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October 21. What is Theology Saying? XXXIV: My “me” is dependent on desires.

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The fact that my way is illusory means that it cannot be natural, a mistake cannot be of the essence of anything. That this is world-wide and world-old cannot make it natural. Revelation has something to tell us about living together; and we must avoid supposing an autonomy of social science, which forgets that modern social theory is formulated specifically against theology. It shares the same illusion of seeing reality as setting one against another. As a consequence of faith in the Incarnation, we receive the awareness that self-awareness comes from seeing self as total gift – no rivalry, as each one is unique.

Why does the infant struggle to repeat words and sounds; a process we take for granted? It isn’t automatic [and often missing in the Autistic]. This pull we feel confronting us as gravity is for the planets. It is a call to imitate, it is repetitive learning. We move into adult life through relating and, like gravity, such imitating both attracts and repels. We are attracted and we imitate, but eventually imitation leads to rivalry, using the same model differently. Our model is now our rival through whom we define ourselves against.

We imitate not just what the model looks like – but also what he/she has; it is this moving towards an object other than the model that we call desire. It pulls us away from the model into a kind of autonomy. But something more is required to fashion me. This involves focussing on the model as being – wanting to be who the model is. It is this imitating that eventually leads to rivalry: an impossible rivalry. Rivalry is resolved by exclusion or marginalising the victim – asserting individual self over the self of the other – I establish me through many victories gained in this way.

Does this mean we are all victimisers? The sense of self is always given – not acquired. It is the tension set in place by my sense of self as given, and as self acquired by violent means – this is the essence of Original Sin. My sense of self is unstable, changeable, other-dependent – the other who is there before me. My “me” is dependent on the desires that gave rise to it. Christian scholars understood the way in which humans relate to God in terms of where we come from, where we are going and how to get there.

AMcC

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October 1: The Little Beggar of Christmas

Why Christmas in October? Well every day is Christmas, for every day Jesus is with us. But this is a verse from a play by St Thérèse, and this is her feast day. Happy Feast Day to all you Carmelites! We hope to have a Carmelite writing for the blog soon, just watch this space.
In this scene Thérèse has an angel speaking on behalf of baby Jesus, who cannot yet speak for himself. Jesus is begging for tenderness and praise from the sisters, as he is from us. May our indifference to him be burnt away by our growing love.
This post opens a short season on beggars.

For Jesus, the Exile from Heaven,

I have met in the world

Only a profound indifference

This is why I come to Carmel.

So that your tenderness

And your caresses

And your praises

Oh sisters of the angels!

Be for the Child.

Burn with love, delighted soul,

A God made Himself mortal for you.

Oh! touching mystery

The One who is begging from you

Is the Eternal Word!…

Read more of this English version of Thérèse’s play.

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27 September. Truth telling XI: Due Diligence, or the truth is more interesting than you assumed.

In 2002 I wrote a history of Saint Thomas’s School in Canterbury to mark its centenary in its present building. There had been a few changes of address over some fifty years before that, when the school occupied one inadequate building after another. The parish and most of its families were poor.

The logbook of the school records how one Christmas Mr Henry Hart, of the Red House, gave cloth for the girls to make cloaks to keep themselves warm in wintertime. I knew of two buildings from that time called the Red House; the more likely one was near the shopping centre and close to the present-day Oxfam charity shop, which has a mosaic threshold bearing his name. Very interesting, and duly recorded.

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When I came to revise the story I was already a bit of a silver surfer and typed in Mr Hart’s name, occupation, and trade. I learned to my surprise that he was Jewish, (yet giving Christmas presents) and the first Jewish Mayor of Canterbury. That information was published on a couple of Jewish websites.

I certainly had not suppressed Mr Hart’s Jewishness, I just had not discovered it. In his lifetime the city was much smaller than it now is, and he was a member of the School Board as well as mayor. Everyone knew he was a Jew so nobody needed to record the fact. But it is an interesting fact and it points to something good about the integration of Jews – and Catholics – in Victorian Canterbury.

Keep on asking questions – such as who was Henry Hart. What you discover may be an interesting detail or a vital missing link.

