Tag Archives: conversion

10 July, Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXVIII: He is called to preach and pray, II.

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So Brother Masseo departed, and according to the bidding of Saint Francis carried his message first unto Saint Clare and then unto Brother Silvester.

Who, when he had heard thereof, forthwith fell on his knees in prayer, and as he prayed received answer from God, and turned to Brother Masseo, and bespake him thus: “Thus saith the Lord: Say unto Brother Francis that God has not called to gain to this estate for himself alone, but to the souls’ end that he may gain fruit of souls, and that many through him may be saved.”

footwashWith this reply Brother Masseo returned to Saint Clare to learn what she had received of God, and she answered that God had sent to her and her companions the same reply as He had given to Brother Silvester. Whereat Brother Masseo hied him back again to Saint Francis; and Saint Francis received him with exceeding great love, washing his feet and making ready for him the meal, and after he had eaten, Saint Francis called Brother Masseo into the wood ; and there kneeled down before him and drew back his hood, stretching out his arms in the shape of a cross, and asked him: What has my Lord Jesu Christ commanded that I should do?

Replied Brother Masseo : “As unto Brother Silvester, so likewise unto Sister Clare and her sisters, has Christ made answer and revealed; that it is His will that thou go throughout the world to preach, since He hath chosen thee not for thyself alone, but also for the salvation of others.”

And then Saint Francis, when he had heard this answer and known thereby the will of Jesu Christ, rose up with fervour exceeding great, and said : “ Let us be going in the name of God”; and he took for his companions Brother Masseo and Brother Agnolo, holy men.

Illustration from an old edition of the Little Flowers from which this text is taken.

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12 June: What do the Saints know? III, Faith

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The Theological virtue of faith

What is the act of faith for St. Thomas? What is the nature of this kind of ‘knowing’? What does faith have to do with connaturality?

St. Thomas insists on the divine initiative here, as he does with all the theological virtues. Theological virtues are gifts of God. He says, “Faith is from God moving man inwardly by grace” (II.II.6.1). So faith is established in the soul by a divine infusion of grace. I love this teaching on the “infused” aspect of faith, because, that is how faith has come to me.. Faith is not something that I just decided to have one day. Nor is faith something that I have because some told me I ‘ought to’ have it because it is ‘good for me’ – like eating your vegetables. In my experience, I began to have real faith (as opposed to just going through the motions of faith) because of something that happened to me – a conversion experience, if you will. For me, faith was a gift that was a response to that other, more fundamental gift of God. Faith was a way of saying thank you to God and of acknowledging that he was now so real for me that everything else was real only in a secondary sense: because it was sustained by the Real reality, who was God. And this experience held a divine imperative – inwardly compelling and joyful – that summoned me to, you might say, ‘cultivate’ my faith and make faith a habit of existence. Cultivate is a weak word, though. My experience was more like being picked in one place and put down in another – in a whole new country! It was a change in the nature of existence; it was existence in a new ‘place’ on a new level. ‘Cultivating’ my faith means coming to know and understand this place, this level. As St. Thomas says, it has all been the gift of God, moving me inwardly by grace.

The idea of faith being a ‘place’ a ‘new country’ is expressive of the way God infused the gift of faith into my soul. For others, another image might be better. Perhaps it was slower for you, a bit by bit experience. Gentler, perhaps. Maybe it was through suffering that Faith was given and deepened. Maybe you have always had faith. Maybe you lost it – or thought you did – and then re-discovered it somehow. It might be helpful to meditate on the way you have found faith in your life – or it has found you – before we go on to explore the subject further.

A whole new country …

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January 15: Reflections from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis. I.

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Of Brother Bernard of Quintavalle , first companion of St Francis

THE first companion of Saint Francis was Brother Bernard of Assisi, who was converted in this wise: While Saint Francis was still in the secular habit, albeit he had already despised the world, and went about being wholly held in scorn of men, mortifying his flesh by penances, in so much that by many he was thought foolish and was mocked at as a mad fellow, and was driven away with stones and foul abuse by his kinsfolk and by strangers, yet bore himself patiently amid all manner of ignominy and reproach, as though he were deaf and dumb: Bernard of Assisi, the which was of the noblest, and richest, and wisest in the city, began wisely to take heed unto Saint Francis, how exceeding strong his contempt of the world, how great his patience in the midst of wrongs, so that albeit for a two years’ space thus evil intreated of all persons and despised, he ever seemed the more constant; then he began to ponder and to say within himself: “In no wise can it be that this brother hath not abundant grace from God”; so he called him one evening to sup and lodge with him: and Saint Francis consented thereto and supped with him and lodged.

And thereat Bernard set it in his heart to watch his sanctity: wherefore he let make ready for him a bed in his own proper chamber, in the which at night-time ever a lamp did burn. And Saint Francis, for to hide his sanctity, when he was come into the chamber, incontinent did throw himself upon the bed and made as though he slept: and likewise Bernard after some short space set himself to lie down and fell to snoring loudly, in fashion as though he slept right soundly.

To be continued. But did Francis sleep?

