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January 17: Reflections from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis. III.

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Of Brother Bernard of Quintavalle 3

So fared they forth and came to the bishop’s house: and after they had heard the Mass, and continued praying until Tierce, the priest at the bidding of Saint Francis took the missal, and making the sign of the most holy Cross, opened it thrice in the name of our Lord Jesu Christ: and at the first opening appeared the words that Christ spake in the Gospel to the young man that asked concerning the path of perfection: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor and follow me”; at the second opening appeared those words that Christ spake unto the Apostles when He sent them forth to preach: “Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, neither money”; wishing thereby to teach them that for their daily bread they should set all their hopes on God and fix their mind wholly on the preaching of the holy Gospel; at the third opening of the missal appeared those words that Christ spake: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”

Then spake Saint Francis unto Bernard: “Behold the counsel that Christ giveth us: come then and fulfil that which thou hast heard: and blessed be our Lord Jesu Christ, who hath deigned to show forth His own life in the holy Gospel.”

This heard, Bernard went out and sold all that he had, and he was very rich; and with great joy he gave all his possessions to widows, to orphans, to prisoners, to monasteries and to hospices, and pilgrims; and in all things Saint Francis helped him faithfully and wisely.

Following Jesus can mean a few nettles and brambles en route! L’Arche Kent on pilgrimage.

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January 16: Reflections from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis. II.

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Of Brother Bernard of Quintavalle, 2.

Saint Francis, thinking truly that Bernard was asleep, in his sleep rose up from his bed and set himself to pray, lifting up his hands and eyes unto heaven, and with exceeding great devotion and fervour said : “My God, my God.” And thus saying and sorely weeping he abode till morning, alway repeating : “ My God, my God,” and naught beside; and this Saint Francis said, while musing on and marvelling at the excellence of the divine Majesty, which deigned to stoop down to a perishing world and through his poor little Francis purposed to bring a remedy for the salvation of his soul and the souls of others.

Therefore illumined by the Holy Spirit, or the spirit of prophecy, foreseeing what great things God would do through him and his Order, and minding him of his own insufficiency and little worth, he cried unto God and besought Him that by His pity and almighty power, without the which the weakness of man may naught avail, He would supply his lack, aid and fulfil what of itself was nothing worth.

Bernard seeing, by the light of the lamp, the most devout acts of Saint Francis, and devoutly
pondering in his mind the words that he spake, was touched and inspired by the Holy Spirit to change his life; in the morning therefore he called Saint Francis and thus bespake him: “Brother Francis, I am wholly purposed in my heart to leave the world and follow thee in whatsoever thou rnayest bid me.” Hearing this, Saint Francis rejoiced in spirit, and said: “Bernard, this that thou sayest is a task so great and difficult, that thereof must we seek counsel of our Lord Jesu Christ, and beseech Him that He be pleased to show us His will therein, and teach us how we may bring it to pass: wherefore let us go together to the bishop’s house, wherein is a good priest, and let us let say the Mass; then let us continue in prayer until Tierce, beseeching God that in thrice opening of the missal He may reveal to us the path it is His will we should elect.” Bernard made answer that this pleased him right well.

Photo from the Missionaries of Africa. Here is a bishop of today, teaching from the Missal. Good grant Wisdom to all teachers and preachers!

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January 15: Reflections from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis. I.

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Of Brother Bernard of Quintavalle , first companion of St Francis

THE first companion of Saint Francis was Brother Bernard of Assisi, who was converted in this wise: While Saint Francis was still in the secular habit, albeit he had already despised the world, and went about being wholly held in scorn of men, mortifying his flesh by penances, in so much that by many he was thought foolish and was mocked at as a mad fellow, and was driven away with stones and foul abuse by his kinsfolk and by strangers, yet bore himself patiently amid all manner of ignominy and reproach, as though he were deaf and dumb: Bernard of Assisi, the which was of the noblest, and richest, and wisest in the city, began wisely to take heed unto Saint Francis, how exceeding strong his contempt of the world, how great his patience in the midst of wrongs, so that albeit for a two years’ space thus evil intreated of all persons and despised, he ever seemed the more constant; then he began to ponder and to say within himself: “In no wise can it be that this brother hath not abundant grace from God”; so he called him one evening to sup and lodge with him: and Saint Francis consented thereto and supped with him and lodged.

And thereat Bernard set it in his heart to watch his sanctity: wherefore he let make ready for him a bed in his own proper chamber, in the which at night-time ever a lamp did burn. And Saint Francis, for to hide his sanctity, when he was come into the chamber, incontinent did throw himself upon the bed and made as though he slept: and likewise Bernard after some short space set himself to lie down and fell to snoring loudly, in fashion as though he slept right soundly.

