Tag Archives: conscience

9 October, Little flowers of Saint Francis LXXXV: In a light of contemplation.

Picture from Christina Chase: Ste Anne de Beaupre.

Then Friar Leo, obedient, stood still and waited for him, with such fear that, as he afterwards told his companions, he would rather, at that moment, that the earth had swallowed him up than wait for Saint Francis, who he thought was angered with him; because with very great diligence he took heed not to offend his fatherhood, lest, through fault of his, Saint Francis should deprive him of his company.

When he had come up to him, Saint Francis asked him: “Who art thou?” and Friar Leo, all trembling, replied: “My father, I am Friar Leo”; and Saint Francis said unto him: “Wherefore didst thou come hither, friar little sheep? Did I not tell thee not to come and watch me? For holy obedience, tell me whether thou sawest or heardest aught.” Friar Leo replied: “Father, I heard thee speak and say many times: ‘Who art Thou, my most sweet God? What am I, most vile worm and Thine unprofitable servant?'” And then Friar Leo, kneeling down before St. Francis, confessed himself guilty of disobedience, in that he had done contrary to his commandment, and besought his pardon with many tears. And thereafter he prayed him devoutly that he would explain those words which he had heard, and would tell him those which he had not understood.

Then, seeing that to the humble Friar Leo God had revealed or granted to hear and to see certain things, by reason of his simplicity and purity, Saint Francis condescended to reveal and to explain unto him that which he asked; and he spake as follows: “Know, friar little sheep of Jesus Christ, that when I was saying those words which thou heardest, then were shown unto me two lights for my soul; the one of knowledge and understanding of my own self, the other of knowledge and understanding of the Creator. When I said: ‘Who art thou, O my most sweet God?’ then I was in a light of contemplation wherein I saw the abyss of the infinite goodness and wisdom and power of God; and when I said: ‘What am I?’ I was in a light of contemplation in the which I beheld the depth of my baseness and misery; and therefore I said: ‘Who art Thou, Lord of infinite goodness and wisdom, that deignest to visit me, that am a vile worm and abominable?’

And in that flame which thou sawest was God; who in that form spake with me, even as of old He spake unto Moses. And, among other things which He said unto me, He asked me to give Him three gifts; and I made answer: ‘Lord, I am all Thine; Thou knowest well that I have nothing beside the habit and the cord and the breeches, and even these three things are Thine; what then can I offer or give unto Thy majesty?’ Then God said unto me: ‘Search in thy bosom, and give Me that which thou findest therein’. I searched and found a ball of gold; and I offered it to God; and thus did I three times, even as God three times commanded me; and thereafter I kneeled me down three times and blessed and thanked God who had given me wherewith to offer Him. And straightway, it was given me to understand that these three offerings signified holy obedience, highest poverty and most resplendent chastity; the which God, through His grace, hath permitted me to observe so perfectly that my conscience accuseth me of nothing.

And as thou sawest me put my hands in my bosom and offer to God those three virtues symbolised by those three balls of gold, which God had placed in my bosom; so hath God given me such virtue in my soul that, for all the benefits and all the graces which He hath granted me of His most holy goodness, I ever praise and magnify Him with heart and mouth. These are the words which thou heardest when I thrice lifted up my hands, as thou sawest. But look to it, friar little sheep, that thou watch me no more; but return to thy cell with the blessing of God, and do thou have diligent care of me; because, a few days from now, God will do such great and marvellous things upon this mountain that all the world shall wonder thereat; for He will do certain new things, the which He hath never done unto any creature in this world.”

And, when he had spoken these words, he caused the book of the Gospels to be brought unto him; for God had put it in his mind that, by the opening of the book of the Gospels three times, that which it was the will of God to do unto him should be revealed. 

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24 September, Season of Creation XXV: Global inequality; Laudato Si’ IX.

