‘C’ is Thomas Carlyle, the Scottish thinker who was a friend of WIlliam Allingham, the Irish poet and editor, whose diary entry we share from this day in 1878. William Lecky was an Irish historian and politician, married to a lady-in-waiting to the Queen of the Netherlands. Friedrich Wilhelm was the German Kaiser. The illustration is from a Methodist book for children.
C. spoke of Darwinism. ‘ I don’t care three ha’pence for the Darwinian Theory.’
By and by he said, ‘ It is impossible to believe otherwise than that this world is the work of an Intelligent Mind, The Power which has formed us — He (or It — if that appears to any one more suitable) has known how to put into the human soul an ineradicable love of justice and truth.
‘The best bit for me in Kant is that saying of his, ” Two things strike me dumb with astonishment — the Starry Heavens and the Sense of Right and Wrong in the Human Soul.” These physical gentlemen ought to be struck dumb if they properly consider the nature of the Universe.’
Mrs. Lecky suggested that investigation as well as reverence was natural to man, and would not Mr. Carlyle permit inquiry ?
‘Oh yes,’ he said (half jestingly), ‘ man is full of curiosity — but I would order these people to say as little as possible. Friedrich Wilhelm’s plan would be the right one with them, ” Hold your tongue or else — ” ‘
My impression of scientists is that many of them do indeed have a sense of reverence as well as the instinct for investigation. We owe a great deal of whatever security we have to the work of scientists. The young surgeon who spoke to me after operating on my brain described his awe at seeing my brain within my opened skull: a privileged view of human life shared by very few people. He was all but lost for words.
Once again we gladly share some wise reflections from Canon Anthony Charlton, parish priest of Saint Thomas, Canterbury. Thank you Father Anthony! Something to think about on our Lenten Pilgrimage.
At the end of his teaching on the beatitudes, Raniero Cantalamessa OFM CAP says, “The best way to take the Gospel beatitudes seriously is to use them as a mirror for an examination of conscience that is truly ‘evangelical’”.
Here are some questions that can help;
Is my deepest desire for God or for passing things that only bring temporary comfort? Do I depend on good feelings, or do I accept that doing God’s will sometimes involves the acceptance of enormous pain? Am I seduced by power, or am I prepared to allow God’s power to reign in me? Do I strive for holiness, or am I, at times, satisfied with mediocrity and lukewarmness? When a brother, a sister, or a co-worker demonstrates a fault, do I react with judgement or mercy? Are my intentions pure? Do I say yes and no as Jesus did? The clearest opposite of purity of heart is hypocrisy. Whom do I seek to please by my actions: God or other people? Am I addicted to the approval of others? Am I a peacemaker? Do I bring peace to different sides? How do I behave when there are conflicts of opinion or conflicts of interest? Is the peace of God in my heart, and if not, why not? Am I ready to suffer in silence for the gospel? How do I react when facing a wrong or an injury I received?
When we read or listen to the Beatitudes, we have a portrait of Jesus himself. He gives us these beatitudes as a way of true happiness that will lead us to the fullness of life.
Our old friend Ignatius has started blogging again. Welcome back, Ignatius!He’s writing about happiness, a subject he has touched on before, as he did after World Youth Day six years ago. Then he was writing in the moment, joy oozing out of him; this time he’s more reflective.
HOW TO BE HAPPY – SOME TIPS
Live well. It sounds obvious right? But it’s worth saying as a starting point, that happiness will follow from living well.
Live consciously. This ties into my first point, because you need to figure out what it means in practice to live well, and because you need to become conscious of where you aren’t living well so that you can correct it. Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living. Don’t live on autopilot.
Move forwards. That is, make your life better each day. Put in work each day to grow, to learn, to deepen your relationships, to help a friend, to make your life a little easier, whatever. Just keep moving forwards making things better. These things add up, and they have meaning.
Face your problems. This goes back to point 2 and 3. Identify your problems and their roots as much as you can, and find ways to proactively address them bit by bit. Don’t ignore a problem or put off facing it, because it won’t go away.
Love yourself. Self love provides a certain unity to your own soul, which is the basis for all love and friendship with others, according to St Thomas Aquinas.
Trust entirely in Providence. Everything that happens is part of God’s will, and is therefore good. We ought to accept all things, good and bad, that come to us as being directly from God’s hand and give Him thanks for all of it. Especially for suffering, because it means God is bringing us some great blessing that will more than make up for the suffering.
