Tag Archives: Authority

21 February: Saint Peter’s Chair.

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A couple of sentences at the end of the article* struck me.

‘Why has the Catholic priesthood wanted to present itself over the centuries as perfect, as impregnable? Since the child abuse scandal… this facade has crumbled and our priests are now humbler as a result and fewer in number.’

Read any of the Gospels and we see men who were far from impregnable. Look at the last chapter (21, 14-17) of John:

 This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to his disciples, after he was risen from the dead. When therefore they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter: Simon son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. He saith to him again: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved, because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me? And he said to him: Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. He said to him: Feed my sheep.

We all know about Peter’s betrayal: this scene of forgiveness and mission came after that; it came in the early days of the New World Order. No-one tried to cover up Peter’s terrible lapse, to pretend it had not happened. No-one made him out to be perfect.

I’m grateful to our own Fr Daniel Weatherley who likened St Peter’s Chair to those held by professors, who bring to the post all their wisdom and experience. Peter was a man of experience, and of hard-won wisdom.

Let’s pray with him: ‘Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.’

And listen out for the call. Who will I be asked to feed today or tomorrow. What can I offer them?

*Stephen Hough, Struggles of the calling, the Tablet, 17.2.2018, p13.

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27 January: The murder that shook the Middle Ages.

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This link is to the British Museum blog  post about ‘the murder that shook the Middle Ages: that of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his own Cathedral.  In this period of Brexit and withdrawal from Europe, it is as well for us all to realise that:

In death Becket remained a figure of opposition to unbridled power and became seen as the quintessential defender of the rights of the Church. To this end you can find images of his murder in churches across Latin Christendom, from Germany and Spain, to Italy and Norway. Becket was, and remains, a truly European saint.

By no means was Thomas simply an anti-establishment English hero. Let us pray for the grace to discern when to support and when to oppose or challenge authority.

The British Museum will be holding a major exhibition about Becket and his world in the Autumn of 2020.

 

From 1170 to 1220, Saint Thomas’s remains lay in the Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral.

 

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23 November: The King VII, Jesus.

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Should we understand Pilate’s question as a signal that he is now ready to listen? I don’t think so. Had Jesus detected even a hint of sincere open-mindedness in Pilate, he would have responded to it. But now, he is too weak and Pilate’s question about Jesus’ origin is far too big. Jesus remains silent. Pilate is not accustomed to such treatment and chooses this moment to remind Jesus of his power over him – once again, the power fixation – ‘Are you refusing to speak to me? Surely you know that I have power to release you and I have power to crucify you.

Even in the extreme weakness of his physical condition, Jesus cannot allow these ill-conceived words to stand uncorrected. He somehow manages to dredge up the strength to find breath and say, ‘You would have no power over me at all if it had not been given to you from above; that is why the one who handed me over to you has the greater guilt’ (John 19: 11). Another highly enigmatic statement which would have seemed incomprehensible to Pilate – and maybe seems so to us, too. When Jesus says that Pilate’s power over him is ‘given from above’, what does he mean?

Jesus’ statements are always multi-layered. Each time we reread scripture prayerfully we can find new depths in Jesus’ words. This statement is one of his most profound utterances. I would like to pause for a moment to consider its implications. Here, Jesus is saying an enormous amount in very few words. What Pilate understood by them cannot be ascertained, but we ourselves can reflect on them. We can recall that in John’s gospel, ‘from above’ refers to God, the Father and creator of all; it refers to the origin and perfection of all that exists and of all that is truly good and loving. This God, whose very being is goodness and love, cannot will what is evil. And, clearly, Jesus’ execution and all that led up to it, including Pilate’s complicity with the forces of darkness, is evil. The Father did not will this particular evil, or any other evil. But he does will human freedom – with the consequence that human beings are free to love God and each other, and to create or respond to all that is good and true in the world. Love is only love when it is given freely. But, by this same freedom, the human person can conceive the convoluted and tragic structures of sin – hatred, jealousy, slander, falsehood, murder, death, and so much more. The political power wielded by Pilate is part of the complex working out of human freedom on a world scale.

