Here is Sister Johanna once more, Welcome! We are following Jesus as he gets nearer to the Cross – the next chapter of Luke tells of Palm Sunday, but today he meets a blind beggar. In Sister’s reflection there is a question not unlike Woodbine Willy’s ‘Well?’ the other day: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’
There was a blind man sitting at the side of the road begging…. He called out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.’… Jesus stopped and ordered them to bring the man to him, and when he came up, he said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ ‘Sir,’ the blind man said, ‘Let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight. Your faith has saved you.’
Luke 18: 35-43.
This passage from the Gospel of Luke tells me a lot about what it means truly to encounter Jesus in prayer. I’ve read this story many times, but this time when I read it, I was at first a bit taken aback by the apparently daft question Jesus asks the blind man: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Well, I thought, he obviously wants to be healed of his blindness. But then I realised that the blind man could have had other issues; his blindness might not have been the priority for him. Perhaps he had a son on the verge of death, or perhaps he had other illnesses that were not evident. It could have been anything. The question is a highly important one. Jesus wanted the blind man to state his wishes so that he, the blind man, would be fully aware of what he was asking and could take full responsibility for the encounter and for what might happen next.
‘Sir, let me see again,’ the blind man says. This in itself is impressive – and Jesus doesn’t miss the fact that the blind man expresses no doubts about Jesus’ ability to heal him. His faith rings out with clarity. Moreover, the blind man knows what he wants. He does not hesitate or appear to weigh alternatives before speaking. He wants to see again, and he knows that Jesus is able to bring this cure about. And Jesus’ answer? Direct, simple, almost off-hand. A modern-day Jesus might have said simply, ‘Sure! See! You are already half-way there because of your faith.’
So what does this tell me about asking Jesus for something? About prayer?
The text says, ‘Jesus ordered them to bring the man to him.’ It is important, therefore, to go right up to Jesus, and have a real encounter with him, to be aware of him and to address my prayer to him. I should not just be talking to myself or dreaming. I must, in my mind and heart, stand before Jesus, and be in his presence, when I pray.
It is important to be clear, to tell Jesus what I want and not, out of some misguided idea of abandonment to the divine will, go all vague. Moreover, I must take responsibility for my request. There may be times, perhaps many times, when we do not receive the specific grace we have asked for – but we can be sure that we always receive something, and usually it is a grace that goes much deeper than the one we requested. Eventually we will be able to identify that deeper grace as the real answer to our prayer. But unless we make that original request specific, and own it, this deeper grace would probably have gone unrecognized – and perhaps would not even have been bestowed.
Jesus easily cures the blind man, without a laying on of hands or any other physical process. He merely utters the healing words. He is able to do this because the blind man trusts him completely – his faith saves him, as Jesus declares afterward. The blind man, presumably, had never met Jesus before; he knew him only from hearsay (rather like us). And that was enough for the blind man. Is it enough for me?
Jesus’ question, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ tells me a great deal about Jesus’ eternal ‘attitude’ toward us whenever we go right up to him, in faith, and ask him something. He is already there, saying, ‘Johanna, or Tom, or Annette, what do you want me to do for you?’ He places himself completely at my disposal.
Yesterday we looked at some of the practicalities of following a mission: the structures and rules that make personal commitment possible. What are the personal qualities of a good missionary? I think this prayer, that springs from the Lord’s prayer, goes some way to defining them: confidence, idealism and love, but also closeness to the Father, so that his love will be visible to the world. May our hearts beat in time with the Lord’s!
Father in Heaven,God of men and women,
So far away and yet so near:
Give me the confidence of a child,
The idealism of a dreamer
And the love of a saint.
Let your name be in me and beside me.
Wherever I may be,
may your Kingdom Come:
A new world with heavenly colours.
Let me be an icon of your friendship.
And give to the heart of the world the rhythm of your heartbeat.
This prayer by Erwin Roosen appeared in the Dutch Dominicans’ website, ‘Preek van de Week’ on 28 July.