Life is a gift: be grateful and enjoy it. The worst ingratitude is to receive a gift and not enjoy it. Gratitude is arguably the centre of our faith. The word “Eucharist” means thanksgiving, and it’s our great sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, offering up all of our lives and the whole cosmos in union with Jesus, in joyful thanksgiving.
I replied to Ignatius as follows: The older I get the more I see your last tip as the first and foremost. We Christians can take the first step in evangelising other people if we encourage them find one thing each day to be grateful for. Grateful to whom? The Father, the Cosmos, Life? As you say, Gratitude is arguably the centre of our faith.
My night prayer with children or grandchildren always includes examining the day for good things and thanking the Giver of all for them. So should my own night prayer.
As Ignatius replied: the last tip sort of contains all the others.
Meanwhile, what makes you happy, and what prevents you from feeling happy?
During the German Occupation, Monsignor Saliège, the Archbishop of Toulouse, worked to improve the Jews’ situation in the detention camps of southwestern France. When he learned about the first deportations from there to the Drancy transit camp, on Sunday August 23 1942 he ordered all priests in the archdiocese of Toulouse to proclaim without comment this message, drafted with the women setting up networks to protect Jews:
Et clamor Jerusalem ascendit.*
“Women and children, fathers and mothers treated like cattle, members of a family separated from one another and dispatched to an unknown destination – it has been reserved for our own time to see such a sad spectacle. Why does the right of sanctuary no longer exist in our churches? Why are we defeated? . . . The Jews are real men and women. Foreigners are real men and women. They cannot be abused without limit. . . . They are part of the human species. They are our brothers, like so many others; no Christian can forget this fact.
“France, our beloved France, you hold in the conscience of your children the tradition of respect for the human person; chivalrous and generous France, I have no doubt that you are not responsible for these horrors.
“Lord have mercy upon us.
“Our Lady, pray for France”
The document became a manifesto; hundreds of thousands of copies were circulated by the Resistance throughout France. Saliège’s protest turned French public opinion against the Vichy government and led to practical action. Saliège instructed the clergy and religious in his diocese to hide Jews, particularly children. The Ministry of the Interior threatened priests who read out Saliège’s message. The authorities tried to undermine his authority with slanderous propaganda, but they did not dare to silence Archbishop Saliège.
* the cry of Jerusalem has gone up. Jeremiah 14:2.
People despise religion. They hate it and are afraid that it might be true. In order to heal this we must begin by showing that religion is by no means contrary to reason.
Pensées sur la religion et sur quelques autres sujets, Blaise Pascal.
A reflection for Bastille Day, which celebrates the French Revolution.
Pascal, like many scientists of his 17th Century and through to today, saw no conflict between religious faith and reason.
If religion is true, it challenges us to repent, to live differently, to examine our consciences as to our behaviour, to acknowledge and be grateful for the gifts we receive, and to share them. Then people will see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. But others may run a mile rather than repent – today at least!
We are heading toward a reflection on Mark 4: 26-29. Yesterday we looked at some of the preceding scripture passages in order to understand more about the context within which the beautiful parable of the seed growing by itself emerges. I ended yesterday’s post inviting my readers to spend a day with Mark 4: 1-9 – the parable of the sower, sometimes called the parable of the soil. What light does this shed on Mark 4: 26-29?
In both passages, Jesus uses seeds as a metaphor, but the two passages are very different. In Mark 4:1-9, the emphasis is more on the soil and its capacity to receive the seed. If you recall, our reflection yesterday found Jesus on a bad day – he’d had run-ins both with the scribes and with his own relatives. It’s no accident, then, that Jesus talks about receptivity. – for he’d been struggling against incomprehension and closed-mindedness all day long. To illustrate his teaching he uses the metaphor of various types of unwelcoming soil.
And here I have a confession to make. The parable about the different types of soil – the rocky, the shallow, the thorny, and finally the good soil – makes me nervous. I can’t help it. I try to tell myself that Jesus was perhaps directing the parable against those who were hostile to him. I try to convince myself that although I am far from being perfect, I am certainly not hostile toward Jesus. But, it doesn’t help, because I also know that Jesus’ parables are always profoundly meaningful on many levels, and they all apply to all of us. That’s the trouble. I can easily see myself in this one. I am capable of being all of the different kinds of soil Jesus describes here: at times, hard and rocky (stubborn and hard-headed), other times, shallow (immature and given to sudden enthusiasms that don’t last), still other moments find me thorny (preoccupied by worry) and, yes, thanks to the grace of God, I know that I have been at times receptive to the seed of the word – and I am grateful for that grace. This parable is about me and should not be dismissed. And I hope, with God’s grace, to become the good soil all the time, or at least more of the time. But, the parable still makes me nervous. Whenever I read it, I wonder if I will ever really manage to become the person the Lord wants me to be, and to be good soil, rich, velvety and constantly nourishing for the seed of the Word.