This newer web page tells more about Henry Hart  .

MMB.

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23 September: Jesus in the Attic II, Persecution leads to Amsterdam.

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I recently came across a long poem called ‘Our Blessed Lady’s Lullaby’ and then found out about its writer. My research led me to Our Dear Lord in the Attic, an attic in Amsterdam, where we visited him. Here is one verse from the poem: Mary is speaking.

The earth is now a heaven become,
And this base power of mine
A princely palace unto me,
My Son doth make to shine.
   This sight I see, this Child I have,
   This Infant I embrace,
   O endless Comfort of the earth
   And heaven’s eternal Grace.

Richard Rowlands alias Verstegen wrote this hymn around 1600. He was an English Catholic who fled to Amsterdam after escaping from imprisonment for his faith at home. He made a new and prosperous life in Amsterdam, a Protestant city.

All the Catholic churches there were closed down, including the big church at the Beguinage Convent, now a Scottish Presbyterian church. The good beguine ladies there simply carried on after moving their place of worship to ground floor rooms in their main building. I do not know where Rowlands worshipped, but a little after his time people met for Mass at another city centre site, now known as Our Dear Lord in the Attic. its presence was an open secret; the people of Amsterdam were not given to executions for those who worshipped differently to the official norm.

The Attic Church remained open till the mid nineteenth Century when a new Catholic church was erected nearby. It is now a museum, with the Church area all ready for the occasional worship that takes place there.

This statue of the Madonna and Child belongs here.

We will return to Our Dear Lord in the Attic.

There are many links to the poem on the web, some set to music.

MMB.

 

 

 

 

 

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22 September: Saint Maurice, a book review.

Looking back, I realise that my teacher Miss ‘Killer’ was an ignorant woman. She ridiculed children who had not been baptised with what she considered to be appropriate saints’ names. ‘There’s never been a Saint June!’ she once spat, instead of saying, ‘You could stick with Saint Jane or Saint Joan.’ As for ‘Royston’! ‘What kind of a name is that?’ Life was miserable if you were on the wrong side of her, as a good 75% of us regularly were. I’m glad she did not pick up on the idea that Saint Maurice did not exist; it would have been another stick to beat me with. And I mean beat.

The theory was that since there were no contemporary accounts of Maurice and his companions, they were more likely a group of saints invented to make sense of a mass grave found in Switzerland in 383 AD, said to have been Christian legionaries executed for refusing an immoral order.

Donald O’Reilly in Lost Legion Rediscovered  settles the Question to his and my satisfaction: there was a Christian Theban legion – from the Egyptian Thebes, not the Greek one – and in the late 3rd Century civil war its members were killed in great numbers for disobeying an immoral order, and this happened not only in Switzerland’s town that bears his name but across North West Europe.

O’Reilly’s detective work is well worth reading, giving insight into Roman civil and military life of the time, and into Christian attitudes to military service. Yes, St Maurice did exist, an African in Europe, which is why his town is now the focus for the annual African pilgrimage to the saints of Africa every June.

Here is part of a speech attributed to Maurice by a later writer (p121 of O’Reilly’s book).

Our right hands know how to fight against wicked men and enemies; they do not know how to cut into pieces innocent men and fellow citizens. We remember we took up arms on behalf of citizens rather than against citizens. We have always fought on behalf of justice, on behalf of the safety of the innocent; up to the present time this has been the reward of our dangers. We have fought on behalf of the faith; and how are we to keep our faith towards you – the words are addressed to the emperor – if we do not show forth faith to God?

 

Donald O’Reilly, Lost Legion Rediscovered, Barnsley, Pen and Sword, 2011.

MMB

 

 

 

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September 19: What is Theology Saying? XXIX: letting Grace do the talking

Is it possible to let Grace do the talking, instead of talking about Grace? Can I know from experience that God loves me? The fact is that we live within Grace, what we are about is to seek how to know this and how to be in touch with it. Some have said that Grace comes only through the Church. First, it is not the Church that contains Grace; rather does Grace contain the Church – among everything else; though authentic grace always has an ecclesial dimension – i.e. it tends to show itself in the shape of community.