Saint Francis promised Brother Ruffino that, “this temptation will bring to thee great profit and consolation, and very shortly shalt thou prove it”. So what happened after Ruffino was utterly impolite to the devil?
The devil being exceeding wroth, gat him away incontinent with so furious a tempest and shaking of the rocks of Mount Subassio, which was hard by, that the loud noise of the rocks that fell down lasted a great while ; and so furiously did they strike the one against the other as they rolled down, that the valley was lit up with horrible flashes of fire: and at the terrible din that they made, Saint Francis and his companions came out of the House, in great amazement, for to see what strange thing had befallen; and still to this day is seen that exceeding great ruin of rocks.
Then Brother Ruffino knew of a surety that it had been the devil that had deceived him. And going back to Saint Francis, he threw himself again upon the ground, and confessed his fault; and Saint Francis comforted him with sweet words, and sent him back full of consolation to his cell, wherein as he was most devoutly praying, there appeared to him Christ, the blessed One, and rekindled all his soul with love divine and said: “Thou hast done well, my son, to believe in Saint Francis, for he that made thee His sad was the devil: but I am Christ thy Master; and to make thee sure thereof, I give thee this sign: Whilst thou dost live, thou shalt no more feel sadness nor melancholy.”
And this said, Christ departed, leaving him in such gladness and sweetness of spirit and uplifting of the mind, that day and night he was absorbed and rapt in God. And from that time forth he was
so strengthened in grace and in certainty of his salvation, that he became altogether changed into another man; and would have continued day and night in prayer and in contemplation of the things of God, if the others had suffered him. Wherefore Saint Francis said of him that Brother Ruffino was in this life canonised by Christ, and that, save in his presence, he would not doubt to call him Saint Ruffino, albeit he was still alive on earth.
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.
Saint Thomas Aquinas has a genius for analysis, certainly, and analysis often brings to light something of which we were already dimly aware so that we become more conscious of it, and say to ourselves, ‘Yes, that is what I have always thought.’
Someone once asked me, however, if Saint Thomas meant us to have a checklist with boxes to tick each time a big decision was needed in life. And if not, how do we make use of the insights we’ve just been considering? My advice is that, like many things that apply to the inner life, these parts of prudence overlap. Growth in one area will mean that growth in the virtue as a whole. We might consider the list and see, for example, that we have a hard time with one or two aspects of prudence. With Thomas’s insight, we can apply ourselves to these aspects and undertake to make some progress in them. Or, we might find that we were already striving in this direction, but were coming under criticism from others, whose lack of prudence was making them impatient with our tendency to approach matters from the perspective outlined here.
Now, perhaps we can proceed with more confidence in
‘discerning rightly that which helps from that which hinders in our journey toward God.’
Many thanks to Sister Johanna for this series of reflections on Prudence. I think I’ll go back and consider them all together, now I’ve read them one by one. Will T.
Foresight – or looking into the future – might seem to be a bit strange here in our survey of the virtue of prudence. How can we see what has not happened yet? How can we control that? Isn’t foresight God’s affair? And our part is simply to accept what he disposes? Not quite, according to Aquinas (Summa Theologica II.II: 49:6). It is true, he says, that certain things about the future are subject to divine providence. But the virtue of prudence is about the ‘means to an end’; it is about setting things in order in the present so as to attain a desirable end in the future. Foresight is directed to the future, and to something distant, but is brought to bear on things in the present, that are within our power to regulate.
This sounds a bit airy-fairy, so let’s go back to our friend, Jack, with the bookshop. He wants his bookshop to be successful. He therefore needs to hire people who will be trustworthy and will help him to attain that end. He knows now that if he is soft-hearted about hiring unreliable people with poor references, they will probably not help him to succeed in business. Foresight tells him what will probably happen if he hires the right kind of person. He cannot know everything about the future, and cannot guarantee absolutely that the person he has hired with the good references will work out fine. But, he can set things in order by doing as much as he can do, checking the references well, and divine providence will have to do the rest.