To be continued. But did Francis sleep?

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January 15: Reflections from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis. Introduction.

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Dear Friends,

We claim kinship with Saint Francis here at Agnellus’ Mirror. Some of our contributors are, of course, professed Franciscans, though your editors are latecomers to Franciscanism. The Little Flowers of Saint Francis in the 1907 edition, translated by T.W. Arnold, has been on Maurice’s shelf for years since he rescued it from a charity shop, its spine broken, its front cover loose, but the words still clear on the page. We will offer a few little flowers every month throughout 2018.

The translator claims that the original mediæval writer used the finest Tuscan, the literary dialect of Italy at the time. His English attempts to give a mediæval flavour to the stories; we reproduce it from the Gutenberg on-line edition with cuts, amendments and corrections. We hope that you can go along with the archaic vocabulary – archaic well before the English edition was published. It has its own charm.

WT

MMB.

Photo from Christina Chase.

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January 14: Why are you doing astronomy when there are people starving in the world? 

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A very short question and answer that I could not resist sharing with you all. Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ is the Director of the Vatican Observatory. This is taken from an interview he gave a couple of years ago, which you can find here.  Go on, click!

Why are you doing astronomy when there are people starving in the world? 

I learned the answer to that when I served in the US Peace Corps. When my African students learned I was an astronomer, they wanted to look through my little telescope and have the same joy in discovering the universe that I had. They, too, had an insatiable hunger to know about the universe. They reminded me: it’s not enough to feed the body; we also have to feed the soul.

Psalm 146(147) 2-5 links care for physical and emotional needs with astronomical endeavour.

The Lord buildeth up Jerusalem: he will gather together the dispersed of Israel. Who healeth the broken of heart, and bindeth up their bruises. Who telleth the number of the stars: and calleth them all by their names. Great is our Lord, and great is his power: and of his wisdom there is no number.

Brother Guy and his colleagues are still doing one part of the Lord’s temporal work while others are healing broken hearts and bodies, all in his grace. Let us pray for the wisdom to respond to his call, day by day.

MMB.

Image of a galaxy from NASA.

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January 13. Temperance VII: Beauty, Reason and Will

Jack Lonnen Meadows in costume 1At last we may return to one of the key ideas in the first quotation I cited some days ago in these posts on temperance. The philosopher Josef Pieper says that the virtue of temperance is beautiful in itself and renders the human being beautiful. What can he mean? Isn’t temperance about self-control? Beauty belongs to some other virtue, maybe, but not to temperance.

But beauty, says St. Thomas Aquinas, is an attribute of temperance because temperance enables us to control ourselves in relation to those things which can most degrade us. When our passions are indulged in an intemperate way, they ‘dim the light of reason from which all clarity and beauty of virtue arises’, according to Thomas. Let’s linger over this a bit. St. Thomas mentions the ‘light of reason’. We are always being reminded by St. Thomas that the human being is a rational being. Our reason, as we have noted in all our posts, is a great attribute, a precious gift. It is, you might say, like a musical instrument that needs careful handling. A violinist carries his instrument in a specially constructed violin case that protects the strings and the wood from damage so that the violin is able to produce the sweetest sound. Our reason, too, is meant to be protected from damage so that it can function well. Intemperance can cause a kind of damage to our reason. It is not hard to understand this. Just think of someone who is drunk. What becomes of the light of reason and the clarity of thought in an intoxicated person? Or think of someone in a rage so intense that the mind stops functioning, and violence takes over.

The role of the will is important here. ‘The will,’ says Thomas, ‘stands between the reason and the passions and may be moved by either.’ Our will, then, is a bit like a traffic policeman, allowing some things through and making others wait. The traffic policeman commands obedience from drivers in the same way that the will, directed by the reason, can command obedience from our passions. If our passions do not obey will, the will can be run over by them, and this causes havoc for us. Thomas goes on to say, ‘Although the passions are not in the will, it is in the power of the will to resist them.’ We are not at the mercy of our passions, regardless of their seeming strength. Just because we may passionately want to do something that we know is not good, our will need not capitulate.

It is always possible for the passions to respond to the will’s directives. The passions are not all-powerful. The will, moved by the light of reason, is able to resist them.

Yet, the beauty of temperance is not merely that it protects us from going hay-wire with regard to the physical pleasures of food and drink and sex. It has a positive effect on our entire being, body, soul and spirit. Temperance is not directed only to our physical appetites. We have a host of emotional appetites also: the craving for control, for popularity, for possessions, for acceptance, for love, for attention, for money, for safety, for comfort – the list goes on and on. We cannot treat all of them here. But from all of them in their extreme and intemperate form, temperance is liberating and purifying.