We can also reflect that Jesus knew that his mission was to confront, single-handed, sin and death at its source in a titanic battle against Satan. He understood its demands profoundly, and accepted it absolutely. He never shirked his mission*; he walked resolutely towards it, foreseeing and predicting that the consequences of his teachings and of his very presence in the world would lead to this moment he was now undergoing. He knew that, in fact, his mission was one with his very identity. He gave himself completely to it, holding back nothing, out of his unfathomable love for his Father and for the whole human race. This is why Jesus could say that Pilate’s power had been ‘given from above’ – inasmuch as Pilate was an unwitting instrument of the salvation of the human race.

Jesus’ words to Pilate, however, tell us here that, in Jesus’ estimation, Pilate plays only a very small part in a drama of cosmic proportions – ‘given from above’. And, once again, Jesus pays Pilate the profound compliment of interpreting Pilate in the best possible light, when he tells Pilate that the one who handed him over ‘has the greater guilt,’ for Pilate is the quintessential pawn, not merely of the Roman government and the hysteria of the Jewish authorities baying for his execution, but of the entire history of human evil, culminating in the pathetic, confused, self-absorbed political manoeuvres Pilate was trying to make with regard to Jesus. Jesus sees that Pilate is not fully to blame for his actions. His spiritual blindness and his preoccupation with power are moral failings that he has inherited from the human condition time out of mind. But, Jesus also wants to make it clear to Pilate that Pilate’s so called power is the power of a minnow as compared to a whale. It is no power. Pilate’s threats are only a tiny factor in the greater pattern of primordial evil that Jesus has been confronting all his life, and in his divine nature he would ultimately overthrow it, like a great whale overturning the whaling vessel and the crew that is trying to harpoon it. God’s infinite power ‘from above’ will turn evil on its head through Jesus. He is able to, and will, bring good out of what seems to have fallen completely beyond the furthest reach of goodness, for God’s arm is longer still. Indeed, it will reach into Jesus’ very tomb.

Probably all of this is way beyond what Pilate could consciously grasp. But, clearly, something came home to him, for the other gospels indicate that Pilate is thoroughly shaken now and wants to put as much space between himself and this intense and enigmatic preacher as he can. In Matthew’s account Pilate, at this point, publicly washes his hands of Jesus and of the whole situation. But in the gospel of John, Pilate continues to interact with the crowd, bringing Jesus out again before them, broken and bleeding. Pilate’s action elicits only an intensification of mob-hysteria, as they scream for Jesus’ execution. Again, Pilate challenges them: ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ They answer with the blatant hypocrisy Jesus had challenged in them repeatedly throughout his ministry: ‘We have no king but Caesar!’

And Pilate gives up. There is nothing for a politician to do but appease this group, give them what they seem to want and hope they will go away and give him less trouble in the future. And Pilate is first and last a politician. He orders Jesus to be taken away and crucified.

*The other gospels tell of Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane – but this is not a ‘shirking’ of his mission. Rather, it shows the reality of Jesus’ suffering, and of his human psyche instinctively recoiling from an excruciating death. But, through his prayerful communion with his Father, Jesus received the strength he needed to carry on.

SJC

 

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1 October, The Franciscans come to Mount Alvernia IV: a bed for the night

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We see in this post, as in the last one, how Francis entrusted important decisions to other brothers, even when he was around and could have made his will prevail.

Saint Francis took with him to Tuscany Brother Masseo da Marignano of Assisi, the which was a man of great eloquence, and Brother Angelo Tancredi da Rieti, the which was a man of very gentle birth and in the world had been a knight, and Brother Leo, a man of exceeding great simplicity and purity, for the which cause Saint Francis loved him much. And with these three brothers Saint Francis set himself to pray, commended himself and his companions aforesaid to the prayers of the brothers that remained behind, and set out with those three in the name of Jesu Christ, the Crucified, for to go to the mount of Alvernia.

And as he went, Saint Francis called unto one of those three companions, to wit, Brother Masseo, and said unto him: “Thou shalt be our guardian and our superior in this journey, to wit, so long as we be going and staying together, and we will observe our rule, to wit, that we be either saying the office, or speaking of God, or keeping silence, and that we take no thought beforehand, either of eating or drinking or sleeping : but when it is time to seek a lodging, we will beg a little bread, and stay and rest in the place that God may make ready for us.”

Then the three companions bowed their heads, and making the sign of the cross, went on their way: and on the first night they came to a house of the brothers and lodged there. On the second night of their journey, by reason of the bad weather and because they were tired, not being able to reach any house of the brothers or any castle or village, when the night overtook them and bad weather, they took refuge in a deserted and dismantled church, and there laid them down to rest.

