Tag Archives: action

10 May: What do you see in the mirror?

It used to be one of the standard questions in those short celebrity interviews: Who (or what) do you see in the mirror in the morning? Perhaps it’s been quietly dropped because interviewees came to expect it and had answers ready, answers to sell their new film, tv show or book.

Saint James would have us look into a mirror, a looking glass. We like mirrors, here at Agnellus’, even when they make us look ridiculous.

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if a man be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he shall be compared to a man beholding his own countenance in a glass. For he beheld himself, and went his way, and presently forgot what manner of man he was.

But he that hath looked into the perfect law of liberty, and hath continued therein, not becoming a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work; this man shall be blessed in his deed.

James 1:22-25

The mirror to see ourselves in is the ‘perfect law of liberty’: how do we use the liberty we have been given, or would have been given if our hands had not been clenched, deep in our pockets? We will never reach the day’s end without refusing or abusing our liberty in some way, great or small, but we can look into the mirror of liberty, and with our God-given freedom, do better tomorrow.

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Lenten Reflections from CAFOD

Ash Wednesday is fast approaching and I would like to invite you to join us as we seek to make space and time to draw closer to God and our global family through reflection and prayer this Lent. 

Each day in our emails we will share a reflection on one of the readings of the day, stories of our global family, a prayer and a suggested action you might like to take as we prepare for Easter. 

Join us on this journey by signing up for our daily Lent emails.

Sign up now

Please do also spread the word and encourage your family and friends to sign up and join in this Lenten journey too. 

Wishing you a blessed Lent,


 

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3 November: Action and contemplation.

Action is charity looking out to other men,

and contemplation is charity drawn inward to its own divine source.

Action is the stream and contemplation is the spring.

Thomas Merton, No man is an Island, 1957, p84.

Another view of ordinary saintliness at work.

We can discover the water of life at work in us through listening, watching, being open to the Spirit.

Jesus said to the woman at the well:

“Everyone who drinks this water
will be thirsty again.
But whoever drinks the water that I will give him
will never be thirsty.
The water that I will give him
will become a spring of water within him
welling up to eternal life.”

John 4:13-14

PS: Since Merton was writing in 1957 we must forgive his use of ‘man’ to cover both sexes, and the translators, too!

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5 August: Traherne XLIV, a life within eternity

It ought to be a firm principle rooted in us, 
that this life is the most precious season in all Eternity, 
because all Eternity dependeth on it. 

Now we may do those actions
which hereafter we shall never have occasion to do. 
And now we are to do them in another manner, 
which in its place is the most acceptable in all worlds: 
namely, by faith and hope,
in which God infinitely delighteth, 
with difficulty and danger, 
which God infinitely commiserates, and greatly esteems. 

So piecing this life with the life of Heaven, 
and seeing it as one with all Eternity, 
a part of it, 
a life within it: 
Strangely and stupendously blessed 
in its place and season.

‘This life is the most precious season in all Eternity, because all Eternity dependeth on it.’ I still find myself shaking my head at the piercing simplicity of this idea.

Lord, help me to see this life as a part of eternity,
strangely and stupendously blessed
in its place and season.

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15 July: An energetic life.

A kneeler at Aberdaron church, Wales, where the poet RS Thomas was parish priest.

In another age, in another life, Thomas Traherne might have made a monk. In another age, in another life, another Thomas found his vocation as a Cistercian monk and writer. That’s how it was beginning to look in 1947 when Merton wrote the following journal entry. The message of the kneeler above contrasts with Traherne’s message in the last two days, ‘The soul is made for action, and cannot rest till it be employed’; at least superficially. But Traherne was also counselling the practice of meditation which begins with stillness. How that is achieved depends on the individual to a great extent; the fact that I came to stillness when cutting the grass was not appreciated by all my superiors… Over to Merton, who had chosen, been called to, a life of silence but not necessarily one of stillness.

The Cistercian life is energetic. There are tides of vitality running through the whole community that generate energy even in people who are lazy… We go out to work like a college football team taking the field.

Trappists believe that everything that costs them is God’s will. Anything that makes you suffer is God’s will. If it makes you sweat, it is God’s will. But we have serious doubts about the things which demand no expense of physical energy. Are they really the will of God? Hardly! …

If we want something, we can easily persuade ourselves that what we want is God’s will just as long as it turns out to be difficult to obtain.

Reading the two Thomases together, I wonder that any of us ever find any stillness in modern life. I no longer have access to a big, noisy, green, ride-on mower. But I do have the garden to turn to: news from there tomorrow.

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12 December: What are you Hearing?

Advent is a time of watching and waiting: Sister Johanna invites us to listen to the Word of God and accept the challenges it confronts us with.

My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and put it into practice (Lk 8:21).

Do I want to be part of Jesus’ family, his mother and brother and sister? Oh, yes. Absolutely. Then, the question to ask myself, and with some rigour, is: What are you hearing? Hearing the Word of God and putting it into practice is the prerequisite for being a mother and brother of Jesus. Well, am I hearing the word of God? Really?

What we hope to hear often affects what we are able to hear. Identifying my hopes tells me what I will be listening for. Ok. Be honest. Don’t I hope (at least with a tiny part of myself) to hear someone who teaches that the ‘wide way’ is the true way? That if something ‘sincerely’ seems good to me then it is good in itself (‘sincerity’ being the only test for ethical uprightness)? That good and evil are empty constructs, man-made, politically or sociologically engineered to foster a culture of guilt and unhealthy self-criticism? Or, if I can honestly say that I have no such hopes, isn’t it still true that I wish I could hear someone telling me that I am doing just fine, and don’t need to work too hard to get on the right track?

Hearing the Word of God demands something different of me. Such hearing requires some preparation, some awareness of the human tendency to evade the truth, to want things to be easy. To hear the Word of God means putting the false self elsewhere – the self that is focused on its outward appearance and that wants to impress others and be important. Those desires need to be seen for what they are: vain, addictive, and ultimately unfulfilling. The words these desires speak to our mind are not God’s Word, and they get in the way of hearing it.

I am a Benedictine nun, and strive to live by the teaching of the Rule of St Benedict, a profound spiritual document written in the sixth century for people searching for God in every century. Its very first word is the command to listen. How to listen better, more deeply, more honestly, without self-seeking: this is the crucial question.

The second half of the statement from the gospel of Luke is “…and put it into practice.” I suppose it is possible to listen and then carry on as before, without changing anything or correcting anything – possible, but I don’t know how. If one is really listening rightly, deeply, unselfishly, if one is really hungry for the Word of God, then the Word does what food does: it makes action possible, it strengthens us for the right kind action. The two – the hearing and the acting – are completed as one thing. The Word, if truly heard, results in a desire and ability to put it into practice. But truly hearing the Word is required first. What are you hearing?

Sister Johanna Caton

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12 March, Deserts XV: Avoiding future deserts.

earthnasa

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

IMGP4743

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.

Saint_Augustine_and_Saint_Monica

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!

 

joachim (519x800)
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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