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9 December: Mercy, a Tentmaker of Tarsus.

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Let’s take another snapshot from Masefield’s Coming of Christ.

And also there was Paul, receiving mercy, proclaiming mercy:

A tentmaker of Tarsus,

Who will deny you and denounce your followers

To torment and to death; and then will see

Your truth by sudden lightning of the mind,

And then go through the world, telling your truth,

Through scourgings, stoning, bonds, beating with rods,

The wild beasts in the ring, worse beasts in men;

To the sharp sword outside the city gates,

Glad beyond words to drink of your sweet cup,

Lifted and lit by you, christened by you,

Made spirit by you, I who slew your saints.

(P14)

Jesus told James and John: My chalice indeed you shall drink; but to sit on my right or left hand, is not mine to give to you, but to them for whom it is prepared by my Father. Matthew (20:23) We shall drink of his cup – whether sweet or bitter; we will be lifted and lit by him and strengthened to be tellers of his truth and sharers of his mercy.

WT.

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October 12: CONSCIENCE V: Erroneous Conscience.

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Zakopane, Poland; MMB.

Although the Church teaches that we have an innate affinity to goodness on the level of our conscience, she also allows that our conscience can be in error.  Let us look more closely at the concept of the erroneous conscience.  Our conscience can be mistaken because of an ignorance of which we are unaware, and which we have had no means of overcoming.  In such cases, our mistake is not culpable and the conscience does not forfeit its dignity.  But, it is still wrong.

One of the chief requirements for the maintenance of a good conscience is love of truth, and the awareness of truth’s objectivity.

…It is always from the truth that the dignity of conscience derives.  In the case of the correct conscience, it is a question of the objective truth received by man; in the case of the erroneous conscience, it is a question of what man mistakenly, subjectively considers to be true.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Homily of 18 April 2005.

The mere fact that I might have thought something was right and good to do does not make that thing right and good to do.  It is vital, therefore, actively to seek the truth, to seek knowledge of God and of his law and to allow our conscience to be formed by it.  Moreover, there is a deeper requirement:

What is essential is a sort of connaturality between man and the true good.  Such a connaturality is rooted in and develops through the virtuous attitudes of the individual himself: prudence and the other cardinal virtues, and even before these the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.                                                                    [Ibid].

There is no getting around it.  Our conscience must be properly informed.  We have an affinity to goodness on the level of our conscience, but we need help in order to understand what is good.  Here, the wisdom of the Christian tradition and the teaching authority of the Church can help us.  It is also true that knowledge of what is good must be strengthened by actions that are good.  To live life fully as a human being and as a Christian, we must love the virtues, seek to understand them, and try to exercise them.  Our conscience must be the object of a conversion that goes on throughout our life.

SJC.

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July 21, John Cassian V: What Next?

 

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The one who has made an effort to cut down on superfluous material things will find himself less occupied by concerns about maintaining them, repairing them, updating them.  The heart begins to be free.  It becomes possible to pray more, according to John Cassian.  But this does not mean that purity of heart has now been achieved.  It is not unusual, under such circumstances, to develop a more intense awareness of one’s own weaknesses and sinful tendencies.

Rather than seeing unending streams of light proceeding from within, one may find what Cassian calls “evil thoughts” emerging.  According to Cassian, this shouldn’t come as any surprise, for Jesus himself warns us that this is what we are like: “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander” (Mt. 15: 19).  Perhaps I am someone who has read that passage many times in scripture, yet, when I finally realise that this is a home truth about me, it can be shocking.

This is where Cassian comes to assist – not with false consolation that endeavours to sweep all the difficulties under the carpet.  He comes with true insight into the reality of our interior life.  Cassian enumerates eight principal vices, or “evil thoughts,” as he calls them.  He calls them “thoughts” because he knows that our deeds, whether good or bad, are conceived first as thoughts before they become actions.  So, it is there, on the level of our thoughts, that conversion needs to occur.

SJC.

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Friday 24th June: Bear Fruit Worthy of Repentance!

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FMSL

‘BEAR FRUIT WORTHY OF REPENTANCE!’ (Matthew 3:8)

mercylogoToday we are celebrating the feast of Saint John the Baptist. So today we can spend a little time to meditate on God’s mercy through the words of the Baptist. Always and especially in this year we are continually listening the proclamation of the mercy of God. In the Bible we can see that after the proclamation of Saint John the Baptist thousands of people confessed their sins and converted their life.

Now we may be confessing our sins and receiving God’s mercy in different ways. Is it enough? Is God expecting anything more from us? Can we do anything to please God or to express our gratitude? Let us listen to the words of Saint John the Baptist. He instructed all the people who received God’s mercy and converted their life, ‘BEAR FRUIT WORTHY OF REPENTANCE’ (Matthew 3:8).

How can we bear fruit?  We are not able to feed all those who are hungry. We have human limitations. We are not able to do many things. Then what can we do? We can behave mercifully to all those who are weak.  We can overcome our judgmental attitude to all people. We can give love to those who are sick and needy. We can spend our time to spread Word of God. Perhaps we can even dedicate our lives to it like Saint John the Baptist. Without any blaming, Jesus has accepted us. We have received enough mercy from God and freely, so Jesus says, ‘GO AND DO LIKEWISE’.