Foresight looks ahead and evaluates the present according to the goal that exists in the future.
In the virtue of prudence shrewdness complements teachability and limits it. (Summa Theologica II. II. 49:4) ‘It is a disposition to acquire a right estimate by oneself’, says St. Thomas. In other words, after you have listened to the advice of those who are older and wiser, the obligation to arrive at a decision about what to do still rests on oneself. Others cannot and should not decide for us. The weight of the final decision is still a burden we must carry alone. One can be running to this or that person forever, unable to come to a decision and rest in it. Shrewdness knows when one has listened enough and found the answer; shrewdness accepts that the answer in this case might always contain some ambiguity, realises that a certain amount of risk and uncertainty must be borne, but that the issue is now as clear as it will ever be, and the time has come to act. Saint Thomas will even go so far as to say that in deliberation we may take as much time as needed, but a considered act must be performed swiftly (Summa Theologica II.II. 47:9). There comes a time, and we must simply get on with it!
It is important to remember that prudence isn’t about being indefinitely watchful and careful. Its most important act, for Saint Thomas, is the command. Prudence answers a question: “What is the best course of action in this situation?” When it discovers this answer, it commands, “Do it.” Prudence is a “directive knowledge”, for Saint Thomas.
Our cosy routines are put in danger, but we convince ourselves that right will be on our side because we are mighty and might generally proves itself right. Whether with flag in hand on horseback, or with horsepower under the bonnet, the agreed standards of civic protection will favour us, God or no God. Here is Godfrey de Bouillon again.
We have an army to keep unwelcome passions of others supervised and checked, we imagine, as if there were no rival claims to protection at work in other cultures of the world.
But what are the unexamined passions of consumer indulgence which provide our confidence? Are they the moderated passions of the best adults, or a splurge of childish cravings? A quick phone call and all the luxuries of the world are ours.
We are like baby kings, and the fact that we cannot observe the labourers abroad who provide the goodies does not disturb our sleep.
These three images, all from Brussels, seem to me to pinpoint the unhealthy mixture of a tradition of power, resources of control, and the fascination of gaining our own advantages, and satisfying our tastes, which underpins so much modern existence. We don’t believe that we are in any position to prevent the fallout from this heady combination. But we do have the freedom to seek for a spiritual basis to our friendships and ways of living.
Tommy was feeling pretty good when he awoke because it was his special day, his birthday, and it was a Saturday – so no school! He washed and went downstairs. Mum gave him a kiss and his present, a computer game. His two brothers and his sister also gave him presents and them they all sang to him, ‘Happy birthday, dear Tommy’, which made him feel very good because being the youngest he sometimes felt a trifle overlooked.
Then Tommy had his favourite breakfast, ‘Shreddies’, followed by scrambled eggs. But Tommy had been promised a special treat and these were just the preliminaries. After breakfast Mum called all the family to put on warm clothes because they were going out to have a little adventure.
A few moments later they left the house and walked down the High Street, past the Harbour and the old railway station and the football pitch, on to where the new boating pool had been developed. There was an old boating lake but Tommy considered the new one to be far superior because it was much bigger and had more powerful boats which went much faster, moreover you could land on the islands in the middle of the lake.
However, the most exciting and dramatic aspect of the whole scene for Tommy was the way that when the boat’s number was called at the end of the hire period, if the driver did not respond quickly, the athletic young boatmen who ran the operation would take a flying leap from the shore to the bow of the boat and steer it in to the docking area. For Tommy these young men were a combination of Tarzan and 007.
Tommy’s Mum although in her mid-40’s was still strong and active, an excellent swimmer and a good tennis player who felt quite confident about steering the boat. So Tommy and his Mum and brothers set off without more ado and circled the islands in the middle of the lake before making a brief landing. But time was passing quickly, too quickly for Tommy who was enjoying the whole experience and was a bit surprised that his Mum seemed so competent that she would probably not require a young Adonis to leap on to the bow of her boat to steer her in.