Holy Family Window, Catholic Church, Saddleworth
Let’s return to the good Thomas Traherne. This is from Century I:53. Challenging ideas, that God willed Creation in order to let himself have fuller being in his Son, and that we are called to extend our good will to all people and all Creation; to will their happiness into being. Laudato Si!
God willed the Creation not only that He might Appear but Be: wherein is seated the mystery of the Eternal Generation of His Son. Do you will it as He did, and you shall be glorious as He. He willed the happiness of men and angels not only that He might appear, but be good and wise and glorious.
And He willed it with such infinite desire, that He is infinitely good: infinitely good in Himself,and infinitely blessed in them. Do you will the happiness of men and angels as He did, and you shall be good, and infinitely blessed as He is. All their happiness shall be your happiness as it is His. He willed the glory of all ages, and the government and welfare of all Kingdoms, and the felicity also of the highest cherubims.
Do you extend your Will like Him and you shall be great as He is, and concerned and happy in all these. He willed the redemption of mankind, and therefore is His Son Jesus Christ an infinite treasure. Unless you will it too, He will be no treasure to you. Verily you ought to will these things so ardently that God Himself should be therefore your joy because He willed them. Your will ought to be united to His in all places of His dominion. Were you not born to have communion with Him? And that cannot be without this heavenly union. Which when it is what it ought is Divine and Infinite.
“There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion,” said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. “It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”
Sherlock Holmes, in “The Adventure of the Naval Treaty”
I didn’t expect Sherlock Holmes to contribute to the blog either! Will.
The humiliation that we all carry is that we are a mass of contradictions. Yet we are, before all else, a blessing; but we are well aware it is a mixed blessing – Original Sin, a doctrine many dislike – whatever we call it, we do have a sense of being inadequate. The word sin implies culpability, which is not what the doctrine wants to say! The precise meaning is that we are not culpable for it, but that we are wounded by it. It names my inner conflict so that I will not be shocked or surprised when it shows itself.
Paul sees both Adam and Christ as summaries of humanity. What happens in them must happen in all; not just then but always now. If you know you are a mixed blessing, filled with contradictions, a mystery to yourself, you won’t pretend to eliminate all that is unworthy, but heed Jesus’ advice: let them both grow together until harvest time – Matthew 13.30.
Jesus told us not to pull out the weeds – Matthew 13.29 – lest we also pull out the wheat; this is both sound spirituality and psychology. In Genesis 1.26 God says Let us make humanity in our own image – note the use of the plural form, as if intuiting the Trinity, God as relationship, the perfect mystery of total giving and receiving. It is interesting that physicists, molecular biologists and astronomers are more in tune with this universal pattern than Christian believers.
God isn’t looking for servants or contestants to play the game – God is looking simply for images to walk around the earth. This is as if God is saying all I want is some out there who will communicate who I am, what I am about and what is happening in God: You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he – Isaiah 43.10. All morality is simply the imitation of God – not those who do it right go to heaven, but those who live like me are already in heaven.
The WORLD is not this little Cottage of Heaven and Earth. Though this be fair, it is too small a Gift. When God made the World He made the Heavens, and the Heavens of Heavens, and the Angels, and the Celestial Powers. These also are parts of the World: So are all those infinite and eternal Treasures that are to abide for ever, after the Day of Judgement. Neither are these, some here, and some there, but all everywhere, and at once to be enjoyed.
The WORLD is unknown, till the Value and Glory of it is seen: till the Beauty and the Serviceableness of its parts is considered. When you enter into it, it is an illimited field of Variety and Beauty: where you may lose yourself in the multitude of Wonders and Delights. But it is an happy loss to lose oneself in admiration at one’s own Felicity: and to find GOD in exchange for oneself: Which we then do when we see Him in His Gifts, and adore His Glory.
A scientist as well as a poet can happily lose himself or herself in comtemplation.
O the nobility of Divine Friendship ! Are not all His treasures yours, and yours His? Is not your very Soul and Body His : is not His life and felicity yours : is not His desire yours? Is not His will yours?
And if His will be yours, the accomplishment of it is yours, and the end of all is your perfection.
You are infinitely rich as He is : being pleased in everything as He is. And if His will be yours, yours is His. For you will what He willeth, which is to be truly wise and good and holy. And when you delight in the same reasons that moved Him to will, you will know it.
Though perhaps you will know that delight without having the words to express it in Christian language as Thomas Traherne does here. Laudato Si!
Love has a marvellous property of feeling in another It can enjoy in another, as well as enjoy him. Love is an infinite treasure to its object, and its object is so to it. God is Love, and you are His object. You are created to be His Love : and He is yours. He is happy in you, when you are happy : as parents in their children. He is afflicted in all your afflictions.
And whosoever toucheth you, toucheth the apple of His eye.
