Tag Archives: Benedictines

An evening with Julian of Norwich: reminder.

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A reminder of the evening of music, dance, narration and art at Minster Abbey on Sunday November  12, interpreting the revelations of Julian of Norwich.

It’s easy to get to Minster: the Abbey is a short walk from Minster railway station with hourly trains from London, Ashford, Canterbury and Ramsgate.

Follow this link to see the poster:

Julian of Norwich at the Abbey 121117

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An evening with Julian of Norwich at Minster Abbey.

 

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Good Evening Friends,

Back we come from Wales to find a note from our contributor Monica (MT), inviting us to an evening of music, dance, narration and art at Minster Abbey on Sunday November  12, interpreting the revelations of Julian of Norwich.

It sounds interesting! Minster Abbey is a short walk from Minster railway station with hourly trains from London, Ashford, Canterbury and Ramsgate.

Follow this link to see the poster:

Julian of Norwich at the Abbey 121117

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18 October, Saint Luke: Watching

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The wind whisked and sighed all night and

at sunrise-time some secret sun

shed what passed for light, but even

bats were sceptical of day and shot

by in fitful flight, long past their

vanishing-hour,

 

while wind kept sweeping through, rustling

like ladies in long silken skirts.

Nothing sparked or spiked in morning

sunshine that wasn’t, and yet,

this shadowed and speaking scene seethed,

strange with the life

 

I strained to see.  Autumn’s sunflowers

rocked and swayed, scarcely able to

stand, like tall thin drunks on their stems,

sleepy heads lolling, and they seemed

about to slither down, feet first,

into a heap,

 

while wind – I relished standing in

it – used its huge hands to swish the

leaves of trees and push tree tops round

in circles and made sounds like surf

foaming, swirling, hurling itself

on the seashore,

 

sliding back, all slick, and hurling

itself over and over –

 

such

dark, brooding exuberance –

 

such

fierce sibilance –

 

such lavishly

lively gifts of Being –

 

all mine, at dawn

 

as I stood

in the dark wind

 

watching.

 

 

 

SJC.

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Sister Johanna’s poem about Watching and the Wind seems appropriate for Saint Luke, who gave us his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, where he tells how the Spirit came in a great wind and settled over the Apostles.

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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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29 September: Fortitude VI, Fortitude, Justice and Endurance.

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And the virtue of justice? What does that have to do with fortitude? St Thomas says of justice that it is ‘…the lasting and constant will [to] render each his due’ (S. T., II, II, 58,1). Fortitude stands firm against whatever threatens a value. That valued thing might exist on a world scale, such as the freedom of our country, or on a personal scale, such as my right to a just wage; or on any other scale you choose, but the key word is value. By the virtue of justice, we become able to recognise what is of true value, and honour it by a certain kind of commitment to it, as appropriate. By the virtue of justice, in other words, we are able to identify what is worth the kind of self-dedication that fortitude requires.

Which brings us to the consideration of St. Thomas’s teaching on the chief “act” of fortitude. For him, fortitude is about endurance. This may be surprising. Perhaps we expected fortitude to issue in a big display of obvious power directed against something big and bad. How does endurance figure into fortitude? St. Thomas explains that endurance is “an action of the soul cleaving resolutely to good, the result being that it does not yield to fear” (S. T. II, II, 123, 6). Endurance, then, in “cleaving resolutely” to something, implies length of time. We don’t have to cleave resolutely when the difficulty disappears quickly. Resolute cleaving is only necessary when we have a difficulty that doesn’t go away.

So we see here that first of all, fortitude is a virtue for the long haul. Fortitude is what comes into play for situations that require time in order to achieve their fulfilment. Take something like marriage. The wedding day is not the fulfilment of the marriage vows. It is the golden anniversary that fulfils what the couple set out to do and become when they made their commitment to each other. In the meantime, fortitude is what helps them to weather the storms that are inevitable in a relationship between two fallible beings; it helps them to learn from their mistakes, admit their share in them, say ‘Sorry,’ and start again.

SJC

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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28 September: Fortitude V, Fortitude and the True Self

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Today is the feast of Saint Wenceslas, King of Bohemia. Gathering around his statue helped people to develop and exercise fortitude in times of oppression and eventually to win freedom for their country.

 

What does fortitude do for us in these painful situations? Does it make us invulnerable? Does it make us completely fearless? Does it make us feel strong? The answer to all these questions is no. We will need fortitude as long as we are alive, and we will be vulnerable as long as we are alive. We will never be without the need of this virtue. Fortitude is about helping us to be strong, but it will not make us feel strong.

