Archive for April, 2014


This year, the Canadian Church Press and the Association of Roman Catholic Communicators of Canada are holding a joint convention. That convention takes place this Thursday and Friday (May 1-2) in Winnipeg.

One of the workshops will feature a panel discussion on “The Francis Phenomenon.” I’ve been asked to take part as one of the panelists, to bring a Protestant view to the subject. Joining me will be Joe Sinasac, Publishing Director of Novalis Publishing, and Marlena Loughheed, Public Relations and Communications Director of the Roman Catholic Church’s Archdiocese of Toronto. Moderating the discussion will be Laura Kalmar, editor of The Mennonite Herald.

A description of our workshop follows:

Since his election in 2013 Pope Francis has captivated the religious and secular media’s attention like few of his predecessors. What is it about this man from Argentina that is engaging the world? Panelists from the Catholic and non-Catholic perspective will discuss the engaging and transformational nature of this man and his calling.

If you’re attending the conference, I hope you’ll attend our workshop. We’re leading the discussion twice on Thursday. (If you’re hadn’t been planning on attending the conference, you can always register for a one-day pass).



For your reflection this Maundy Thursday:

To the Garden of Gethsemane

To the Garden of Gethsemane
Follow now the Lord and his disciples.
See him in the throes of agony
As the cords of death about him tangle.
Think upon this mystery:
The pain he feels, he feels for thee.

Here, as pow’rs of darkness him surround,
Hear his double prayer to God for mercy.
See him on his face fall to the ground,
Crying, “Take this cup of anguish from me!”
Watch his sweat drip down like blood,
First trickle of the coming flood.

Yet, though overwhelmed in his distress,
Still submits he to the purpose divine.
Hear him to his Father acquiesce,
Praying, “Let thy will be done and not mine.”
In response, God’s angel nears
And gives him strength to meet his fears.

Now the traitor springs and love profanes;
Comes by night to do his master’s mission.
This is now the hour when darkness reigns –
Now, when rightful king falls to sedition.
Hear the ancient serpent’s hiss!
Oh, see the strike beneath the kiss.

Maundy Thursday, 2011
Mathew Block


I’ve posted the words to this one online before, but this is the first recording I’ve uploaded.


You can understand why the other disciples were angry. James and John had approached Jesus in secret and asked to be given authority above the rest. “Let one of us sit at your right,” they requested, “and the other at your left in your glory” (Mark 10:37).

The other disciples, we read, were “indignant” when they heard about all this (Mark 10:41). It’s not surprising. “What’s so special about James and John?” you can imagine them asking. “Why should they sit at Jesus’ left and right, and not me?”

In their place, we might ask the same. No one enjoys feeling overlooked. We want to be recognized for our good work and to be rewarded accordingly. So when our acquaintances advance in life while we’re left behind, we feel under-appreciated. Cheated, even. “What’s so special about them?” we mutter to ourselves. “I should be the one climbing up the ladder.”

It’s been a perennial problem for humanity since Adam and Eve: we want all the power and prestige we can get. And if we can’t “be as gods,” as the serpent once promised, then we’ll settle for having a throne next to God’s. We’ll be His right-hand man, just so long as we’re ahead of everyone else. Like James and John, we want a position of power and glory…

So begins my most recent column for The Canadian Lutheran. It’s entitled “Jesus right-hand man.” James and John, of course, are told by Jesus that He cannot give them the places at His right and His left. So to whom did these places go? Find out here.


John_Lydgate-web April 1 might be “April Fool’s Day,” but it is also (at least as of this year) “Whan That Aprille Day.” The name is drawn from the opening lines of the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales: “Whan that Aprille, with his shoures soote / The drogthe of March hath perced to the roote …. Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.”

