Tag Archives: Creator God

19 July, What is Theology Saying? XIX: The Eucharist 6, A Call to Simplicity

winchester crucifixWhen Jesus began his ministry he didn’t expect it to lead to this – it wasn’t the goal of his mission. What he challenged us with was totally radical – the way of non-violence, of not needing someone to blame. His death reveals both the compassion of God and the reality of sin. Faced with Jesus, his contemporaries, chosen as hearers of the Word – panicked. The Gospels don’t present the leaders as particularly evil; they used arguments we are still using ourselves – prudence, common sense, self-defence… This is why sin is so appalling, showing how our normal and accepted ways of living are so corrupt that they crucify the innocent – legally.

Some would argue for a proper distinction to be made between religion, politics and social living. Jesus didn’t invite people to be poor, but to be poor in spirit – detached enough from whatever possessions to notice the poor man at the door. There is no love for a hungry person which leaves the person still hungry – it is pointless to show how much is being spent here and there – when the poor remain unfed, unclothed and unhoused. The very point of the Eucharist is to free people from the oppression of such evil. It is naïve to think we help poor people simply by becoming poor ourselves. Our call is to simplicity – simple means uncomplicated, and is not synonymous with easy.

We come to the Eucharist to be involved in ways of everyday living that will bring change. We have the gift of the Sacraments to help us do this. It is easy to miss the point of the Sacrament of the Eucharist by seeing it as a very special ceremony celebrated in but distinct from everyday living. There can be no intimacy with God without seeking the well-being of others – we are told the Second Commandment is like the first; which cautions about eating and drinking unworthily – 1Corinthians 11.27.

Grace is not a commodity God has to give to those who do what they are told to do. In fact, it is not something – it is relationship. It is an invitation to intimacy along with the gift of courage to say yes. Grace cannot be seen but gracefulness can, in heightened sensitivity to the needs of others. We can love our own family to the exclusion of others, likewise for one’s country – but such is not love since love knows nothing of exclusions. Love means openness – no matter who no matter where. See this expressed in the way the local folk in Germany turned out to welcome the migrants. This is Eucharist beyond the table. We relate to God as community, because it is only in community [no matter how small] that relationships happen. We have little experience of covenant relationship with God when so many human hungers go unnoticed.

AMcC

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July 16, What is Theology Saying? XVI: The Eucharist 3: No way can creature = Creator.

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Jesus told Nicodemus of our need to learn to live differently – to realise that we are gifted with ourselves in order to become gift for others – a way often called tough love; not counting the personal cost involved in being concerned primarily with mutual well-being and not just me alone. A child walks because adults wait for and expect this – often before it is physically possible! Love means not just self-giving, but expressing confidence that you will be all the better for it, and flourish accordingly. But to challenge like this presupposes trust – the trust of a child for its parents.

Our Eucharistic celebrations look very churchy and remote from everyday living – carefully choreographed rituals, strange attire worn by leaders sitting apart, scripts for designated readers only – all well-intentioned to enhance the beauty and centrality of the Eucharist – but does it? It certainly is central in our worship – but what about our everyday living? Does your Sunday Mass impact noticeably on your social, political, economic involvement?

We are celebrating the hospitality of God in a gathering in which we are invited to be co-hosts; and this happens in the real presence of Jesus. He told his disciples to continue celebrating the Last Supper, interpreting his death and Resurrection in the light of the Passover. The Exodus is central for Jewish faith – the setting free from oppression – since love depends on equality. But this not simply a one-off event of long ago – it is a permanent reminder of how God is with us, as equals.

Do we have a problem here? Equality is of the essence of love – but God cannot have any equal by definition; does this mean God cannot love? Revelation is clear about the gulf between us – no way can creature = Creator. So we seem destined for an infantile authority/obedience relationship with God through keeping the rules. There is no equal to God. However kind, benign and compassionate the Creator is, we remain creature and Creator.

AMcC

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12 July: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXX: His sermon to the birds.