Will not you be happy in all His enjoyments ? He feeleth in you ; will not you feel in Him? He hath obliged you to love Him. And if you love Him, you must of necessity be Heir of the World, for you are happy in Him. All His praises are your joys, all His enjoyments are your treasures, all His pleasures are your enjoyments. In God you are crowned, in God you are concerned. In Him you feel, in Him you live, and move, and have your being, in Him yon are blessed. Whatsoever therefore serveth Him, serveth you and in Him you inherit all things.
Many flowers have English names that speak of the faith of those who named them. We saw these resplendent Michaelmas Daisies in Folkestone, next to Saint Eanswythe’s Pool which we have visited before on this blog. It’s where the saint brought clean water for the townspeople and her sisters.
But today we remember Michael the Archangel, whose name means ‘Who is like God?’
Who indeed? Passing through Tonbridge I saw another fine clump of Michaelmas Daisies, where a seed must have taken root alongside the line. Too much reflection from the window to grab a snap, but maybe more people see them than St Eanswythe’s.
Let’s hope hearts at both ends of Kent are lifted at the sight.
It’s worth recalling that Michaelmas daisies are officially ‘asters’ or stars, and stars can guide the wise.
There have been times of great perplexity, when I could have done with the following prayer from Cardinal Newman. Something of an antidote to ambition! Retirement is as much a time of discernment as when leaving school or college, and it may well be that Newman’s Kindly Light will lead into unexpected corners!
God created me to do Him some definite service.
He has committed some work to me,
which He has not committed to another.
I have a mission.
I am a link in a chain,
a bond of connection between persons.
Therefore I will trust Him.
Whatever I am, I can never be thrown away.
If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him;
if I am perplexed, my perplexity may serve Him;
if I am in joy, my joy may serve Him;
if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve him.
He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about.
The Eildon Hills in the countryside where Duns Scotus was born.
From the Second Century to the time of Saint Augustine in the Fifth, Church teaching felt it imperative to defend God in the freedom of salvation against those emphasising self-perfection through sheer moral effort. The Twelfth Century saw Grace as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, emphasising God’s initiative. Duns Scotus – at the end of the Thirteenth Century – said grace is the supernatural habit of Charity, grace is a loving disposition.
What matters is that God’s grace is necessary for everyone. It is redemptive, healing grace in a broken world in which we have never seen anyone attaining natural happiness by human effort independently of God. Karl Rahner makes two points: in the historical situation in which we find ourselves we have been called by God to a life of grace. This call applies to everyone – pure nature people did not, do not and will not exist. Secondly, if grace has any meaning at all, it is God’s invitation, working at the core of human existence – working through our humanness, spontaneity and creativity – our ability to think and take possession of our being and make appropriate decisions. This means that Grace cannot be separate from the realm of experience. It can only be a change in the way we experience life. The supernatural cannot be regarded as beyond consciousness, if it were it would make no sense.
It is not necessary to suppose that God’s offer of friendship is communicated in an extra-sensory way outside our experience. It is communicated by the happening of Jesus in the world, and by the community of believers extending through history. So if we ask what difference Grace makes, it makes all the difference in the world to everything and everybody. But if we ask someone to point out exactly the effects of grace in a situation, in contrast to natural efforts alone – it is not a valid question. Grace is not parallel to nature, but transforms and sustains it. Everything that is a work of Grace is also a work of nature, there is no way of separating them and looking at them one at a time.
John Duns Scotus’ homeland in the Scottish borders.
We live in secular times – in the course of the ages we have taken more and more possession of the earth and all it contains; we control much more than people of ages past. We also have better self-awareness – realising that customs, rules and ideas of order and beauty are not always shared by other societies. Customs and traditions are not the inevitable and only right way of doing things.
When we understood less we tended to see the transcendent God as the all-powerful organiser. This God made thunder when he was angry, sent plagues and disasters to punish and redressed everything that had gone wrong. God worked in unseen ways. Outwardly a man might seem good and virtuous, inwardly he could have lost God’s grace and be out of sorts with God and living in darkness. Lost God’s Grace – outwardly, before and after baptism there might be no difference in a person – inwardly there can be all the difference between night and day in that realm where God is active and inaccessible to our experience. As we began to take more control of the world, we also took more responsibility for what was going on – in the external world. We have lightening conductors replacing the sign of the cross; we have air traffic control instead of prayers for travellers; we have learned to seed clouds from the air instead of novenas for rain.
This has also made its way into the inner world of our spiritual life. We are starting to distrust ritual ways of obtaining God’s favour. We have reasoned that a person can’t receive additional charity unless we are really loving more and more. Accounts of the spiritual life, the redemptive work of Christ and the service of the Church are now sounding more like common sense psychology than strictly Christian teaching. Some are even doing away with the idea of Grace.
Mosaic from S Aloysius, Somers Town, London, (near Euston, St Pancras and King’s Cross). While I know trains are very safe, I like to make a pilgrim’s prayer if I find this church open. MMB.