Tag Archives: action

12 March, Deserts XV: Avoiding future deserts.

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Yes, we are thinking about climate change. In the vanguard of Church thinking on this concern are the Columbans, an international community of priests, sisters and volunteers who often work in places vulnerable to the effects of climate change. They can see it happening while it is still possible to dismiss the concerns as scaremongering in western cities.

Fr Sean McDonagh writes: (follow the link for the full article)

Despite the promise made at the Paris Agreement in 2015, countries will have to increase their level of ambition for the sake of the future of humankind and all other species.

Researchers writing in the prestigious journal Nature questioned whether planet Earth had passed a series of tipping points on climate change. Tipping points are reached when the impacts of global heating become unstoppable in terms of the runaway loss of ice sheets, destruction of forests or rising ocean levels. Until recently, scientists believed that it would take a rise of 5 degree Celsius about the pre-industrial level, to breach tipping points. Recent research suggests that this could happen …

The good news is that we now have technologies such as renewable energy and electric vehicles which could enable us to make serious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Inger Andersen, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme warns that “that the world’s fate would be sealed in the next few years as carbon would rise to such a level as to make dangerous levels of heating inevitable.”

We may feel we can do nothing useful, or we can actually do lots of little things: litter picking, tree planting, travelling by public transport or walking … none of it makes much difference on its own, but if we see, judge and act as though God has put a new heart within us, a heart that loves the planet we are given for our home, we will be faithful in those little things. Do read Fr MacDonagh’s article.

NASA photograph.

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18 September: Y is for York

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York Minster, as the Cathedral is known, was built over the remains of the Roman Garrison. It was here in the year 306 than Constantine was proclaimed Emperor. This late 20th Century statue shows the Emperor dressed for battle, gazing at his broken sword.

The hilt or handle of the sword forms a cross with the blade. In hoc signo vinces – in this sign you will conquer – were the words that accompanied Constantine’s vision of a cross in the sky before the decisive victory that took him from contender for the throne to acknowledged Emperor of Rome.

Constantine, seventeen centuries on, seems to us more of an action man than a contemplative, but if his adoption of Christianity as the religion of the Empire was politically expedient, it must also have spoken to his heart. We can follow his gaze and, looking at the broken sword, ask ourselves under what sign, what banner do we strive? Which Kingdom do we serve? What are we aiming for? And how would we recognise victory? Are we like the man in the background, too busy on our phones to stop and stare? Let’s look at the broken sword and say:

We adore Thee O Christ and we praise  Thee, because by thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world. Amen.

MMB.

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29 August: Augustine on Love II.

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Continuing Saint Augustine’s sermon on 1John 4:4-12. The image of the ass running away from the safety offered by its rider bears further reflection.

May that virtue which ought never to depart from the heart, never depart from the tongue.

Jesus had no need to come except charity: and the charity we are commending is that which the Lord Himself commends in the Gospel: Greater love than this can no man have, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13. How was it possible for the Son of God to lay down His life for us without putting on flesh in which He might die? Whosoever therefore violates charity, let him say what he will with his tongue, his life denies that Christ has come in the flesh; and this is an antichrist, wherever he may be, wherever he have come in. But the Apostle says, you have overcome him. And whereby have they overcome? Because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in this world.

Every man now, at hearing this saying, You have overcome, lifts up the head, lifts up the neck, wishes himself to be praised. Do not extol yourself; see who it is that in you has overcome. Why have you overcome? Because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world. Be humble, bear your Lord; be the beast for Him to sit on. Good is it for you that He should rule, and He guide. For if you have not Him to sit on you, you may lift up the neck, may strike out the heels: but woe to you without a ruler, for this liberty sends you among the wild beasts to be devoured!

For more reflections on a donkey, not directly relevant to this post, see here:  and see tomorrow’s post.

 

 

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26 July: Saints Anne and Joachim; grandparents matter!

 

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Statue of Saint Joachim, Holy Name Church, Manchester.

An extra post today – a Pastoral Letter about grandparents from Bishop Mark O’Toole of Plymouth. 