Coble_SH105_1_(Nigel_Coates)

A modern Northumbrian coble fishing boat, captured by Nigel Coates

48. The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: “Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest” For example, the depletion of fishing reserves especially hurts small fishing communities without the means to replace those resources; water pollution particularly affects the poor who cannot buy bottled water; and rises in the sea level mainly affect impoverished coastal populations who have nowhere else to go. The impact of present imbalances is also seen in the premature death of many of the poor, in conflicts sparked by the shortage of resources, and in any number of other problems which are insufficiently represented on global agendas.

49. The excluded are the majority of the planet’s population, billions of people. These days, they are mentioned in international political and economic discussions, but one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an afterthought, when all is said and done, they frequently remain at the bottom of the pile. This is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. They live and reason from the comfortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world’s population. This lack of physical contact and encounter, encouraged at times by the disintegration of our cities, can lead to a numbing of conscience and to tendentious analyses which neglect parts of reality. At times this attitude exists side by side with a “green” rhetoric. Today, however, we have to realise that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

50. Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health”. Yet demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development”. To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimise the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalised, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption. Besides, we know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded, and “whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor”.

The photograph introducing this post we first used for a piece about Holy Island, which showed how depletion of fish stocks was taking place before the Great War. How much have we learnt in the century since then? Stocks are still being extracted to the point where their survival is threatened, and livelihoods demolished.

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12 August: A friendly process of detachment

This passage from A Christmas Sermon by Robert Louis Stevenson was written in 1888, when he was convalescing in the Adirondack mountains. We’ve put it here because it is his honest look at himself when he was aware of his own fragility, and it follows on from the honest answer given by the trapper in yesterday’s reflection.

To look back upon the past year, and see how little we have striven and to what small purpose: and how often we have been cowardly and hung back, or temerarious and rushed unwisely in; and how every day and all day long we have transgressed the law of kindness;—it may seem a paradox, but in the bitterness of these discoveries, a certain consolation resides.

Life is not designed to minister to a man’s vanity. He goes upon his long business most of the time with a hanging head, and all the time like a blind child. Full of rewards and pleasures as it is—so that to see the day break or the moon rise, or to meet a friend, or to hear the dinner-call when he is hungry, fills him with surprising joys—this world is yet for him no abiding city. Friendships fall through, health fails, weariness assails him; year after year, he must thumb the hardly varying record of his own weakness and folly. It is a friendly process of detachment.

When the time comes that he should go, there need be few illusions left about himself. Here lies one who meant well, tried a little, failed much:—surely that may be his epitaph, of which he need not be ashamed. Nor will he complain at the summons which calls a defeated soldier from the field: defeated, ay, if he were Paul or Marcus Aurelius!—but if there is still one inch of fight in his old spirit, undishonoured.

The faith which sustained him in his life-long blindness and life-long disappointment will scarce even be required in this last formality of laying down his arms. Give him a march with his old bones; there, out of the glorious sun-coloured earth, out of the day and the dust and the ecstasy—there goes another Faithful Failure!

Robert Louis Stevenson, Writers’ Museum, Edinburgh, by Kim Traynorvia Wikipedia

From A Christmas Sermon by Robert Louis Stevenson, 1888

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18 May: Stirring It: II. (Shared Table XXVII)

Pope Benedict hosting Christmas lunch

Pope Benedict created a stir when he invited poor Romans and those living and working with them to a Christmas meal. Jesus caused a less comfortable stir when he was invited to dine with a leading Pharisee.

Jesus had just finished speaking when a Pharisee invited him to dine at his house. He went in and sat down at table. The Pharisee saw this and was surprised that he had not first washed before the meal. But the Lord said to him, ‘You Pharisees! You clean the outside of the cup and plate while inside yourselves you are filled with extortion and wickedness’

(Luke 11:37-38).

Yesterday we were looking at Luke 11:37-38. I recommend that you scroll back to yesterday’s post it if you weren’t here for it.