The particular beauty of temperance is ‘the glow of the true and the good’ radiating from within the temperate person. Temperance, you might say, works on us to bring about the purification of our entire being. How? By submitting our most intensely personal feelings and desires, our most passionate impulses and cravings to the light of divine truth.

As Pieper says, temperance is ‘that purity by dint of which the selfish and furtive search for spurious fulfilment is abandoned.’ He continues:

A new depth here opens to our view: purity is not only the fruit of purification; it implies at the same time readiness to accept God’s purifying intervention… to accept it with the bold candor of a trustful heart, and thus to experience its fruitful and transforming power.

SJC

Maurice’s great-great-grandfather was an actor.

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12 January, Temperance VI: Temperance, Restraint and Anger.

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One of the important aspects of the virtue temperance is that it is not just about our physical appetites. It is about all our appetites, and develops our ability to handle such emotions as intense fear, desire and anger. And so, it complements moderation with something that uses perhaps more ‘muscle’ – and that something is restraint. Restraint is that power of soul whose act is to choose. In so doing, it curbs the desire for immediate gratification by showing us that we may fulfil our being more truly by making a reasoned choice than by gratifying an impulse that is coming (as in the case of anger) from a hidden desire for vengeance.

Restraint has particular relevance to the passion of anger. Anger can be a very strong passion indeed, and it is worth dwelling on it for a moment. St. Thomas grants that some forms of anger are useful: the anger that surfaces in regard to injustice, for example, and any kind of abuse. Anger is a necessary passion in these circumstances. I would go even further and say that there are some situations to which anger is the only healthy response. But, once again, anger must be directed by the light of reason. Intemperate anger can be destructive and abusive itself, and St. Thomas would not allow that it is good to fight violence with violence. This is where restraint comes in. Blind wrath, bitterness of spirit, revengeful resentment: these forms of anger are highlighted by St. Thomas as being the most dangerous aspects of anger and therefore most in need of the curbing powers of restraint. Blind wrath, he says, is anger that is immoderately fierce and destructive. Bitterness of spirit is to do with a state of anger that lasts so long that it becomes a part of one’s very character and personality. In this case the offence remains in one’s memory, and gives rise to what Thomas calls ‘lasting displeasure’ that does not stop until punishment has been inflicted. Revengeful resentment is an aspect of this ongoing bitterness in which the disposition becomes chronically sullen and the mind is endlessly preoccupied with taking revenge.

When these aspects of anger are delineated here in writing, it is easy to see how harmful they can be – to ourselves and to others – but let’s face it: we have all been there and probably done it. I don’t doubt that many of us have at times been swept away by the intensity of our feelings and indulged in precisely the kind of angry behaviour Thomas describes. These temptations are part of the weakness we have as fallen beings. But the virtue of temperance brings good things to bear on this state of affairs. Through gentleness, justice and charity we can restrain the onslaught of anger.

Gentleness, contrary to what we might think, does not mean that we never feel angry, or that if we do, we can get over it almost before we feel the full force of it. Rather, gentleness is what makes a person master of herself, and therefore master of the power of anger, according to St. Thomas – for anger is a power, and as such is capable of accomplishing something good. Gentleness is about channeling that power rightly, dealing with the cause of the anger fairly, addressing the whole situation that gave rise to the anger in such a way as to change it for the better.

In order to do this, of course, we need to enlist the aid of our reason. We are back to the need to think. Our reason then, brings justice and charity to bear upon the situation that has caused our anger. Justice and charity working together with gentleness enables us to focus on something other than our own pain. We become able to focus on the feelings of the one (or ones) who offended us, on seeing the situation from the other side, and on effecting the changes that will lead to the establishment of peace – even if some of those changes are changes that need to take place within our own heart.

SJC

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January weather: beauty under a grey sky.

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Do we call her the Silver Birch or the Diamond Birch on a grey, drizzly day in January? This is our next-door tree, an exiled Lady of the Woods, her jewels bright against the dark bricks. Open your eyes when you go out, whatever the weather, and Laudato Si’!

WT

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January 11: Temperance V: The Gift of Shame

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The virtue of temperance does not require the stoic abstention from all physical pleasures. Temperance is the virtue by which we are strengthened in the ability to decide how much is good for us, and to follow through on that decision on the level of behaviour. What helps us in our decision?

St. Thomas teaches that the spontaneous reaction of shame that surfaces when we have over-indulged in the physical pleasures is both healthy and helpful to us. At first this might be hard to believe: shame is such a miserable, intensely uncomfortable feeling. We don’t like it, and often try to suppress it, or to defend against it by laughing it off and telling ourselves not to be so morbid. Yet, it is better for us to face our feeling of shame. It is a useful reaction whereby we recoil psychologically from the disgrace that comes from intemperance.