God and Christ are freely within the world and manifest themselves variously. The Church is one such manifestation – an explicit, conscious and guaranteed presence – but not the only one. Because Grace is divine nothing escapes its influence, even sin succumbs to Grace as the Resurrection shows.

How do we image Grace? Is it the loving attitude of God? Is it the means by which God liberates and justifies us? Is it some reality which surpasses all our thinking? Notice, all these turn Grace into a “thing”. It is something different, it is something freely given, it is some “thing”.

The Catechism called it a supernatural gift – but what is “supernatural”? By definition supernatural is not on the same level as natural. The Supernatural is God, uncreated, mysterious. We use the terms Grace and Supernatural as symbols of experience, meant to translate that experience for us. What kind of experience fits what is meant by Grace? Grace is not an entity existing independently on its own. Grace is related to human beings, before ever it is spoken about [and language does tend to separate the two]. Grace is a lived reality.

AMcC

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17 September: What is Theology Saying? XXVII: creation, redemption and salvation in evolution.

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Note what happened to Teilhard de Chardin – a Jesuit scientist specialising in Archaeology. He was captivated by the theory of Evolution and the various ways it might be tested. Because he was a deeply religious man, he felt driven to integrate what he was discovering from the natural sciences with his understanding of salvation in Christ. He meditated deeply on Paul’s writings and early Church commentaries on these. He developed a magnificent vision of the universe and all of history shot through with Jesus Christ. He saw creation, redemption and salvation woven together in the unified process of evolution.

He suggested that through time, inanimate [dead] matter is drawn into such complex patterns that it develops an inner spontaneity and there is a breakthrough into living things. At a further stage – a breakthrough into reflexive self-awareness – human beings. After this, the process of evolution becomes conscious, when we know and project the goals we are striving for and the changes they are trying to make. Looking forward, the next breakthrough must be the immense unity of mankind bound together in relationships of knowledge and love – what he terms the Omega Point.

He next made a bold suggestion – not as a scientist but as a Christian believer – that we have a pre-view of the Omega Point – that the whole world is being drawn towards the second coming of Christ – which will be the breakthrough, the outcome of evolution – the Church, because Jesus is already within history, which is striving towards its fulfilment, concluding with Paul that all things were made in Jesus Christ – who is the pattern of the world from the very beginning. The goal of evolution is the Christification of the world. [His thinking appears in his Phenomenon of Man, though is perhaps more readable in his The Divine Milieu – nature and grace].

When this first saw the light of day it raised concern because it sounded as if God’s self-gift to us is not a necessity for us but utterly free. In the Hebrew Scriptures the relationship between us and God was described in terms of a covenant, binding duties and sometimes as sheer favour shown us by God. Whatever God was bound to was always the result of his promise, having bound himself. The Jewish understanding of covenant always looks back to Creation as the setting-up of the covenant. It seems that God, having created humankind, has bound himself to bring us into his friendship.

AMcC

Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge, England.

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12 September: Some thoughts on my experience in Freiburg at the 15th Subud World Congress.

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It’s a while since we heard from Constantina. I should think moving house was reason enough for that. However she has sent a message from Freiburg where she has been attending the Subud World Congress. You’ll find more about Subud on the internet, but it is a form of spiritual exercise that many find helpful. Over to Constantina.
Here is something unusual. A Congress of nearly 3000 people from 65 countries all over the globe. People of all faiths and beliefs coming together to worship Almighty God each day for 12 days.
There is harmony, chatter and energy in every corner. There are families, young people, old people, business people, from all backgrounds people. 
How do so many of such diverse beliefs become one together and work together? And work they do with many large humanitarian projects and smaller enterprises. The key to this is a gift from God which enables us each day to surrender and await whatever grace He wishes to bestow upon us. There is no dogma, no creed, for all follow their own religious beliefs – something we all recognise are deepened by this harmonious experience of God.
Subud has been in the world since 1924, officially from the early 1940s and came to the West from Indonesia in 1957. It was adopted wholeheartedly by the former Gurdjieff movement who recognised the surrender of self to God, within Subud, as the very essence of what they had been searching for but had been unable to attain merely through the human will. 
I have been a member since 1983 and it forms an undercurrent in my life and faith like a clear flowing river. 
It is not comparable to any other experiential faith and it is easier to say what it is not rather than what it is. 
I have another week here before I return and am looking forward to making many new connections with brothers and sisters the world over.
Constantina Alexander

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9 September. Little Flowers of Saint Francis: XXXVIII: The Wolf, 2.