And then, I read further in chapter four of Mark and I come upon the parable of the seed growing by itself. A truly wonderful thing about scripture is that scripture interprets itself. In other words, there is a unity between biblical texts; passages of scripture throw light on other passages of scripture – so if there is a section that seems to be difficult, count on it, there will be another part that provides the help we need. Mark 4:26 to 29 provides that help.
Let’s pause here for another day and spend it looking at Mark 4: 26 to 29. Perhaps you will find balm in that passage, too. Tomorrow we’ll talk about it.
Illustration: Abel preparing the soil with compost and hard work.
Usually we publish this monthly post on the first Friday, but Saint Kevin was already occupying his feast day, while next Friday gives us a peep into someone’s diary entry for the day. So, here we are on Whit Monday with Pope Francis’s monthly prayer.
We pray for Christian families around the world; may they embody and experience unconditional love and advance in holiness in their daily lives.
That is one impossible manifesto. I cannot live up to that. But I don’t have to, not on my own, because my calling is to married life and the graces and gifts I need, or think I need, have to give first place to the graces and gifts of my spouse and family.
Unconditional love is an aspiration which we work towards, mostly without saying so. Earning a living, putting a meal on the table, walking little ones to school, drying up the dishes: there are tasks that parents, children, grandchildren can do without moaning, even gladly, to help in our shared daily lives. We can become better people, or in Catholic jargon, ‘advance in holiness’ in our daily lives, through such co-operation and deeds of kindness, through teaching good manners, please and thank you.
We can reflect on our lives, in Catholic jargon ‘examine our consciences’ and develop what is good, set aside what is no longer appropriate; tend wounds, physical, mental, or of the heart; move on as a family or as a family member, right what is wrong.
All this is ‘advancing in holiness’. All this is prayer.
It used to be one of the standard questions in those short celebrity interviews: Who (or what) do you see in the mirror in the morning? Perhaps it’s been quietly dropped because interviewees came to expect it and had answers ready, answers to sell their new film, tv show or book.
Saint James would have us look into a mirror, a looking glass. We like mirrors, here at Agnellus’, even when they make us look ridiculous.
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if a man be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he shall be compared to a man beholding his own countenance in a glass. For he beheld himself, and went his way, and presently forgot what manner of man he was.
But he that hath looked into the perfect law of liberty, and hath continued therein, not becoming a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work; this man shall be blessed in his deed.
The mirror to see ourselves in is the ‘perfect law of liberty’: how do we use the liberty we have been given, or would have been given if our hands had not been clenched, deep in our pockets? We will never reach the day’s end without refusing or abusing our liberty in some way, great or small, but we can look into the mirror of liberty, and with our God-given freedom, do better tomorrow.
It’s the eighteenth century, and Dr Johnson and James Boswell’s tour around the Hebrides has been curtailed by the weather. Boswell had enjoyed more than one glass of his host’s hospitality on Saturday evening, and woke up with a hangover, barely conscious. No minister, so no Sunday service, but conscience was to catch up with him, though he tried to wriggle out of it. But finally he was honest with himself and the reader.
I took my host’s advice, and drank some brandy, which I found an effectual cure for my head-ach. When I rose, I went into Dr Johnson’s room, and taking up Mrs M’Kinnon’s prayer-book, I opened it at the twentieth Sunday after Trinity, in the epistle for which I read, ‘And be not drunk with wine, wherein there is excess.’ Some would have taken this as a divine interposition.
This was another day of wind and rain; but good cheer and good society helped to beguile the time. I felt myself comfortable enough in the afternoon. I then thought that my last night’s riot was no more than such a social excess as may happen without much moral blame; and recollected that some physicians maintained, that a fever produced by it was, upon the whole, good for health: so different are our reflections on the same subject, at different periods; and such the excuses with which we palliate what we know to be wrong.
From “The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides with Samuel Johnson, LL.D.” by James Boswell.
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.