The sermon that Saint Francis preached unto birds was:

“My little sisters, the birds, much bounden are ye unto God, your Creator, and alway in every place ought ye to praise Him, for that He hath given you liberty to fly about everywhere, and hath also given you double and triple raiment; moreover He preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, that your race might not perish out of the world; still more are ye beholden to Him for the element of the air which He hath appointed for you; beyond all this, ye sow not, neither do you reap; and God feedeth you, and giveth you the streams and fountains for your drink; the mountains and the valleys for your refuge and the high trees whereon to make your nests; and because ye know not how to spin or sew, God clotheth you, you and your children; wherefore your Creator loveth you much, seeing that He hath bestowed on you so many benefits ; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God.”

Whenas Saint Francis spake these words to them, those birds began all of them to open their beaks, and stretch their necks, and spread their wings, and reverently bend their heads down to the ground, and by their acts and by their songs to show that the holy Father gave them joy exceeding great. And Saint Francis rejoiced with them, and was glad, and marvelled much at so great a company of birds and their most beautiful diversity and their good heed and sweet friendliness, for the which cause he devoutly praised their Creator in them.

At the last, having ended the preaching. Saint Francis made over them the sign of the cross, and gave them leave to go away; and thereby all the birds with wondrous singing rose up in the air; and then, in the fashion of the cross that Saint Francis had made over them, divided themselves into four parts; and the one part flew toward the East, and the other towards the West, and the other towards the South, and the fourth towards the North, and each flight went on its way singing wondrous songs ; signifying thereby that even as Saint Francis, the standard-bearer of the Cross of Christ, had preached unto them, and made over them the sign of the cross, after the pattern of which they separated themselves unto the four parts of the world: even so the preaching of the Cross of Christ, renewed by Saint Francis, would be carried by him and the brothers throughout all the world; the which brothers, after the fashion of the birds, possessing nothing of their own in this world, commit their lives wholly unto the providence of God.

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7 July: What do the Saints know? Part II, 7; Conclusion: What do the living saints know?

What do the living saints know?

Perhaps, first, they are not afraid to know divine things with a kind of knowledge that makes room for mystery. This ‘base-note’ was sounded when we were looking at faith, and it plays continuously. Faith is the habit of mind in which we assent to what is ‘non-apparent,’ says Thomas. Our existence is usually geared to what is apparent on the level of our senses. But there is emphatically another level. St. Thomas tells us (or me, anyway) to trust it.

Second, perhaps saints on earth know – unforgettably – that they are on a trajectory headed towards the fulfilment of our deepest hopes not in this life, but in the next. Yet, surely, they are also unforgettably aware that eternal happiness has its beginnings now. St Thomas teaches that through the virtues of faith, hope and charity, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, our whole being can be directed to God – and not merely God outside and beyond us. The theological virtues tap a new spring within us where God dwells, making Himself known. Now. Today. This very moment!

Third, perhaps the saints are more aware of the gift of God. God gives us the beginnings of eternal life, He gives us His ‘wide lap’ to support us, He gives us His happiness. And Thomas makes it clear that God is not stingy with His gifts. They are for everyone.

Lastly, perhaps the living saints are more willing to undergo the process that gives us connaturality with divine things. It strikes me that the virtues of faith, hope and charity are not so much virtues that we have, as virtues that have us. Through faith we allow God’s truth to form us. Through the virtue of hope, we allow our egg-sized hopes to be stretched to something more ‘heaven-sized’. Suffering can be seen as part of that stretching process. As we lean on God’s help, He leads us to the virtue of charity. Through the virtue of charity, we consent to ‘suffer’ divine things. The deepest, most divine thing, as we know, is Christ crucified. We learn to love as Christ loved by undergoing something of what He underwent. Through this process the Holy Spirit creates in us that connaturality with divine things for which we hunger on the deepest level of our being.

SJC

Many thanks, Sister Johanna, for this series of reflections. Maybe we now ought to read Pope Francis’s ‘Gaudete et Exsultate’ to help the message sink in and stretch ourselves to eternal-life-size.                                                                                                                                WT.