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Saint Francis and the wolf By Stefano di Giovanni Sassetta 

Spake Saint Francis again: “Brother wolf, sith it pleaseth thee to make and hold this peace, I promise thee that I will see to it that the folk of this place give thee food alway so long as thou shalt live, so that thou suffer not hunger any more; for that I wot well that through hunger hast thou wrought all this ill. But sith I win for thee this grace, I will, brother wolf, that thou promise me to do none hurt to any more, be he man or beast; dost promise me this?”

And the wolf gave clear token by the bowing of his head that he promised.

Then quoth Saint Francis: “Brother wolf, I will that thou plight me troth for this promise, that I may trust thee full well.” And Saint Francis stretching forth his hand to take pledge of his troth, the wolf lifted up his right paw before him and laid it gently on the hand of Saint Francis, giving thereby such sign of good faith as he was able.

Then quoth Saint Francis : “Brother wolf, I bid thee in the name of Jesu Christ come now with me, nothing doubting, and let us go stablish this peace in God’s name.” And the wolf obedient set forth with him, in fashion as a gentle lamb; whereat the townsfolk made mighty marvel, beholding.

And straightway the bruit of it was spread through all the city, so that all the people, menfolk and womenfolk, great and small, young and old, gat them to the market place for to see the wolf with Saint Francis. And the people being gathered all together, Saint Francis rose up to preach, avizing them among other matters how for their sins God suffered such things to be, and pestilences also: and how far more parlous is the flame of hell, the which must vex the damned eternally, than is the fury of the wolf that can but slay the body; how much then should men fear the jaws of hell, when such a multitude stands sore adread of the jaws of one so small a beast? Then turn ye, beloved, unto God, and work out a fit repentance for your sins; and God will set you free from the wolf in this present time, and in time to come from out the fires of hell.”

And done the preaching, Saint Francis, said: “Give ear, my brothers: brother wolf, who standeth here before ye, hath promised me and plighted troth to make his peace with you, and to ofFend no more in any thing; and do ye promise him to give him every day whate’er he needs: and I am made his surety unto you that he will keep this pact of peace right steadfastly.”

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September 2: Another mini pilgrimage

Clock-watching again, trains will not wait for one passenger, I only had time for a quick visit to Manchester’s Hidden Gem, Saint Mary’s Church in the city centre. What a difference since my last visit when it was tired and dirty. All was clean and well-loved.

The Norman Adams Stations of the Cross were new to me – it shows how long since you were here, said NAIB2. I had time for a five minute walk around the Stations before making for Piccadilly Station and the walk home. Another time I feel I could visit just two or three stations here. No need to describe the feelings they awakened in me, except for the word com-passion.

I close with two paragraphs from Friar Austin’s series of posts on the Eucharist. The stations are not a substitute for the Sacrament, but should lead us to it. This post was published on July 20.

The Eucharist is the mystery of God’s graciousness and our salvation. Transubstantiation is a word for something we cannot understand, something beyond the competence of human language; to claim to capture it is to nullify the challenge to attune the way we live so as to address the cry of the poor. Augustine [who used the word Transubstantiation] says we are present not to satisfy personal needs [or commandments] but to be attentive and proactive to the cry of the poor. We cannot appreciate Transubstantiation if we by-pass the challenge for personal change.

The Eucharist is the real presence, not just a memorial ritual. It is Presence there for our presence, so that what is in him can be in us. Jesus does not stand-in for us, but invites us to get involved. We cannot receive the Eucharist in passive ways – the fruit of the Eucharist is one community allowing God’s love to be felt in our world.

For any armchair pilgrims, you can find the stations on the church website. Click on each thumbnail to enlarge it.

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