As I leave the surface level of this gospel and keep thinking about this scene, I find the text taking hold of my mind more fully. I begin to feel a sense of awe at what Jesus says, and at the courage and brilliance of his handling of the situation. I find that I want Jesus to “stir it”. So much really was at stake, and as I meditate, I become more aware of it. An opportunity was offered to the Pharisee who had invited Jesus for dinner. That dinner – and indeed, the whole of history of Christianity – could have been different had even a few of the religious authorities of Jesus’ day recognised the truth of Jesus’ message – and of his very person. If that evening’s host, for example, had allowed Jesus’ strong words to break through his defences, if he had responded to Jesus with an open heart – well, we don’t know what would have happened. But it’s obvious that the host of that dinner missed a crucially important opportunity that night.

Or, let’s look at the Twelve. Jesus, in fact, “stirs it” with them, also – but in a different way. He is forever challenging their desire to find out who among them is the greatest. He frankly and clearly tells the Twelve that they are missing the point: ‘The greatest among you must be the least,’ and ‘The first shall be last,’ and ‘He who loses his life for my sake will find it’: all of these sayings of Jesus – and many more – teach that the deepest self-giving, not self-aggrandizement, is the hallmark of the true disciple. This a lesson that the Twelve don’t seem able to grasp until much, much later – after Pentecost, in fact. But despite the fact that the Twelve must have repeatedly felt pretty stupid when Jesus lets them know that they are wrong-headed, they act very differently from the defensive Pharisee we see here. They love Jesus and keep on loving him. They recognise that he has the words of eternal life. They don’t understand everything he teaches, but they want to. They are seeking the truth and they know – imperfectly, but they know somehow – that he is Truth. Unlike the dinner-host Pharisee, the apostles keep trying to embrace Jesus’ teaching, and, with the exception of Judas, they stay with him. They must have come to expect that Jesus would stir it. I begin to see that he stirs it with nearly everyone in the gospels at some point.

What does this tell me, then, about my relationship with Jesus? Simply that I mustn’t be surprised when Jesus stirs it in my life. I have given myself to the Lord as well as I am able, but I am a fallen human being, and aspects of my life have not always been in alignment with the self-gift I have made. Jesus has not hesitated to stir this situation, and bring my fragmentation clearly to my awareness. He has done this many times. And I find, as a result of this meditation, that I do not want a compliant Jesus who will overlook immaturity in me. Above all, I do not want Jesus to be the urbane dinner guest who tells amusing stories and takes his leave politely at the end of the meal. Jesus’ meal, in fact, is the Eucharist, where his self-gift is total. He expects nothing less from me, and I expect nothing less of myself. He offers forgiveness, yes. But that does not mean he will look the other way when he sees that something in me needs to change. And I don’t want him to. I hope I continue to find Jesus “stirring it” in my life in order to make me aware that there are things in me that are not what they should be. It has never been easy to be a follower of Jesus. But I know he is Truth, and I pray that I may take full advantage of every graced opportunity for growth that Jesus offers me – stirred or otherwise.

Sister Johanna Caton OSB

Just to round off, here is a collect from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, to be recited while stirring up the Christmas Pudding in November. WT.

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

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4 May: To die for one’s beloved (English Martyrs), Traherne XLII.

Saint Edmund Campion, English Jesuit Martyr, Holy Name, Manchester.


That a man is beloved of God, should melt him all into esteem and holy veneration. It should make him so courageous as an angel of God. It should make him delight in calamities and distresses for God’s sake. By giving me all things else, He hath made even afflictions themselves my treasures. The sharpest trials, are the finest furbishing. The most tempestuous weather is the best seed-time. A Christian is an oak flourishing in winter.

God hath so magnified and glorified His servant, and exalted him so highly in His eternal bosom, that no other joy should be able to move us but that alone. All sorrows should appear but shadows, beside that of His absence, and all the greatness of riches and estates swallowed up in the light of His favour. Incredible Goodness lies in His Love. And it should be joy enough to us to contemplate and possess it. He is poor whom God hates: ‘tis a true proverb. And besides that, we should so love Him, that the joy alone of approving ourselves to Him, and making ourselves amiable and beautiful before Him should be a continual feast, were we starving. A beloved cannot feel hunger in the presence of his beloved.