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28 October: Challenges can be productive.

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Challenges can be productive. When I was working with 17 year olds with emotional and learning disabilities we introduced a sticker and reward system, tied to an end of week assembly. Stickers earned chocolate bars, for staff as well as students.

Keith was away when we started the scheme, and stood out against it for a fortnight after his return, branding it ‘babyish’.

His participation followed a number of episodes when we had to challenge his behaviour, while his colleagues were being rewarded for theirs. We said that we expected him to be setting an example of adult behaviour to the others. We reminded him of the loyalty cards and rewards offered by shops and restaurants around the town, which plenty of adults were prepared to accept.

Keith challenged us to think the scheme through and justify it to him as something for adults, not simply childish patronising. We challenged him to stand back and look at his own behaviour and how he wanted to be seen – as one of the group or a perpetual outsider? On many levels he was justified in feeling angry at being sent to a boarding school, miles from home, but every other student was in the same boat. School was not forever. Could he live the rest of his life in perpetual conflict? I hope he has found a way not to!

MMB

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9 May: What is Theology Saying? IV: Every believer has a part to play.

According to the ordinary knowledge of the universe current at the time, it could not have occurred to the theologians or Church authority that when Genesis speaks of the six days of creation, and itemises what happened on each day, that this was poetic rather than literal. Today, the increasing knowledge of the universe, along with the rapidly accumulating evidence for the unified and organic evolution of the universe and all things in it, caused many to say that the traditional way doctrine was taught no longer makes sense. The Church while not denying doctrine, reformulated it radically, so that believers could take it seriously. Today people are more comfortable with an account of creation that has incorporated all we currently know of evolution. Thirty or forty years ago many were still worried, and fifty years ago almost all Catholics believed evolution contradicted faith.

Theological development: every believer has a part to play, but not all are properly equipped to do so. When the faithful say that existing explanations do not make sense any more, it is a wake-up call to theologians that it is time to reconsider why these formulations were made in the first place, what was the important message and the historical circumstances leading to such a formulation. Having made this study, theologians then attempt to reformulate doctrine in a way faithful to the Christian message, but which is also up to date for contemporary believers. Not an easy task! They try to do it in different ways, according to what their people share with them. The way theologians think in Italy and Spain will differ from those in Central Europe, for example.

Dogmatic development: because the experience of various kinds of believers is so different, there are often clashes between different schools of theology – sooner or later, because of differences, they will ask the teaching authority of the Church to intervene with an official version. There are usually many ways of expressing the truth; there has never really been only one correct way of doing it. The teaching authority of the Church has no hot line as to which is the better way. Even when infallibility is invoked by the Holy See or a General Council it does not mean that this statement was made on the basis of a new revelation. It means that it claims to be the authentic interpretation of what the faith of the people as a whole has always explicitly been or implied.

Such statements tend to be conservative, because that is their purpose. This does not mean there has been no dogmatic development. It takes third place because there cannot be a judgement on something until it has been discussed [the role of theology], and cannot be discussed until human experience has given rise to the query [the role of all faithful]. Some feel guilty when thinking differently from official pronouncements. They should respectfully and responsibly express this mismatch, because this is how development of doctrine has always taken place, and must continue to do so.

AMcC

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April 3: Easter Tuesday.

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the storm shrieked

rushed at everything

tossed and roared

when he rose

like some

possessed

maniac

Now

he stands with

grave authority

quietly speaks

between

sun-streaks

and blades

of grass

SJC

 

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November 5, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: v – ‘the danger of reducing God-in-Jesus to our own image and likeness’.

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It is far from true to say that the majority of thoughtful young adults today have abandoned religion. My experience is that it is the denominational that is the issue. They want spiritual relevance and ethical responsibility, but cannot see it in any us-and-them ideology that has accompanied so much institutional religion. While formal religion seems to be on the wane, there is certainly a resurgence of interest in things spiritual.

For many, spiritual realities do not happen apart from some kind of formal belief; whereas human experience suggests otherwise. But how do we recognise these signs, and what are they telling us? Is it possible for a genuinely spiritual person to see institutional religion as irrelevant? We have inherited formal structures which seem to suggest they are a sine qua non – monogamous marriage, the nuclear family, formal work place and religious institutions with dogmatic boundaries. These boundaries translate as rules and regulations controlling personal behaviour. On the one hand, without these boundaries there would be anarchy; on the other hand, leaving such boundaries unquestioned is a prescription for disintegration.

