeth out of his nightshirt pocket, put them in his mouth and two hours later he was still talking about the wonders of the Soviet state. No one had the heart to tell him it was long gone. When the church bell rang at noon, the women went home and brought back sausages, cheese, bread and wine. The men brought benches and chairs. We ate and drank as Thomas-Jean told us the details of Stalin’s life. Suddenly, we were wide-awake, our attention fully on Thomas-Jean. He had held up his treasure box and announced, “All this is for a Stalin Memorial Library! Banios will be the most famous village in the world!” Having made his announcement, Thomas-Jean handed the box to the Mayor, took out his teeth and put them back in his nightshirt pocket and died.

Captain Dauriac and the Mayor went to the Notaire, but nothing could be done. Thomas-Jean’s money had to be used for what he wanted. It was the law. His house was cleared, shelves were bought to install the books and, following his instructions, the money sent to a dealer in Paris who would supply all the books. By this time, word about the library had gotten out. Village Memorial for Stalin! And Last Stronghold of Soviets! were just a few of the newspaper headlines. Television crews came, but Banios mouths and shutters were firmly closed. Marcel Fontan went back up the mountain with his sheep, swearing never to return. The Mayor invited the Russian Ambassador, expenses paid, to come from Paris for the dedication of the library, but times had changed in Russia and Stalin was out. So he invited the elderly widow of Benedict Rebollo who had once written a book about Stalin.

On the dedication day, Madame Rebello arrived just after Gilles Moutel put up the sign on the house. The Stalin Library was painted in bright red letters. Everyone agreed it was a fine sign. So far the shelves were empty and it was not until an hour before the ceremony that a lorry drove up with them. There were thirty-two boxes in all.

There was no time to open the boxes before the dedication so Auguste and Gilles made a platform of them so the Mayor and Madame Rebello could conduct the ceremony. They had to hold hands as the boxes were unsteady. The Mayor made a little speech about Thomas-Jean’s life which was mainly about his cows as he could not think of anything else, but like all politicians the Major could make a speech out of anything. The boxes wobbled and Madamne Rebello hurriedly declared the library open. Abbé Capdevielle refused to be lifted up on the boxes and blessed the library from where he stood. Pippo, Madame Petillon’s five year old grandson kicked one of the bottom boxes, the pile swayed, Madame Rebello screamed, and she and the Mayor fell off. She landed on Abbé Capdevielle who gave a great grunt. The Mayor fell into the crowd which tumbled into a heap. Captain Dauriuac looked very serious, but Madame Delong started to giggle and then everyone laughed. Pippo was pleased and kicked more boxes. Since no one was hurt and the church bell rang for noon, everyone went home to lunch.

The boxes of books stood unopened in Thomas-Jean’s house for months. Finally one Saturday, Guilliaume got Gilles Moutel and they went to put the books on the shelves.

Gilles was the first to get a box open. “Hey! Look at this!”, he whistled and held up a book. It was written in Russian but, as he flipped the pages, we saw it was illustrated with pornographic drawings. They were very funny and very rude. “That one will have to be under lock and key!” declared Guilliaume. Gilles picked up another book, “This one too”, he said. They opened more boxes. Every book had the same kind of drawings. Gilles sat on the floor studying one. “I never would have believed it was possible!”, he exclaimed. “Just look at this!”, said Guilliaume, What have I been missing all these years!” Every book was written in Russian and every one was the same. Thirty-two boxes of sex pictures.

The Mayor held a meeting and everyone went. The Notaire said the library had to be opened. It was the law. Madame Riendebat volunteered to be the librarian if she could use the cow barn for raising chickens. We all knew she planned to sell eggs to any visitors but it was agreed. Opening hours were set. Mondays to Thursdays would be open to the public and Fridays would be Ladies Only Day.

By the end of summer the village was full of people who wanted to visit our new library. Most of them were men. Madame Buisson and Madame Delong opened a café. Gilles Moutel started carving nude wooden Russian dolls. Auguste Pontico’s wife, Aline, sold pots of jam and Madame Reindebat started selling red coloured eggs which she labelled Magic Russian Eggs, confiding to male visitors that such eggs had hidden powers. Money flowed into the village as never before. Abbé Capdevielle said it was the work of the devil but Gilles Moutel went ahead anyway and took down the library sign and repainted Stalin’s Sex Library on it.

We were impressed with the number of scholars who came to use the books. They were all men except for one American woman doing a study for her university on Women in the Sexual Psychodynamics of Soviet Power 1939-1942. We were impressed until Madame Riendebat told us the American woman was a vegetarian.

Chapter 5: Plan Two of the Devil

Failure was not something the Devil was used to. He went into a pout for a week. This affected everything. The river flowed the wrong way again. The wind blew day and night and the Royal Eagle stayed in her nest. The village hens refused to lay eggs. Abbé Capdevielle got the worst case of indigestion he had ever experienced. Madame Labayle’s bread refused to rise for the first time in forty years and Gilles Moutel’s best boots were found in the pig’s pen. Everyone knew it was the work of the Devil. They stared down at the stones and did not dare whisper his name.