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

On the 26th July we keep the memory of Jesus’ grandparents, St Joachim and St Ann. It is good to know that Jesus lived within a family and to reflect on the reality that he knew the influence and presence of an older generation. In light of this, I wanted to take this opportunity to write to you about the importance of grandparents, both for us personally and in the life of faith.

I know that many of you have grandchildren and play an important part in their lives. Many of us are grateful for the sacrifice and generosity we experienced in our grandparents and thank God for them, living or dead.

I want also to thank those of you who are grandparents, for what you do in passing on the faith within your own family. As I have visited the Diocese, celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation these past weeks, it has been good to meet some of our young people and to hear them speak so positively of the importance of their grandparents. They look up to you, and are grateful to you for your support and love for them. They know that for you, our Catholic faith is vital. Many want to deepen that faith, in their own lives.

In his recent letter to young people, titled ‘Christ is Alive’ (Christus Vivit), Pope Francis speaks of the importance of dialogue between the different generations. He reminds us that “helping the young to discover the living richness of the past, to treasure its memory and to make use of it for their choices and opportunities, is a genuine act of love towards them, for the sake of their growth and the decisions they are called to make”.[102]

He says that it is not good if there is “a rupture between generations” (Par 191). This is sometimes presented to us by our society but it is a lie for it would have us believe that only what is new is good and beautiful. Our experience in the Church is much richer. We know there a wisdom passed down from generation to generation, “familiar with human weakness and not deserving to vanish before the novelties of consumer society and the market (Par 190).”

Whilst at the Synod in Rome, for young people, in October, I was reminded of the humorous saying of Pope Saint John XXIII, “The young need to remember that the world existed before them, and those who are older that the world will continue to exist after them!”

So, to our young I say, ‘continue to cherish your grandparents and learn from them what it means to love and to live a life of faith’. To our grandparents, I say, ‘thank you for your fidelity and generosity. Do continue to witness to the Lord, and to the beauty of our faith, both within your own family and to the people around you.’

In the Gospel today, we see in St Mary and St Martha, two essential dimensions of our faith – prayer and action. All of us need to hold on to both of these. In rooting our lives in a personal encounter with Jesus, may we each be of service to our loved ones and to our neighbours. May each of us, young and old, deepen our faith in the Lord, and in the company of the Church, bring others to Him.

Pray for me.

Yours devotedly,

+ Mark, Bishop of Plymouth

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22 July: We cannot receive love in passive ways.

As I was editing Friar Austin’s posts on the Eucharist, my bedside book was The Revolving Door of Life, by Alexander McCall Smith.* The title suggests a degree of pessimism, but there is always hope in the characters’ lives.

Here Stuart, the father of two small boys, has been joined by his mother in the prolonged absence of his wife. His mother is in her room, unpacking; in the kitchen he is musing about love, for as Austin said in his last post, we cannot receive love in passive ways.

It is easy to revert to how it was before, to the time when you knew instinctively that your mother loved you and that her love was always there like the sun, constant, always available, never for a moment critical or conditional.

Love. He never thought of love. Did other people? Did other people go about their daily business thinking about love; about the people they loved and the people who loved them?

… Did he love anybody at all? Did he love his mother, as he knew she loved him? … Did he love his boys? … Did he love Irene, his wife?

Stuart is actively loving by thinking about love and his loved ones.

Lord, let me think and pray for my family and friends by thinking of them in your presence day by day. Amen.

  • Edinburgh, Polygon, 2015, pp95-96.

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30 September: Fortitude VII, More Endurance.

 

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This idea of endurance is worth lingering over. When I taught this subject as a class, a student once asked, “Isn’t it better to fight for what is right, rather than just put up with something that is evil? Shouldn’t we utilize anger and aggression against an evil which threatens?” St. Thomas allows this, in fact. Moreover, he nowhere says that we should ‘put up with evil’ in a passive way. He says that in resisting evil, all the emotions of the soul can be employed by the virtuous person if they are modified according to the dictate of reason. But as for anger and aggression, they are effective only sometimes. At best, “moderate anger”, as he calls it, can be useful because it is both “moved by the commands of reason and it renders an action more prompt.” Moderate anger, then, is not a tantrum, a rage, a show of personal power. It is intelligent, it speaks without shouting, it has a rational basis for its concerns. That is what Thomas means by being “moved by the commands of reason.” Moreover, an angry person doesn’t delay and stall about doing what needs to be done: an angry person acts quickly. This can be a very good and useful thing.