Where martyrdom is pleasant, what can be distasteful. To fight, to famish, to die for one’s beloved, especially with one’s beloved, and in his excellent company, unless it be for his trouble, is truly delightful. God is always present, and always seeth us.

Notice how the all-seeing God is, for Traherne, a cause for rejoicing, not a threat from an angry, fearsome avenger of sin, such as many were led to believe. Would martyrdom have been possible or honourable if you believed in a god who hated his own creation?

Tudor times were wintry for men and women of conscience who dissented from whichever variety of Christianity was politically expedient at any time, yet they accepted the sharpest trials even unto death, out of loyalty to God’s love.

We can rejoice in all English and Welsh martyrs, not just the Catholic ones, and may we all meet merrily in heaven, as Thomas More said.

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21 March: A modern parable for Lent.

We invite you to share this seafaring reflection from the Dean of Lichfield, a city about as far as you can get from the sea in England! He ends with these words:

Lent is a good time for self-examination on a personal and communal level.  How far have I or we mangled God’s image and likeness into my/our own limited image and likeness?  How far have my/our anxious needs for safety, belonging, esteem, or amounting to something deafened or blinded me/us to what God is putting before us?  And remember Christianity is a “revealed” faith, so it’s not so much a question of inventing the God we want, as understanding the God we have got and are getting.

Let’s journey on this Lent, personally and corporately, towards what God holds before us.  We can do no better than read and meditate on one of the Gospels – try Mark.  It’s short and punchy and lets us know why that, when the Good News is proclaimed, life isn’t settled or comfortable.

A prayer for us to say together:

We thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, King of Glory, that you have called us to be your people.  Help us to know the greatness of our calling, so that we, having one spirit of faith and love, may live in the world as a new and holy generation.  May your eternal and righteous will be always before our eyes, so that in soberness and vigilance we may await your time, and witness to your promises, until your kingdom comes.  Amen.

With my love, prayers and blessings

Adrian Dorber
Dean of Lichfield

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20 February: My back tooth


Photo by Jan Spierings, the Pelicans

Rugby was always a penitential activity for me! However, Fr Bobby Gilmore is a Columban missionary, ordained in 1963. His story ‘My Back Tooth’ goes back to his boyhood experience of being bullied on the rugby field. Follow the link to read the whole article in ‘Far East’ magazine for December 2020, pp16-17.

What really surprised me was the acceptance of the physical aspects of the game, the tolerance and the camaraderie during and after the game.

If our coach was aware of over aggressive physical play, he immediately took the player aside and privately cautioned him without a put down or embarrassment … However, that does not mean that it did not happen when unobserved …

Fr Gilmore refers to bullied people becoming ‘prisoners of anguish’ well after they lose contact with the bully; I felt it to be an appropriate reflection for Lent because we should be looking out and speaking out when we see bullying.
The work of missionaries is often described as the Church’s good news story. Learn more about what the Columban missionary family is doing to create a better world for those on the margins. Subscribe to the Far East by calling the Columban Mission Office on 01564 772 096 with your credit or debit card details, or email your subscription request to fareast@columbans.co.uk .

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Going Viral LXVIII: Bishop Ralph Heskett on Covid vaccinations.

Vaccination queue at Lichfield Cathedral, Staffordshire.

This Pastoral Letter was sent out by Bishop Ralph Heskett of Hallam, the Catholic diocese of Sheffield, Yorkshire. He sets out the Catholic Church’s views on vaccination and other precautions regarding the corona virus.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am writing to you with renewed hope in these difficult times. A blessing for many during this lockdown is the opportunity to continue to come together for public worship. Government has recognised that public worship is central to our Catholic life and of benefit to the community at large. I know that some of our parishes, for safety sake, have taken the decision to stream Mass only for the present online.