Excesses on the level of our physical appetites give us a feeling shame that is usually more intense than the shame we feel over our other moral failings and sins. St Thomas explains that this is because our bodily appetites are what we share with animals, and when we over-indulge them we feel deep down that we have lost something of our innate dignity as human beings.

aquinas-carlo_crivelli_007JohannesPaul2-portrait

Shame, again, surfaces spontaneously. In the masterful book Love and Responsibility, written by Karol Wojtyla*1 in the 1960s, the phenomenon of shame is one of the topics he studies in depth. Here is a brief passage from his book:

Shame is a tendency, uniquely characteristic of the human person, to conceal sexual values sufficiently to prevent them from obscuring the value of the person as such. The purposes of this tendency is self-defence of the person, which does not wish to be an object to be used by another… but does wish to be an object of love (Chapter III).

Perhaps this requires some unpacking. First Wojtyla affirms that shame is part of our in-built moral equipment, as it were – uniquely characteristic of the human person. As such, it is a gift, and it has an importance and a purpose in our spiritual and human lives. Then, he speaks of ‘sexual values.’ Again, an important notion. We see here that he is not trying to say that our sexuality is bad. Then why does he talk about ‘concealing’ this value? Simply because this value has a tendency to loom larger than it should, so much so that it can ‘obscure the value of the person.’ There is a hierarchy of values here, he is saying: the person is of greater value than sexual values. Through shame we actually protect ourselves as persons, so that we do not become an object of “use”. According to Wojtyla, then, shame is not the result of prudish conditioning by repressive religious teachings, or over-strict authority figures. It is inherent in our nature, and surfaces spontaneously with a message for us. That message is that we are created to be loved and to give love in a manner that always affirms the unique beauty and dignity of the person – both our own person and that of the beloved.

This beautiful insight by Karol Wojtyla shows us something that helps us to moderate our physical appetites, by reminding us that we were created to love and be loved. This is the fulfilment we crave most deeply. But we must love and be loved rightly, with great respect for ourselves as persons and for the unique personhood of our loved one.

1 Karol Wojtyla was elected pope in 1978, and was known as Pope John Paul II. His papacy lasted until his death, twenty-five years later.

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January 10: Temperance IV: Our Appetites and our Reason

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Our human nature was created by God in such a way as to insure our survival as a species. The bodily appetites that deliver the most pleasure also happen to be the very ones we most need in order to keep us going on the planet earth. In themselves, they are good, as St. Thomas affirms, and there is nothing wrong with the pleasure they give. But, paradoxically, we need some moderation in these areas in order to enjoy the pleasure they give. How do we manage this?

There is very little in our secular culture to help us here. The advertising media exploits all our appetites in order to sell its products, thereby increasing our desire to posses those products and experience those pleasures, and giving us a vague feeling of inferiority if we do not. Being sexually active is presented as the greatest and most fulfilling human experience by the story-line of most films, plays and television shows. Chastity is rarely presented at all, and almost never shown in a positive light. The pleasures of food and alcohol are raised to the level of culinary art by celebrity chefs and the entire food industry. Yet, the fact that there are a rising number of individuals pursuing Twelve Step1 programs in order to handle addictions in these areas testifies to the truth that the Church has always known and St. Thomas clearly articulated in the thirteenth century. We need self-control with regard to our pleasures.

We also need to think. Our mind, our reason is more powerful than we may realise and can give us the real guidance we need. How reassuring this information is: that we have within us the capacity to direct our growth in goodness. This is nothing to do with IQ, and everything to do with opening our mind to the truth and our heart to the promptings of grace.

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The media and pop culture rely on us not thinking very deeply – and certainly not praying – so that we may be seduced by the personalities and products the media presents, and become consumers of what they sell. If we do not think too much, then our appetite for power and pleasure and possessions will move us to buy things that the businesses supporting the media want us to buy – things that will seem to feed these appetites, and give us the illusion that we, too, look like media stars and share somehow in their life of glamour and pleasure. This is manipulation on a grand scale. This illusion is something from which we need to withdraw in order to discover our true identity. We desperately need our ability to think, we need the use of what St. Thomas would call our reason, in order to live on a level in which we see through what is fraudulent and empty. Only then will we discover the joy of living in communion with God, and with what is true, and with a set of values in which temperance as a virtue becomes possible to us.

SJC

1It is important to point out that there can be a difference between addiction and intemperance, at least where drugs and alcohol are concerned. Drug and alcohol addiction is usually considered a disease which originates in a genetic pre-disposition to it. The only “cure” is complete abstinence from all substances. This is not the place to give a full description of the characteristics of addiction. I refer those interested in learning more about this to any writings on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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