Then, what kind of strength are we talking about here? We do not have a “fortitude button” in our hearts, that we can turn on whenever we need it. But, fortitude does get help from the other virtues, so that it can become part of our character as a human being, part of our personality. This is where we can return to our reflections on the virtue of prudence. Prudence gives us the ability both to see reality and to see the good for which we are striving. This identification of and commitment to the good in a given situation is the vital thing that sustains us in situations requiring fortitude. Sometimes a situation is confusing, and there are several good things that seem to be in conflict. We can find it hard to identify which good thing we should be focused on. We often need the counsel of a wise person to help us sort through the confusion, and to gain clarity. Once we do, however, then we need fortitude so that we do not begin sliding back because of the pull of our emotions. Fortitude strengthens us on the level of our will, so that we become able to hold fast to that which we perceive to be good and true and worth suffering for. In this way, we become able to handle the emotional reactions that can otherwise be overwhelming in the face of danger or difficulty.

St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of these emotional reactions by using the concepts of fear and of daring. In his thinking, the fear and the daring are on opposite sides. Because of fear, he says, we simply want to run away from the threatening thing. If we do that, though, then as St. Thomas puts it, the will withdraws from following what the reason knows to be right, good and true. This is where fortitude helps us to become the person we really want to be, for we lose something vital here on the level of personal integrity if we run away from everything that is difficult and emotionally threatening. By holding firm to our convictions and principles, even at great personal cost, we grow. We become recognisable as someone whose actions match up to our system of values. It is not easy to be such a person. Fortitude is about this kind of growth.

At the other extreme from fear, there is the tendency to be “daring” in the face of danger – by which St. Thomas means that, rather than try to escape, we race headlong into a dangerous situation ‘without taking counsel’, and in a manner that is not helpful to anyone, but only makes the situation worse. While there can be a time when a situation truly calls for a kind of bravery that advances into battle against the enemy, for St. Thomas, this is precisely what “daring” does not do. Daring, in his thinking, seems to be another word for a knee-jerk reaction, which dashes precipitately into the face of danger, taking foolhardy risks, endangering oneself or others unnecessarily.

In other cases, as St. Thomas points out with shrewd awareness of human nature, the person reacts by both running away from and running toward danger. He quotes Aristotle here and says, ‘Some hurry to meet danger, yet fly when the danger is present. This is not the behaviour of a brave man’ (see S. T., II, II, 123, 6). This brief sketch perfectly captures the personality of someone who talks big, but cannot cope with real danger.

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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September 27, Fortitude IV: Fortitude and Mortality.

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At Manchester City War Memorial, MMB.

The ultimate danger is death. But most of us are not required to die for a good cause. Yet, there are other forms of death. We are apt to say, with feeling, “Oh, I would die if such and such happened.” Most of the time, when we use that expression, we know we would not actually die if that thing happened – but the expression bears some truth after all. We would not physically die, but whenever we feel threatened emotionally, we feel that some important part of us would receive a mortal wound if that thing happened. To be rejected by someone we love, for example, does not cause physical death, but the emotional hurt is very deep. If the relationship with the loved one comes to an end, then the part of us that was brought to life through that relationship feels like it is coming to an end. A death of sorts does occur. And so, fortitude is about coping with these kinds of very painful human experiences. It may be that in fact, the relationship in question should change, or even come to an end. Clinging to a relationship out of fear of the loneliness and hurt that will follow once the person is no longer in our life can sometimes perpetuate a relationship that is causing greater harm to oneself that the loneliness we fear. Fortitude would counsel a person in this situation to bring the harmful relationship to an end, and to bear the pain that will ensue for the sake of a deeper level of healing and growth.

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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September 26: Fortitude III, Fortitude and Things that Threaten.

thursday-9-pansy-pavementSo, fortitude is about things, people, circumstances that threaten us. We speak easily nowadays about finding something “threatening.” We might use the word to describe our feeling about someone’s personality, and confide to a friend, “I don’t know why, but Sam threatens me.” Or, it might be that some actions are scary for us. We might admit to someone we trust, “The very idea of getting up in front of an audience and giving a speech is much too threatening. I couldn’t possibly do it.” We all know what it’s like to feel threatened, and it is very uncomfortable. No one likes it. That churning feeling in the stomach. That inability to behave naturally, to find the right words to converse normally. The trembling hands, the racing pulse. Something elicits these symptoms of anxiety because it is perceived as dangerous. Fortitude is what governs our fear of danger. This fear needs to be kept under control, because if it is allowed to get the upper hand, we will simply run away.

Now, there are times when running away is the wisest thing to do. No one contests that. But what if the person who “threatens” us happens to be our employer in a job we know we can do? If we run away every time we feel threatened by someone, we will not be able to negotiate the pressures of the professional world. It is fortitude that counsels us to stick it out, explore our insecurity, try to determine why these feelings are surfacing and then take steps to overcome them. We do this because earning a living requires it. Financial independence is one of the requirements of adulthood, ordinarily. We need fortitude not only for things that are obviously big and difficult – like perhaps running into a burning building to rescue someone. Even in order to realise the goals entailed in living as an adult we need the strength that fortitude develops within us.

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Père Jacque Hamel’s last earthly audience included his murderers.

