3rd Sunday of Lent

“Although not a major sport globally, rugby had established itself not only as New Zealand’s number one sport but as a vital component in this country’s national identity.”

With this paragraph, a New Zealand history magazine entry records the events of the 1981 Springbok Rugby Team tour to New Zealand.

For some 56 days through the months of July, August and September 1981, New Zealanders were divided against each other in the largest civil disturbance seen since the 1951 waterfront dispute.

You were either pro-tour or anti-tour; households were divided, as were religious communities and social groupings such as golf clubs, bridge clubs, and most probably parish pastoral councils!

As you are reading this, memories and images may be stirred.

A collection of photographs taken of the 1981 Springbok tour protest.

The pitch invasion at Rugby Park, Hamilton, on July 25th 1981, was just the flashpoint of a series of dramatic tour-related incidents.

Names such as John Minto, Cez Blazey, and Ron Don became regular parts of conversations in both the home and public gathering places.

The HART protest group was very visible and verbal.

The group had for many years protested the apartheid system of Government in use in South Africa. (Apartheid is a policy that is founded on the idea of separating people based on racial or ethnic criteria.)

The police presence grew during the tour, including two riot squads, Red and Blue. Kitted out in visored helmets and carrying PR24s or long batons, they became an enduring tour symbol.

Whichever side an individual chose to support, they were adamant they were right, and that stubborn assuredness brought with it an energy for action for many previously unknown.

Relationships were stretched; many friendships were irreparably harmed, and individual New Zealand citizens physically fought with one another.

The painting is by the French artist, Valentin de Boulogne (1591 – 1632). The painting is titled, “Christ Driving the Money Changers out of the Temple.” The painting hangs in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome.

Today’s Gospel (John 2: 13 – 25), has the rather polite heading, “ Jesus Cleanses the Temple”.

One might mistakenly imagine that he has a mop and bucket of water.

From having read the story before, we know it was anything but a mop and bucket of water!

He was mad!

To revisit those 56 days in 1981 affords us the opportunity to engage with the energy of Jesus at this moment in his life!

The similarity of both images took me.


2nd Sunday Lent

Seamus Heaney (1939–2013) was born in Northern Ireland. His acclaimed volumes of poetry, plays, criticism, and translation established him as one of the leading English-language poets of his generation. In 1995 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

The vividness of the pictures, the ocean, the foam and glitter, the earthed lightning, almost demand us to read these lines with our senses. We are invited to touch, taste, feel and smell our way between these lines, “the wind and the light are working off each other.”

Then, the final two lines remind us of an experience many of us have felt: sitting in a car with the wind buffeting the car and ourselves inside, from side to side. Only here in the poem is it “catch the heart off guard and blow it open”.

This Lent, do I dare sit and permit my God to “catch the heart off guard and blow it open.”?

The illustration is a view of Flaggy Shore, Co. Clare, Ireland

Postscript – Seamus Heaney

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly.
You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open

1st Sunday of Lent

The celebrated Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s sixth volume, Station Island, takes its name from a centuries-old Irish pilgrimage site in Lough Derg Co. Donegal, in the Republic of Ireland.

“Station Island XI” is one of the poems in the collection.

The poem opens with the poet’s memory of having ruined a kaleidoscope he had been given as a child, by plunging it ‘in a butt of muddied water’.

There is in the poem a sense that Heaney has confessed, and he hears the words, “Read poems as prayers,” he said, “and for your penance, translate me something by Juan de la Cruz.”

Throughout this Lent, I invite you/us to do the same, “read poems as prayers.”

Poems cannot be read quickly; rather, they demand a savouring.

The image I have is what in my childhood was called a “gobstopper” – a round fruit-flavoured candy, which, when popped into your mouth, had to be sucked for what seemed like forever. The flavour would last, and if you dared remove it from your mouth, you would notice it had changed colour!

Also, it was well-nigh impossible to hold a conversation with a mouth filled with such delight.

During these Sundays of Lent, I will post a poem and an accompanying image.

The poem will fit the mood of the Sunday and reflect the readings.

I suggest you take the poem and imagine it to be that round candy.

Poetry needs to be read aloud and read aloud again. Then there can be added value in hearing the poem read to you (each person has a unique cadence. There are occasions when the best form of talking is by listening.) Watch the poem change colour.

Our liturgies are filled with words as the season of Lent moves forward until we are called to read the entire Passion of Jesus twice. Then, nine readings are given for those who worship at the Easter Vigil!

“In prayer more is accomplished by listening than talking” wrote St Francis de Sales living in the latter half of the 15thC and early 16thC.

I will use poems from a book titled, “The Word in the Wilderness: A Poem a Day for Lent and Easter.”

The compiler is a poet, priest and singer-songwriter named Malcolm Guite and is available as an e-book through Amazon.

I have refrained from writing a reflection on the poem; such a reflection might well disrupt the reading of the poem as a prayer.

Our poem for this First Sunday of Lent is titled, “The Bright Field” by R. S. Thomas

The Bright Field – R S Thomas
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Ash Wednesday

The home I grew up in had an open fire, with many a chilly winter’s night gathered around its warmth.

There were two rituals attached to the winter fire.

One was setting the fire with crushed newspaper, strips of kindling, and pieces of larger wood.

Setting the fire so it lit readily and well was no mean feat.

The second ritual involved disposing of the burnt ashes from the night before.

From memory (and I am going back a few years), the ashes would be scooped into a bucket, taken out, and spread over the vegetable garden.

Why the veggie garden?

Because that is where you were told to dispose of them!

Little did I know that wood ash is an excellent source of lime and potassium for your garden.

Using ashes in the garden also provides many of the trace elements that plants need to thrive.

Wood ash fertiliser is best used either lightly scattered or by first being composted along with the rest of your compost.

This is because wood ash will produce lye and salts if it gets wet.

The lye and salt will not cause problems in small quantities, but in larger amounts, the lye and salt may burn your plants.

So, this is why we have Ash Wednesday.

Ashes are a good fertiliser for your garden, providing trace elements needed for you to thrive.

Like the seed (See Mark 4), they are best scattered and used lightly or sparingly – once a year ought to be sufficient!


Practically speaking, on a liturgical note, the distribution of ashes is not a function reserved to the ordained minister.

Consider a large glass bowl laden with ashes on a stand in the centre of the sanctuary. Individuals are invited to come forward to the ashes and sprinkle themselves with ash however they wish.

In turn, this opens up the possibility of couples approaching together and, in turn, sprinkling each other.

What an extraordinary metaphor of forgiveness.

For those with a disability, invite others to assist them – one of the most frequent phrases in the Gospels reads, “They brought to him,”

Some complain, “What about the mess?”

Our Eucharistic celebration is a recalling of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

I am told it was quite messy, “instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.” (Jn 19: 34).

Another thought to consider: dispense with the celebration of the Eucharist on Ash Wednesday. Rather, focus on the Liturgy of the Ashes.

A final thought: those who regularly minister to the sick in their home through the Liturgy of Communion take with them a container with the blessed ashes and celebrate with those housebound a Liturgy of the Ashes.

Being housebound does not dismiss you from the Eucharistic community.