It is the late 1930s. War looks inevitable. We break into a discussion that Virginia Woolf is holding with herself – herself as an imaginary male lawyer – on how to prevent war. She asks, ‘Why do men fight?’ She sums up her previous few paragraphs thus:
Here, immediately, are three reasons which lead your sex to fight; war is a profession; a source of happiness and excitement; and it is also an outlet for manly qualities, without which men would deteriorate. But that these feelings and opinions are by no means universally held by your sex is proved by the following extract from another biography, the life of a poet who was killed in the European war: Wilfred Owen.
Already I have comprehended a light which never will filter into the dogma of any national church: namely, that one of Christ’s essential commands was: Passivity at any price! Suffer dishonour and disgrace, but never resort to arms. Be bullied, be outraged, be killed; but do not kill … Thus you see how pure Christianity will not fit in with pure patriotism.
And among some notes for poems that he did not live to write are these: The unnaturalness of weapons … Inhumanity of war … The insupportability of war … Horrible beastliness of war … Foolishness of war.
from “THREE GUINEAS: A book-length essay” by Virginia Woolf, via Kindle.
Quite what Wilfred Owen would have said in the face of the bullying, outrageous killers of the Third Reich is another question, but he would have had no reason to change his mind about war’s unnaturalness, inhumanity, foolishness and the rest. Has war ever been a contest between two groups of men with no involvement of civilians and their way of life? Of course not.
See also this post and search Agnellus Mirror for Wilfred Owen for more reflections on the Great War.
So much did the fervour of devotion increase in Saint Francis that he altogether transformed himself into Jesus through love and pity.
He saw, coming from heaven, a Seraph, with six wings resplendent and ablaze; He bore the likeness to a crucified Man; two wings extended above His head, two were spread out to fly, and the other two covered all His body. Saint Francis was sore afraid, and, at the same time, was filled with joy and grief and wonder. He had passing great joy of the gracious aspect of Christ, who appeared to him so familiarly and regarded him so kindly; but, on the other hand, seeing Him crucified upon the cross, he felt immeasurable grief for pity’s sake. Next, he marvelled much at so strange and stupendous a vision, knowing well that the infirmity of suffering agreeth not with the immortality of the seraphic spirit. And, while he thus marvelled, it was revealed unto him by Him who appeared to him: that that vision had been shown unto him in that form, by the Divine providence, to the end that he might understand that, not by corporal suffering but by enkindling of the mind, he must be altogether transformed into the express image of Christ crucified, in that marvellous vision.
Then all the mountain of Alvernia seemed to burn with brightest flame, which shone forth and lighted up all the mountains and the valleys round about, even as if the sun had risen upon the earth; wherefore the shepherds, who kept watch in those regions, beholding the mountain all on fire and so great a light round about it, were very much afraid, according as they afterward related to the friars, declaring that that flame continued upon the mountain of Alvernia for the space of an hour or more. In like manner, by reason of the brightness of this light, which shone through the windows into the hostelries of the countryside, certain muleteers, who were journeying into Romagna, rose up, believing that the sun had risen, and saddled and loaded their beasts; and, as they went upon their way, they beheld the said light die out, and the material sun arise.
In the said seraphic vision, Christ, who appeared to Saint Francis, spake unto him certain high and secret things, the which Saint Francis was never willing to reveal to any one during his life; but, after his death, he revealed it, even as is set forth below; and the words were these: “Knowest thou,” said Christ, “that which I have done unto thee? I have given thee the stigmata, which are the tokens of My Passion, so that thou mayest be My standard-bearer. And even as I, on the day of My death, descended into Limbo, and, in virtue of these My stigmata, drew out thence all the souls which I found there; so to thee do I grant that, every year on the day of thy death, thou shalt go to purgatory, and in virtue of thy stigmata, shalt draw out thence all the souls of thy three Orders, to wit minors, sisters and continents, and also those others who have borne great devotion unto thee, and shalt lead them unto the glory of paradise, to the end that thou mayest be conformed to Me in death as thou art in life.”
Now when, after long and secret converse, this marvellous vision vanished away, it left an exceeding ardour and flame of Divine love in the heart of St. Francis, and in his flesh a marvellous image and imprint of the Passion of Christ.
With all the light pollution caused by modern fear of the dark, nobody would notice the coming of Christ on the mountain! But we should all bear in mind the words ‘not by corporal suffering but by enkindling of the mind, [we] must be altogether transformed into the express image of Christ crucified.’
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.