Then, if the anger is under control, if one has a reasonable set of objections and can communicate them in a rational way, and without dragging one’s feet, then this would be St. Thomas’s idea of the virtuous way to utilize the emotion of anger and grow in fortitude. It might be effective if the difficulty is the type than can be resolved by reasonable argument. Some are.

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The Iron Bridge is a symbol of endurance: Abram Darby III’s endurance against scoffers, and nearly 240 years of Shropshire weather and the vagaries of the river Severn.

But, sadly, not all difficulties can be resolved in this way. For Thomas, the bottom line still seems to be that we must accept that most serious problems take a long time to resolve. This is why endurance, in his teaching, is more effective than anger – even moderate anger. Endurance isn’t merely a passive virtue, for ‘do-nothings’. Rather, endurance actively stands firm on the side of what is truly valuable and good when trials come. It does not capitulate to pressure. It keeps hold of the ethical reasons for taking the stance we take. This, as anyone knows who has ever tried it, is not easy. That is why fortitude is a virtue.

I would like to end these reflections with what The Catechism of the Catholic Church says about fortitude.

Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice one’s life in defence of a just cause (no. 1809).

For further study:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church ,Geoffrey Chapman, London, 1994

The Four Cardinal Virtues, Joseph Pieper, University of Notre Dame Press

http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/aquinas/summa/

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30 April: Prudence VII, Reason.

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Saint Thomas Aquinas says that it is important for prudence that a person be “an apt reasoner” (Summa Theologica 49.5).  We have just said that we must not be thinking forever about what to do, but still, we must think enough.   We know, for example, the exasperation we feel when someone flip-flops from one decision on one side of the problem to the opposite decision on the opposite side with very little rational explanation for the change of mind.

Today, pop psychology has placed a rather inordinate stress on the so called “gut feeling,” as though our gut somehow has access to a truth that the mind and the reason cannot find.  Saint Thomas thinks more highly of our powers of reason than that.  He says that reason is the faculty that researches, weighs and evaluates.  Going off on tangents, or taking quantum leaps isn’t really the way to attain prudence, in his thinking.  Rather, he says,

‘The work of reason is research proceeding from certain things to other things.’ 

Eminently reasonable himself, Thomas would have us take a step by step approach to discovering the most prudent course of action:

  ‘It is proper to the rational creature to be moved through the research of reason to perform any particular action.’  

SJC.

 

 

 

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29 April: Prudence VI, Shrewdness.

 

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In the virtue of prudence shrewdness complements teachability and limits it.  (Summa Theologica  II. II. 49:4) ‘It is a disposition to acquire a right estimate by oneself’, says St. Thomas.  In other words, after you have listened to the advice of those who are older and wiser, the obligation to arrive at a decision about what to do still rests on oneself.  Others cannot and should not decide for us.  The weight of the final decision is still a burden we must carry alone.  One can be running to this or that person forever, unable to come to a decision and rest in it.  Shrewdness knows when one has listened enough and found the answer; shrewdness accepts that the answer in this case might always contain some ambiguity, realises that a certain amount of risk and uncertainty must be borne, but that the issue is now as clear as it will ever be, and the time has come to act.  Saint Thomas will even go so far as to say that in deliberation we may take as much time as needed, but a considered act must be performed swiftly (Summa Theologica  II.II. 47:9).  There comes a time, and we must simply get on with it!

It is important to remember that prudence isn’t about being indefinitely watchful and careful.  Its most important act, for Saint Thomas, is the command.  Prudence answers a question: “What is the best course of action in this situation?”  When it discovers this answer, it commands, “Do it.”  Prudence is a “directive knowledge”, for Saint Thomas.

SJC

Carving, Chichester Cathedral. MMB

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