Or, take our other example, that of feeling threatened by having to speak before an audience. This is not something that is required of everyone, but, once again, what if your job requires you to lead a seminar from time to time? Your future in the company might depend on it. It is fortitude that counsels us to learn how to address an audience by perhaps taking advice from someone who is accustomed to public speaking, by planning your talk well in advance, by noting that smiling and making eye-contact with the audience is important, and so on. Fortitude is what comes into action when we might prefer to run away, wiggle out of something, or back out of situations that are of importance to our personal, professional or religious lives.

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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September 24: The Virtue of Fortitude, I.

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Welcome back to Sister Johanna of Minster Abbey who resumes her reflections on the virtues in Agnellus Mirror.  This week we are considering Fortitude, but beginning with a reminder of what we’ve seen so far. I could not resist this picture, bearing in mind the verse from Psalm 92 describing a virtuous person: The just shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow up like the cedar of Libanus. I’m sure Sister’s reflections will help us all to flourish, wherever our roots may be. MB.

  1. Recap

A few months ago we studied some of the cardinal virtues. If you weren’t here for it, it might help to say that the concept of virtue comes from the Latin word for strength: virtus. A person who strives to grow in virtue then, is not a kind of namby-pamby wimp, but a person of integrity and strength. There are four cardinal virtues: prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. They are called cardinal virtues not because they were discovered by a cardinal of the Catholic Church, or are virtues only practiced by cardinals, but because they are of “cardinal” or major importance in the moral life and in our lives with Jesus.

These virtues are sometimes called acquired virtues, because through God’s grace and our cooperation with grace, we can acquire them, and grow in them. I have been writing about the virtues for this blog because studying them has helped me in my life of discipleship. I’d like to share what I have learned in the hope that others may come to love the virtues, and be inspired to interiorise them.

It is not possible to separate the virtues from each other completely because they depend on each other. This is good news because it means that if we grow in one virtue, there is a knock-on effect, and we simultaneously make progress in all the virtues. We have seen in previous posts that prudence exercises a certain superiority over all the other virtues – you might say that prudence presides over them. This is because only the truly prudent person can understand how to live the other virtues of justice, fortitude and temperance. Prudence is the cause of the other virtues’ being virtues at all, as the Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper points out in his book The Four Cardinal Virtues. Why is this so? Because prudence acts a bit like a good lifeguard on a beach. The lifeguard oversees what is happening on the beach and, if she is good at her job, keeps an eye on the most vulnerable swimmers, and blows the whistle if she sees someone taking imprudent risks. In the moral life, it is prudence that keeps tabs on all the happenings in our life, foresees what might become dangerous, and guides us to safer, more reasonable pursuits.

Prudence, for instance, asks the right questions (see St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, [abbreviated below as S. T.] II.II. 47:7 for his treatment of this). It is through the virtue of prudence that we ask “how” and “with what means” we, in a given situation, shall succeed in doing what is needed. Likewise, prudence never forgets to seek answers to questions like, “Where is this action going? What is the point of doing this? What will it achieve?” It belongs to prudence to direct all the virtues appropriately, so that we do not misjudge a situation and proceed to do the right thing for the wrong reasons, or the right thing in the wrong way, at the wrong time, and in an amount that is either surplus to requirements or in deficit of them, thereby creating a situation that is worse than the one we started with. By being both process-oriented and goal-oriented, prudence helps us to deploy all the virtues in a suitable manner so that we may find a path through the dilemmas and confusions with which existence in a fallen world is inevitably filled.

Justice is connected to prudence as its “first word”, according to Josef Pieper. We saw in our earlier posts that justice is only possible if we can grasp and evaluate rightly what is going on in our lives, and this capacity comes from prudence. No one can be just without the clear-sightedness that prudence gives us. Justice, then, because it is informed by prudence’s knowledge, is able to relate to people and things fairly, because it understands, in an overarching way (and not just from time to time), how much we have received from them and what we owe them.

In our next post we will turn to the virtue of fortitude.

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/

 

Picture credit

 

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July 13, 2017: Nuts, nuns and a Saxon princess.

Our local Saint Mildred, a Saxon princess who had a continental education and rejected the St_Mildred,_Preston_next_Wingham,_Kent_-_Window_-_geograph.org.uk_-_325439 (1)idea of a political marriage to become a nun, has her feast today. She reminds me to pray for her sisters, living today at Minster Abbey; and also to forage the walnuts from my favourite tree.

It’s harvest time because right now the nuts have not yet grown their woody shells inside those green carapaces. Off the tree they come to get pricked all over with a fork, then left to steep in brine for a few days before drying off for a few days more.

The juice has stained my fingers to the complexion of a chain-smoker, if only for a few days. But when the nuts are fully dry for pickling they will be as black as the habits of the Benedictine Sisters who live in Saint Mildred’s Abbey at Minster-walnutsgreenin-Thanet. By Christmas the nuts will be sweet-and-sour and spicy.

Only the first and third of those adjectives apply to the sisters at Minster!

Happy foraging!

Saint Mildred, pray for us.

Saint Mildred from a window at Preston-next-Wingham, Kent.  John Salmon

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