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July 5: What do the Saints Know? Part II, 5: The Theological Virtue of Charity – All Gift

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I would like now to explore how the virtue of charity sheds light on our quest to understand what the saints know. [Cf. Summa Theologiae II, II, 23:1 for much of what follows.] St. Thomas speaks of charity, both toward our neighbour and toward God in terms of friendship, not only because Aristotle does, but because Jesus does: and he quotes the gospel of John, ‘I no longer call you servants, but friends.’ Yet, his is an exalted idea of friendship, as it refers to a depth of love that brings about an experience of mutual indwelling. This friendship, to be authentic, says Thomas, must be more than mere companionship. It must be directed to what is best for the loved one, and not for the self. It must also be a relationship of mutuality, so that the communication goes both ways. And, it must reach beyond the loved one to include what the loved one loves.

Thomas points out that charity is different to faith and hope. They allow us some participation in the divine life, but at a certain ‘remove.’ Charity, on the other hand, is not ‘removed’ from God. It is God.

Going through my notes as I prepared these posts, I found myself thinking with some impatience, ‘Yes, yes. God is love. I know that.’ But then I said, ‘Do I?’ If God is love, how do I even dare to ‘go there’? St. Thomas himself even says, in effect, if you take a good, long, hard look at the human person’s un-graced capacities, we should not be able to love like this (II.II.24. 2, 3). We tend to love in a way that relates to our own need, selfishly. So often, if we are really honest with ourselves, we discover that that apparently generous thing we did for someone was actually all about me. St. Thomas calls this kind of love concupiscence and not charity. God is supremely loveable alright, but, Thomas points out, our capacities tend toward what we can see, and our self-centeredness means that we often see ourselves more than we see anything else. What to do? In one of his most important uses of the concept of connaturality, Thomas explains, “No act is perfectly produced by an actor unless it be connatural to him by reason of some inner capacity to perform that action (II.II.23.2). Therefore, the love of God must be infused into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is the love of the Father and the Son.”

Charity is founded on a supernatural friendship of God with the human person. It is God who enables us to love. The initiative is God’s: God loves us first, God gets there first, to rephrase the First Letter of John slightly. He communicates his happiness to us, says St. Thomas, and the love that we experience in response is charity. God makes love possible for us. It is all gift.

SJC

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July 1: What do the Saints Know? Part II, Normal People.

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With great timing, Sister Johanna prepared these thoughts not long before Pope Francis issued his challenge, ‘Gaudete et Exsultate’, calling each of us to be a saint right where we are. Thank you once again, Sister!

St. Thomas Aquinas, Connaturality and the Theological Virtues

Introduction to Part II

In previous posts I explored with readers some aspects of the virtue of faith. We are looking at the question, what do the saints know? I am talking about living saints, walking about on this earth now, struggling with life’s complexities and their own weaknesses. Normal people. What do they know that enables them to become living saints, generous and joyful? We are still looking at this question, and I am using St Thomas Aquinas’s teaching in his Summa Theologiae to guide my thoughts.

When we looked at the virtue of faith, we did this through the lens of an idea of St. Thomas’s that has intrigued me for a long time: the notion of connaturality with divine things. St. Thomas describes faith, hope and charity as gifts of a loving God that are filled with his presence, and that enable us to grow in grace through a knowledge of his very being. That grace makes us participate in his life in a way that enables us to become connatural with him. We saw some ways in which the virtue of faith works upon our soul. Let us turn now to the virtue of hope.

SJC

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28 June: Birds in the City

heron parrot3

Continuing our watery theme, with the picture of a Heron which we saw in Amsterdam recently.

Back in April Mrs T and I were working on George’s garden in London. We saw and heard – no way of not hearing! – quite a few parakeets as well as more common garden birds, flitting across from the cemetery park. Mrs T remarked on our recent visit to Amsterdam, where the parakeets were enjoying cherry blossom time as much as the humans in the park. There were also herons at the waters’ edge – plenty of that habitat in the city of canals – which reminded George of the herons he likes to see on London’s Serpentine lake.

Let’s hope more birds adapt to city life – and that we humans have the wisdom to adapt our cities and ourselves to provide good environments – land, water and air – for other creatures and ourselves.

Laudato Si’!

WT

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14 June. What do the Saints know? V: Faith and Simplicity

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We are reflecting on the kind of knowledge that the saints have and we are looking at the theological virtue of faith. It seems to me that there is a wonderful simplicity about the quality of ‘knowing’ that goes with faith. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that God is simple: God is, he says, and “faith grasps that in a simple act” (II.II Q 1:2). Faith has content, then, and that content is God Himself.