Two Hundred and forty six years ago, Dr Johnson and James Boswell were on the Isle of Raasay in the Hebrides, making for Skye and thence for home. No regular Calmac ferry then! Indeed they had waited in the islands for clement weather to allow the rowing boats to set out. Now the conversation grew serious; can one die contented? Johnson’s answer is comprehensive, and reminds me of the old catechism answer: God made me to know him, love him and serve him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in the next. We rely on his mercy for the latter.
More of Boswell’s idiosyncratick spelling!
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 12. It was a beautiful day, and although we did not approve of travelling on Sunday, we resolved to set out, as we were in an island from whence one must take occasion as it serves. Macleod and Talisker sailed in a boat of Rasay’s for Sconser, to take the shortest way to Dunvegan. M’Cruslick went with them to Sconser, from whence he was to go to Slate, and so to the main land. We were resolved to pay a visit at Kingsburgh, and see the celebrated Miss Flora Macdonald, who is married to the present Mr. Macdonald of Kingsburgh; so took that road, though not so near.
All the family, but Lady Rasay, walked down to the shore to see us depart. Rasay himself went with us in a large boat, with eight oars, built in his island; as did Mr. Malcolm M’Cleod, Mr. Donald M’Queen, Dr. Macleod, and some others. We had a most pleasant sail between Rasay and Sky; and passed by a cave, where Martin says fowls were caught by lighting fire in the mouth of it. Malcolm remembers this. But it is not now practised, as few fowls come into it.
We spoke of Death. Dr. Johnson on this subject observed, that the boastings of some men, as to dying easily, were idle talk, proceeding from partial views. I mentioned Hawthornden’s Cypress-grove, where it is said that the world is a mere show; and that it is unreasonable for a man to wish to continue in the show-room, after he has seen it. Let him go cheerfully out, and give place to other spectators.
JOHNSON. ‘Yes, Sir, if he is sure he is to be well, after he goes out of it. But if he is to grow blind after he goes out of the show-room, and never to see any thing again; or if he does not know whither he is to go next, a man will not go cheerfully out of a show-room. No wise man will be contented to die, if he thinks he is to go into a state of punishment. Nay, no wise man will be contented to die, if he thinks he is to fall into annihilation: for however unhappy any man’s existence may be, he yet would rather have it, than not exist at all. No; there is no rational principle by which a man can die contented, but a trust in the mercy of GOD, through the merits of Jesus Christ.’
This short sermon, delivered with an earnest tone, in a boat upon the sea, which was perfectly calm, on a day appropriated to religious worship, while every one listened with an air of satisfaction, had a most pleasing effect upon my mind.
From “Life of Johnson, Vol 5 Tour to the Hebrides (1773)” by James Boswell.
‘In the psalms we have theology expressed poetically.’
A friend of mine wrote this letter to the Toronto Globe and Mail after reading an article whose writer concluded: ‘I cannot remain a Catholic.‘ Without trying to diminish what happened in the schools, Michael makes the case for remaining a Catholic.
To the editor of the Globe & Mail re. “Amid shameful residential-school revelations, I cannot remain a Catholic” (Bernadette Hardaker, Opinion, July 5).
I, along with many other Roman Catholics, have signed online expressions of horror at our Church’s involvement in the abuse of our indigenous populations, and their most vulnerable members. Together with millions of fellow Catholics, I choose to remain a member of my Catholic community because, despite its institutional flaws and the moral crimes of some of its leading members, the Catholic Church remains a Christ-centered community that provides the spiritual direction and resources that I need in attempting to be the best person I can be.
The Catholic Church is defined as more than its pope, bishops, priests, and other religious. The Catholic Church is composed of “The People of God”, who are attempting to live according to the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. I, with my fellow Catholics, ask for forgiveness from our abused indigenous neighbours, and forgiveness from our God.
At the annual gathering of the priests of the Hallam Diocese in October 2018 the speaker was Tom O’Loughlin, Professor of Historical Theology at Nottingham University. Tom gave the priests of the Diocese Six Simple Steps which could go some way to achieving Vatican II’s vision in our celebration of the Eucharist. Today we take a look at steps 3 and 4. To read the whole article click on the link above.
Step 3: Stop ringing bells
There is an infamous description of Catholic worship as being impossible to understand but “supported by bells and smells!” We need to be aware that some things seem to survive in some churches even when they have lost their meaning – and bells are among them.
Step 4: Provide the cup to all
We must not allow ourselves to forget the command of Christ that we should eat and drink. The command is addressed to us all and not just to priests. (I look forward to the time when this is once again possible, post pandemic.)