Whether your parish remains open or closed for the moment we must all, however tiresome, continue to follow the rules and play our part in protecting our neighbours and ourselves in the coming months.

Also, to address letters and emails I have received questioning the ethical and moral nature of the vaccines being offered. I know that many of you will be asking yourselves what you will do when you receive your invitation for vaccination, especially with the misinformation that is circulating, not least on social media.

You may not be aware, but the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a Note on the 21st December 2020, in which it clarifies the absence of moral culpability on the part of those receiving the vaccine when there is no choice which vaccine is received. In fact, it says that there is a responsibility on the part of all to seek the vaccination as it is not just a matter of protecting one’s own health, but also the protection of others health as well.

We all know the effects of misinformation. It seeks only to divide and destroy and to hold people in fear. In the end it is the decision of each individual whether to receive the vaccine or not. However, this decision must be made from a well-informed conscience by listening to the voice of the Church and her teachings and not to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the loud voices we hear in social media.

In the darker days over the last few weeks and months I have returned to the words of the prophet Jeremiah as a source of encouragement and hope and for this reason I share with you. “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare not evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11. The Church and her teaching is always for our welfare not evil and offers us hope for the future.

Let us continue to hold one another in prayer.

Yours in Christ the Redeemer

+ Ralph Heskett CSsR

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31 December: May I no longer linger in perplexity

In Holy Week 1776, Samuel Johnson sat down to review his new year’s resolutions. This is his record.

Since last New Year’s Eve I have risen every morning by eight, at least not after nine, which is more superiority over my habits than I have ever before been able to obtain. Scruples still distress me. My resolution, with the blessing of God, is to contend with them, and, if I can, to conquer them. ‘My resolutions are—
‘To conquer scruples.
‘To read the Bible this year.
‘To try to rise more early.
‘To study Divinity.
‘To live methodically.
‘To oppose idleness.
‘To frequent Divine worship.


 ‘Almighty and most merciful Father! before whom I now appear laden with the sins of another year, suffer me yet again to call upon Thee for pardon and peace. ‘O God! grant me repentance, grant me reformation. Grant that I may be no longer distracted with doubts, and harassed with vain terrors. Grant that I may no longer linger in perplexity, nor waste in idleness that life which Thou hast given and preserved. Grant that I may serve Thee in firm faith and diligent endeavour, and that I may discharge the duties of my calling with tranquillity and constancy. Take not, O God, Thy holy Spirit from me: but grant that I may so direct my life by Thy holy laws, as that, when Thou shalt call me hence, I may pass by a holy and happy death to a life of everlasting and unchangeable joy, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

from Life of Johnson by James Boswell.

Two phrases caught my eye: ‘at least not after nine’ – an admission that he had not been quite as faithful as he first thought; I’m sure there are areas where I can be less than honest with myself in this way. And the second: Take not thy holy Spirit from me.’ That implies a degree of conviction that the Holy Spirit was with him. You may agree, when you read Doctor Johnson’s thoughts on slavery next month, that the Spirit was with him.

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24 November: Lines written in Uncertainty

See the source image

The lights are shining dimly round about,
The Path is dark, I cannot see ahead;
And so I go as one perplexed with doubt,
Nor guessing where my footsteps may be led.

The wind is high, the rain falls heavily,
The strongest heart may well admit a fear,
For there are wrecks on land as well as sea
E’en though the haven may be very near.

The night is dark and strength seems failing fast
Though on my journey I but late set out.
And who can tell where the way leads at last?
Would that the lights shone clearer round about!

These lines were written by the artist Aubrey Beardsley in 1891, 7 years before his death from consumption, and 6 before his reception into the Catholic Church. It chimes with Newman’s ‘Lead Kindly Light’. Beardsley’s sensuous life clearly did not satisfy him; but he produced startling images such as Salome with the Head of John the Baptist.

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