There is one thing even stronger in people than religion and churches, the Devil thought – Money! That precious commodity which men and women longed for, fought over, neglected each other to get, often killed to obtain. The desire for money gave everyone a desire for more of it. No one ever got enough. The poor wanted it. The rich wanted to be richer. The big stepped on the small. The world was made of money. Everyone knew that money was the root of all evil, but nobody cared. They just wanted more of it. “Money!” the Devil sang in a delighted voice: “Money! Oh! Money! Oh, Cash makes the world go round”!

He decided greed was what was needed in Banios. Greed could ruin anything and everything. It destroyed every virtue. It didn’t even need to be just money. It could be food or possessions or sex. But the best greed of all was for just plain, old-fashioned cash. No one ever got enough of it. So greed was what he would stir into his Banios broth. “Money! Money! Money!” he sang over and over. A sudden treasure was what was needed in Banios. He just knew it.

On Prayer: Meditations for Lent Week 3

Praying hands in a gravestone
Praying hands carved in a gravestone Empey

First Meditation: On prayer

We worship God in spirit and truth for God is spirit and so our prayers are spiritual offerings and replace ancient sacrifices. (John 4:24) Our new sacrifice, which is prayer, is offered from the heart, fed on faith, prepared by truth, unblemished in innocence, pure in chastity, garlanded with love, which we bring to God’s altar, in procession of good works, to the accompaniment of psalms and hymns. This will obtain for us from God all that we ask. (Tertullian On Prayer) This time of Lent is not just a time for fasting and giving alms, but is also a time of devotion and prayer. Fasting, alms, and prayer, are like three sisters, which go hand in hand. If, then, prayer is necessary at all times and is the very life of a Christian, it is certainly an indispensable duty at this holy time.

But what is prayer? All private prayer of every kind, is a conversation with God and a rising up of the mind and heart to God. By our words we address ourselves to God We present him with our homage, adoration, praise, and thanksgiving. In his presence by our faith, hope, and love, we lay before him all our necessities and Continue reading On Prayer: Meditations for Lent Week 3

Chapter 4: The Buddha Monkey

Pierre Dauriac was a captain in the French police and his mother was very proud of him until he took up Zen. She said nothing, because she understood that men often drifted away from the church of their fathers. She knew that on his deathbed he would be blessed with holy oil and sent onwards to heaven. Now nobody could remember anything ever happening to change Pierre’s routines. His stability was reassuring in a changing world. He worked away six days a week and then was back in Banios for the weekend. He dug his vegetables on Sunday morning, played football in the afternoon and went to the café for a drink until six when he went home. People only ever saw him in uniform when he left and returned from duty except for the time the Minister of Agriculture visited. Then Pierre stood by him, looking like thunder when everyone shouted and yelled about the level of their corn subsidies. As far as we knew Pierre was a confirmed bachelor, although someone once said they had seen him in town with an African woman and an Albino child. As no one had ever seen an Albino child, no one believed the story.

One Saturday morning, Pierre started digging up the front garden. First he made a little stream run through it, which everyone thought stupid since we lived by one of the greatest rivers in the mountains. Then he made a bridge in the Continue reading Chapter 4: The Buddha Monkey

Chapter 3: Plan One of the Devil

Religion is where I must begin, decided the Devil. There is no better place to start a war or just cause trouble than in religion. Everyone knows that. They are sure to wind up arguing the merits of this or that and, finally, start to hate each. He knew it didn’t take much to get people stirred up. He remembered that in Russia, people long ago had divided up between those who believed in crossing themselves one way, while the others decided a different way was right. To this day they still did not approve of each other. He smiled, knowing his choice of religion was the right way to make Banios fall from grace and bring the angel back. He would capture her. He would embrace her. He would eat of the Cloud of Goodness. Then, he would know love and God would take him back.

The Devil flew up to the church steeple and shook the bells. As it was in the middle of the night, this woke up everyone. Then they heard him singing. ‘What was he doing?’, everyone asked. ‘What was going to happen now?’ They trembled in fear. Pepito Fourcade pulled the covers over his head and his wife told him that God would take care of it, no matter what happened. ‘God’, Pepito mumbled, ‘is what started it all.’ Continue reading Chapter 3: Plan One of the Devil

On Mercy: Meditations for Lent Week 2

Pink flowers in field
Pink flowers in field

First Meditation: On exercising works of mercy

Jesus clearly tells us that in order to find mercy we must show mercy. Blessed are the merciful, he explains, for they shall obtain mercy. (Matt. 5:7) The Apostle James tells us of the consequences of those who show no mercy: they will be judged without mercy. (James 2:13) So important is mercy that God himself expressly rejects the fast of those that refuse to show mercy to their neighbour. He declares he will neither hear their prayers nor accept their sacrifices. (Prov. 21:13, Isaiah 1:11/ 15-18) If then, you desire at this Lent time to seek divine mercy for yourself in the forgiveness of your sins, see that your fasting and prayer is accompanied with your own acts of mercy to others.

If you have much, give abundantly and, if you have little, take care even then to be willing to bestow some benefit on others. This is the guidance you need when it comes to acts of mercy. (Tob. 4:9) Such mercy and charity will recommend your fasting and prayer to God who is all charity and whose tender mercies are above all his works.

Consider how many ways and upon how many occasions, the word of God recommends the giving of alms. An eternal kingdom in heaven is promised to all those who are diligent in this exercise and Continue reading On Mercy: Meditations for Lent Week 2