FMSL

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April 9, Station VI: They returned to Jerusalem

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MMB – Caernarfon at Eastertide.

 

 

The Lord is Risen! [33-35]

That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem, and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying,  ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon’.

Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

 

Hurrying back to Jerusalem they find that they are not the only ones who have had their grief and despair turned so suddenly and mysteriously into wonder and joy and new found faith: The Lord is risen!

There are two things to notice here.

  • The first is the transformation of these grieving, fearful men and women into joyful witnesses, eager to tell others what has happened, to spread the Good News/Gospel.
  • The other is the Good News itself: that Jesus, who was crucified, died and was buried, has been raised from the dead. Death has been shown to have no power over him. The powers that had opposed him and what he stood for had seemed to triumph when they had him crucified. And now they are shown to have been powerless: it is God and God’s way that has triumphed.
  • The joy now being experienced by the disciples transforms them into true disciples, responding once more to the call to ‘follow me’, and doing so now fully aware of what it means: ‘take up your cross and follow me’.
  • And they now know where that will take them: not just back to Jerusalem and the community of disciples, but that community—the Church—must now ‘take up the cross’ and live the way of the cross, which means choosing the path of forgiveness and reconciliation over every form of violence, strong in faith because freed from the fear of death.

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What is this like for us today?

We can perhaps first of all reflect on our own personal experience of having been on this journey, and take our bearings on where we find ourselves.

  • The call to discipleship is addressed to each of us personally: Unless you take up your cross and follow me you cannot be my disciple’. The journey of faith will have its own story which no one but ourselves can know or tell. And it will have its own stages—detours and delays—which only we can know.
  • And so we may find ourselves a little short of the finish, of the joyful transformation experienced by the two disciples. It could also be that we can remember having been there or somewhere close to it, and have since lost ground… That’s OK, it’s very much part of the journey, the Way of the Cross. What matters is that we hold onto the assurance given us that we are not alone: the one who calls us to follow him is always there, walking with us, even though ‘our eyes might be held’ and we do not recognise him.But we need also to make a practical, down-to-earth assessment of what it means to have made this journey in faith and now to find ourselves, at the end of it, ‘going back to Jerusalem’, the ‘Church community’ of which we are part.
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  • What are we bringing with us? How can we ‘make a difference’? Where to start…?
  • It is worth remembering that the two disciples didn’t know what it was going to be like when they returned to Jerusalem. What if nothing had changed and they found the other disciples still huddled in fear?
  • But such thoughts and fears seem not to have entered their heads. They just wanted to tell what had happened to them, to share their joy and the new life that had been given to them. Nothing else mattered but to let their friends, and everyone, know the Good News that Jesus has been raised from the dead and is with us, making everything new ‘in God’s name’.

JMcC.

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10th April – Reflections on Freedom and Responsibility VIII

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Adam and Eve – and the Serpent – at Dryburgh Abbey, Scotland. MMB.

Freedom and Evil

The relationship between freedom and evil is the aspect of our freedom that remains the most mysterious.  St. Augustine grappled with this in his Confessions.  He describes his mentality before his conversion in this way:

It seemed to me that it was not we who sin, but some other nature within us that is responsible.  My pride was gratified at being exculpated by this theory: when I had done something wrong it was pleasant to avoid having to confess that I had done it….   I liked to excuse myself and lay the blame on some other force that was with me but was not myself.

But, Augustine is writing here about what he was like before.  By the time he writes it, however, he knows better, for he says in the very next sentence, “But, in truth, it was all myself.”

 

SJC

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April 3 – The Journey of Conversion andDiscipleship

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The traditional Stations of the Cross invite us to re-enact the Passion and Death of Jesus, pausing for reflection and prayer at ‘Stations’ along the way. The focus for ‘the Stations’ has traditionally been on only a part of the Gospel narrative, the Passion and Death of Jesus, and it has been recognised that that was too narrow and had to be extended to include the Resurrection, without which the Way of the Cross could never be complete. Much can be gained, I think, by extending it still further to encompass the entire narrative of the Gospel, recognising that ‘the Way of the Cross’ is actually the Way of the Gospel, of discipleship—‘Take up your cross and follow me’.

I suggest we take one text—St Luke’s account of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus [Luke 24:13-35]—and use it as a template for our own ‘Stations’ on our journey of faith, our learning to be disciples in the reality of our lives and of the Church as we experience it today.

After reading the text it will help to offer a bird’s eye view of the overall movement, noting how it opens with two dispirited disciples leaving Jerusalem after the crucifixion of Jesus and ends with them hurrying back, at the end of the same day, to re-join the community they had just left, eager to tell the others what has happened to them. What we want to do is not just understand what happened to them that accounts for this dramatic turn-around, but to try to position ourselves at each Station in the narrative, looking for correlates in our own experience—as individuals, as a group, as Church.

JMcC

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“The Joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew…

“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.”

Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium [1-2]

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