Not only is the phrase the beginning of one of the most famous works of English fiction, it is also—as is obvious—an example of a now-obsolete form of the English language (specifically, the London dialect of Middle English). Whan That Aprille Day is meant to celebrate and encourage the study of such old languages. The author of Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog explains it this way:

Ower mission ys to remynde folk of the beautye and grete lovelinesse of studyinge the wordes of the past. And eke ower mission ys to bringe to mynde the importaunce of supportinge the scolership and labour that doth bringe thes wordes to us. To remynde folk to support the techinge of paleographye and of archival werke and eek, ywis, the techinge of thes oold langages. To remynde folk of the gret blisse and joye of research libraryes. For wythout al of thes, the past wolde have no wordes for us.

All wise words with which I agree. In honour of the day, I’d like to share a little bit of John Lydgate’s poetry with you all. Lydgate was a monk and poet who lived in the late 14th through early 15th centuries. He was a celebrated writer in his own time but is little remembered today. [By chance, The Guardian and BBC News have run stories about him in the last few days.]

I’m sharing with you a selection from his Legend of St. George. The tale, as we enter it, has advanced thus: A dragon has taken up residence near the Libyan city of Lysseene. In order to placate the monster, the people send out to it two sheep daily. But when the people begin to run out of sheep, the city is put in a difficult situation. How shall they feed the creature and prevent it from attacking? Eventually, they decide to draw lots to send their own people—“man or chylde”—out as food for the dragon. As Lydgate writes, “Allas, ellas, it was to gret pytee / To seen the sorowe that was in that citee.

One day the lot falls to the King’s daughter. And as “the statuit made noon excepcyoun / Of heghe ne lowe,” she prepares to leave upon her fatal journey. Grief consumes the city: “Hir fader wepte, hir moder, boothe tweyne, / And al the cytee in teers did so reyne.” But on the way to the dragon, she meets a knight, whom she warns to flee lest he also be devoured. But this is St. George, and Lydgate tells us he has been “sent frome the Lord as in hir diffence / Ageynst the dragoun to make resistence.” He is moved by the woman’s plight and decides to save her if he can.

Lydgate continues:

Hooly Seint George his hors smote on the syde
Whane he the dragoun sawe lyft up his hede,
And towardes him he proudely gan to ryde
Ful lyche a knight with outen fere or dreede;
Avysyly of witt he tooke goode heed,
With his spere sharp and kene egrounde
Thoroughe the body he gaf the feonde a wownde.

The cely mayde, knelyng on hir kne,
Unto hir goddes maked hir preyer,
And Saint George, whane he did it see,
To hir he sayde, with debonayre cheer,
“Ryse up anoon, myn owen doughter deer,
Take thy girdell, and make therof a bande,
And leed this dragoun boldly in thyn hande

“Into the cyté, lyche a conqueresse,
And the dragoun meekly shall obeye.”
And to the cytee anoon she gan hir dresse,
The ouggely monstre durst it not withseye,
And Saint George the mayden gan conveye,
That whane the kyng hade inspeccyoun,
With palme and banner he goothe processyoun,

Giving to him the laude of this victorye,
Which hathe theyre cytee delyverd out of dreed;
And Saint George, to encresce his glorye,
Pulled out a swerde and smote of his hed,
The people alwey taking ful goode heed,
How God this martyr list to magnefye,
And him to enhaunce thorughe his chivallerye.

Thanne he made the dragoun to be drawe,
With waynes and cartes fer out of the towne,
And after that he taught hem Crystes lawe,
By his doctryne and predicacyoun,
And frome th’errour by conversyoun,
He made hem tourne, the kyng and the cyté,
And of oon hert baptysed for to be.

As we see, then, St. George not only frees the people of Lysseene from their physical captivity, he further frees them from their spiritual captivity. The people hear the Good News of Christ and are converted from Paganism. Thus it is that the physical dragon’s downfall at St. George’s hands anticipates the city’s spiritual salvation from “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan” (Revelation 12:9).

To read the rest of Lydgate’s Legend of St. George (and for explanatory notes and glosses), visit TEAMS Middle English Texts.