Faith is not wishful thinking. It circumscribes and protects a relationship with God. That is what it contains. Once this content has been grasped in what Thomas calls a ‘simple act’ we also find, he says, that faith does involve knowing on a more ordinary level. Faith inspires us to learn about God and his life, to discover what He has revealed, to learn about the articles of belief, and so on. And, this kind of inquiry gives joy, I find. And increases love. Here it becomes possible to see the interconnection of theological virtues. Love of God is increased through the kinds of study that are an expression of faith.

Thomas goes on: it follows that, “…it is proper to the believer to think with assent.” Let’s pause here. It is proper to the believer to think with assent. This is not the way we learned to think in school. Ordinarily, thought means taking a stance not of assent but of disagreement. It goes something like this: ‘Why should I believe that any given statement is true? Chances are, you are trying to get something out of me that is not in my best interests to give.’ Now that may well be true, and faith does not mean that we abandon all capacity for critical distance in relation to the outside world. But faith is not really a dialogue with the outside world per se. It is a dialogue with God. Therefore, a different kind of thought process goes with it.

St. Thomas explains: “The act of believing is distinguished from all the other acts of the intellect, which are about determining the true and the false. In faith, [by contrast] we accept that what God has revealed is true” (II.II Q 2: 1). Why? Because God is Truth. It is simply not necessary to doubt this. On the contrary, faith calls us to absorb God’s truth more and more fully.

SJC

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13 June. What do the Saints Know? IV: How do we Cultivate our Faith?

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How do we cultivate our faith? If faith is a ‘place’, as I asserted yesterday – my word and not St Thomas’s – then we need to discover where we are. It is not a place on a map. So, and this is St. Thomas now, faith is cultivated (the ‘place’ comes to be understood) through questions, says Thomas. Faith, he says, “involves the intellect in a kind of inquiry.” What kind? Not the kind demanding empirical evidence (cf. II.II.1,5). Nor, when we inquire about the object of faith are we setting ourselves up as judges of the object of belief. If so, then this is not the kind of inquiry that is an expression of faith. It is merely a pitiful attempt to out-smart God. Thomas says that the kind of inquiry that goes with faith is that which attempts to “grasp with greater understanding what God has revealed and how he has confirmed it.” Faith, then, concerns not a vacuum in our knowledge; indeed, it concerns something that already exists, something that God has revealed, something that we therefore already ‘know’ – even if we only know it obliquely.

For me, this teaching from St. Thomas helps to dispel that temptation to think that we have to have faith because we can’t know God. At all. Faith, in that case, becomes something that merely tries to plug up the vacuum, a vacuum that we might not like to acknowledge is there in the first place.

What do we know, then? What can we say about faith? St. Thomas asserts: we can say that we know about eternal life. Or at least, we know it a little. This is how he puts it: “Faith is a habit of the mind, whereby eternal life is begun in us, making the intellect assent to what is non-apparent (II.II.4:1). The little words ‘in us’ are so important, I think. They tell us that we are ‘in touch with’ eternal life. And, so eternal life is not ‘out there’ beyond our reach. It’s not in an unbearably dull theological book. It’s not across the sea. We ‘have it’ in us. Going back to the image of the vacuum, well, we simply don’t have one, because through faith eternal life is begun in us.

This word ‘begun’ is important. Faith is not about the completion of the knowledge of God – if there even is such a thing. Which I doubt. Faith is about something that exists as a beginning – a beginning of something beautiful. This is something we ‘know’, but in a different way, on a different level from what we usually say we ‘know.’

Now, I can live with that understanding of faith pretty happily. It will probably not convince a hardened sceptic, but it does help to make my act of faith intelligible to me. If faith starts with ‘a divine infusion’ then it starts with mystery. This coexistence of real knowledge with mystery is not something to dismiss but to validate, and St Thomas does. In his teaching, faith is a real connection with eternal life, not in its fullness, but in its beginnings; not in clarity, but in mystery; not in fantasy, but in reality.

SJC.

Cultivating or Ploughing near Beachy Head, Sussex.

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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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