Personal relationship with Jesus is regarded by spiritual guides as the ultimate criterion of genuine spirituality. I have experienced the closeness of God when walking in the countryside, or meandering along the coastline, or sitting quietly in chapel. I hesitate to use a human analogy to explain this experience, because it feels as if something greater, more profound is here. My hesitancy is the possible danger of reducing God-in-Jesus to our own image and likeness, and in some way alien to the freedom of the children of God.

Does this sound a little pagan, worshipping the elements as in primitive times? Such statements seem to carry an element of certitude and clarity of faith – we know what is right and this isn’t it. We are so much part of the system that we easily adopt its labels. Take the word pagan. It is used frequently to denote not just opposition to formal religion, but devoting one’s time and energy to worshipping what are seen as replacements for the real God. Jesus said: do not be like pagans, those who make their authority felt – Mark.10.42.

It alleges that ancient worship of sun, moon and stars is primitive when seen from our civilised times. True worship of God is only possible in a civilised world, and is monotheistic. The ability and freedom to see our past in a more favourable light is one of the spiritual challenges facing us. It is not exonerating the past, but widening our horizons and seeing the unity in creation in ever new light.

AMcC

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August 16: Famous first words.

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Let’s stay in Egypt for today: that’s the one link with yesterday’s post, though we are some way west of the Great River, in the desert, in 1942.

As a Church we should learn from whoever can teach us. We could certainly benefit from a few lessons in leadership, so how about this as a new boss’s address to his staff, who were feeling the emotions on the signpost above?

You do not know me. I do not know you. But we have got to work together; therefore we must understand each other and we must have confidence in each other. I have only been here a few hours. But from what I have seen and heard since I arrived, I am prepared to say, here and now, that I have confidence in you. We will then work together as a team, and together we will gain the confidence of this great army and go forward to final victory in Africa.

That was General Bernard Montgomery assuming command of the British and Empire 8th Army in Egypt. Things had been going badly for a while before that.

His driver Jim Fraser, who took him around the front-line units recalled: ‘One could feel the confidence of the troops getting stronger, they were told what was going to happen and when it was going to happen. I must admit that I felt dead, dead chuffed when driving round the forward unit positions with the lads cheering and shouting, ‘Good old Monty!’

Monty believed that his ‘civilians in uniform’ should have sight of the big picture and they responded to that. Peter Caddick-Adams1 points out that logistics and intelligence also played their part in the victorious campaign. The role of Military Intelligence could not be revealed until recently when secret papers were opened up to scholars and journalists, but Monty’s confidence in his troops built their confidence in him and in each other. That is leadership. That inspires.

1Peter Caddick-Adams, Monty and Rommel, Parallel Lives. London, Preface, 2011. pp 284-285; 300-301.

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15 July: Feast of Saint Bonaventure

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Saint Bonaventure was born in the small Italian town of Bagnoregio, near Viterbo, probably in 1217. He studied at the University of Paris, where he joined the Order of Friars Minor. He later taught and became a Master in the school of theology at the same university. He wrote many great academic works of theology.

In 1257, at the age of forty, he was called unexpectedly out of his academic world to become the Minister General of his Order, responsible for leading all the Friars Minor worldwide. He was the seventh successor of Saint Francis of Assisi in this role. In his new role as Minister General, he managed to continue teaching through his writing. His writings of this period were less esoteric and more concerned with spirituality in the lives of the friars and the Christian people they served.

Saint Bonaventure had a gift for uniting different schools of thought into a harmonious synthesis. He used this gift through his writing in efforts to bring peace among opposing factions in his Order and later in the service of the worldwide Church. He was consecrated Cardinal Archbishop of Albano in 1273. He then assisted in preparations for the Second Council of Lyon in 1274, where he played a key role in the efforts to unite the Eastern and Western Christian churches.

Having put his energies into a General Chapter of his Order and then three sessions of the great Church Council in the same year, 1274, he died at the friary in Lyons on 15th July, aged around fifty seven. The Pope and those who had attended the Council, both Eastern and Western Christians were present for his funeral. Saint Bonaventure was canonised in 1482 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1588.

Saint Bonaventure; tireless Franciscan teacher, writer and peacemaker, pray for us.

FMSL

Saint Bonaventure at Saint Antony’s Church, Rye, Sussex.

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