More Eastertide reflections from Thomas Traherne, Who makes the bold claim, ‘he was the son of God as you are’, but he was heir of the whole world’, meaning the whole of creation. As with all of Traherne, the passage repays slow, repeated reading.
The Cross of Christ is the Jacob’s ladder by which we ascend into the highest heavens.
There we see joyful Patriarchs, expecting Saints, Prophets ministering, Apostles publishing, and Doctors teaching, all Nations concentering, and Angels praising. That Cross is a tree set on fire with invisible flame, that Illuminateth all the world. The flame is Love: the Love in His bosom who died on it. In the light of which we see how to possess all the things in Heaven and Earth after His similitude. For He that suffered on it was the Son of God as you are: tho’ He seemed only a mortal man. He had acquaintance and relations as you have, but He was a lover of Men and Angels. Was he not the Son of God; and Heir of the whole world?
To this poor, bleeding, naked Man did all the corn and wine, and oil, and gold and silver in the world minister in an invisible manner, even as He was exposed lying and dying upon the Cross.
I am the wood
On which you chose to die.
I am the beam you carried on your shoulder,
Pulling at your torn and scourged flesh.
I am the rest on which they laid your hands,
You held me close,
As close as nails could hold.
You drew my pain
To make it yours.
And then they lifted you
And you forgave me.
Saint Francis, we know, received the marks of Christ’s passion in his own flesh; here he contemplates the instruments of the Passion. Sheila has a Franciscan insight here; the Cross itself feels the pain of a broken world. Perhaps we, too, should be seeking forgiveness for the wrong we are unwillingly complicit in committing against God and his Creation.
Two poems from American poets that harmonise with this one were published here a couple of years ago. Start with Joyce Kilmer’s prayer of a soldier in France and follow the arrow to the next post by Christina Chase. Happy Easter!
‘Shall I ever,’ he asks on Easter Day, ‘receive the Sacrament with tranquility? Surely the time will come.’
from “Life of Johnson, Volume 2 1765-1776” by James Boswell
Doctor Johnson was staying with his friends the Thrales when he wrote this, well aware of his own sinfulness and the gulf that that could give rise to between himself and God, but also believing that salvation is ours: Christ has Passed-over through death to eternal life and so shall we. Believing does not mean being totally assured in my mind and heart that salvation is mine, and for the melancholic Johnson, all the theology in the world could not enkindle such certainty. Rather it is to accept the promise of salvation, even with a tiny part of myself, and forgive myself for my unbelief. Even a mustard seed faith can leaven the lump that I am; I can receive the Sacrament in fear and trembling, but at the same time, at a deeper level than my doubts, with tranquility.
Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1Corinthians 5:6-8)
I finally found what John the Baptist and Christ were saying to us in Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation on Reconciliation and Penance. There he says, The term and the very concept of penance are very complex. If we link penance with the metanoia which the synoptics refer to, it means the inmost change of heart, under the influence of the Word of God and in the perspective of the kingdom. But penance also means changing one’s life in harmony with the change of heart and in this sense, doing penance is completed by bringing forth fruits worthy of penance. It is one’s whole being that becomes penitential.
St. John Paul has here recalled to us the true meaning of penance as found in the Scriptures: penance as metanoia. This was the penance rediscovered by Francis in the thirteenth Century. Over the centuries this meaning of penance once again became lost as emphasis was placed more and more on the externals of penance, with the interior meaning being either forgotten or overlooked.
The Church, in one of her Lenten Prefaces, calls Lent this joyful season. These two points do not seem to go together.
Out of interest I went to the dictionary to see what it would tell me, and there I found that penance is sorrow for sin, evinced by acts of self-mortification. Is that all we mean by penance, repentance?
And the Lord himself led me among them [the lepers] and I had mercy upon them.
Here God has enabled Francis to accept the gift of penance offered to him and to put it into practice.
John the Baptist at the beginning of his public ministry preaches repentance. The Gospel ends with Christ commissioning his apostles to go and preach repentance to the nations. We cannot possibly believe that Christ, as He was leaving us to return to the Father, was telling His apostles to go and make life miserable for us by telling us we had to lead a life of penance – of misery. Of course not. Christ our God is a God of love and compassion and not a God of misery, though that might well have been the impression that we have given to others – the more it hurts the better it is for you: a ‘do-it-yourself’ kit to salvation.
And when I left them, that which seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of soul and body. And afterwards I lingered little and left the world.
Francis’ whole value system has been turned upside down.