Tag Archives: eternity

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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4 May: Little Flowers of Saint Francis XXI; the immeasurable treasure of most holy poverty.

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We continue from yesterday’s episode: Saint Francis abandons France for Rome. These Franciscans were in Kent, on pilgrimage to Canterbury.

Saint Francis said : My comrade, let us go to Saint Peter and Saint Paul and pray them to teach us and help us to possess the immeasurable treasure of most holy poverty ; for it is a treasure so high excelling and so divine that we be not worthy to lay it up in our vile vessels; since this is that celestial virtue whereby all earthly things and fleeting are trodden under foot, and whereby all hindrances are lifted from the soul, so that freely she may join herself to God eternal. And this is the virtue that makes the soul, still tied to earth, hold converse with the angels in heaven, and this it is that hung with Christ upon the cross, with Christ was buried, with Christ rose up again, with Christ ascended into heaven; the which also in this life grants to the souls that love it an easier flight to heaven ; in that it guards the arms of true humility and love. Wherefore let us pray the most holy apostles of Christ, the which were perfect lovers of this gospel pearl, that they may beg for us this grace from our Lord Jesu Christ, that of His most holy mercy He may make us worthy to become true lovers, followers, and humble disciples, of the most precious, most lovable, and gospel poverty.” 

With such converse they so fared until they came unto Rome, and went into the church of Saint Peter; and Saint Francis set himself to pray in one corner of the church, and Brother Masseo in another; and as he continued a long time in prayer with much weeping and devotion, there appeared unto Saint Francis the most holy apostles Peter and Paul in great splendour, and said “Because thou hast asked and desired to observe that which Christ and His holy apostles observed, the Lord Jesu Christ hath sent us unto thee to announce that thy prayer is heard, and that God has granted to thee and to thy followers in uttermost perfection the treasure of most holy poverty. And further we tell thee that whoso after thy pattern shall perfectly follow this desire, he is assured of the blessedness of life eternal: and blessed shalt thou and all thy followers be ”; and with these words they were away, leaving Saint Francis filled with consolation. And rising from prayer, he returned to his companion and asked him if God had revealed naught unto him; and he answered, “Naught.” Then Saint Francis told him how the holy apostles had appeared to him, and what they had revealed. Whereat they both being filled with joy resolved to return unto the valley of Spoleto, and leave their journeying into France.

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23 April: The Holy of Holies.

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The Holy of Holies refers of course to the innermost chamber of the Temple in Jerusalem – and before that in the tent that went through the desert with the Israelites. Blake reminded us that God is present in a grain of sand; here is Chesterton meeting him on a Spring morning. This follows on from yesterday’s posting because these cowslips are growing in pastureland, where sheep will safely graze later in the year. We were told that the farmer seeded the field with wild flowers. Thank you to him! And Chesterton was rather fond of Saint George, whose feast falls today.

‘Elder father, though thine eyes
Shine with hoary mysteries,
Canst thou tell what in the heart
Of a cowslip blossom lies?

‘Smaller than all lives that be,
Secret as the deepest sea,
Stands a little house of seeds,
Like an elfin’s granary,

‘Speller of the stones and weeds,
Skilled in Nature’s crafts and creeds,
Tell me what is in the heart
Of the smallest of the seeds.’

‘God Almighty, and with Him
Cherubim and Seraphim,
Filling all eternity—
Adonai Elohim.’

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25 February: Judgement I

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Saint Francis was very conscious of himself as a sinner: perhaps I should be more so. The trouble is that dwelling on personal sinfulness can be crippling: ‘I’ll never get out of this mess!’ Of course, on my own, I won’t. So who can get me out of the mess?

Canterbury’s Father Daniel Weatherley challenges us to ponder the last times in preparation for our death and resurrection, when the secrets of hearts will be laid bare. He offers us three steps on our journey through Lent.

The Cosmic Courtroom is a truly awesome scene. When Jesus comes in glory every single one of us – and everyone who has already passed through the first death – will stand before Him as one great sea of humanity. Each one willed into being by God, each one loved totally and uniquely by Him. But this is a courtroom with a difference. Not only are there no attorneys, no advocates, but there is no trial! The verdict upon each has already been decided. The proceedings consist only of the sentencing. And the pronouncement, comes as a surprise for everyone: whether it be punishment or paradise. Only then is the summing-up offered.

There are, however, witnesses. Firstly, each of us will witness the judgement of each other, as our hidden motives and acts of love (or otherwise) are laid bare. And then there is the vast array of angels, all of whom made their decision to serve, to love (or not), in the first instant of their creation. Since that moment those angels who rejected God have persistently laboured to tempt men and women to do the same – usually so subtly that it goes unnoticed. And then there are the holy angels – thankfully in the majority – who have spent their existence urging us on to lives of perfect love and selfless service, to conform ourselves to Jesus Christ. And at the same moment each of us will behold that angel which has been given to us alone as our guardian.

Jesus’ own account of how this scene will unfold is, in Matthew’s Gospel, magnificently constructed. The Lord’s authority is depicted in a rapid succession of 6 action verbs: He comes; He sits; He separates, He sets on His right and left; He speaks out and declares blessed; He commands to approach and inherit. And then comes the stunning revelation: 6 conditions of wretchedness in which He has been anonymously present with us all the time, just as He promised: hungry; thirsty; stranger; naked; sick; in prison.

 

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11 February: Today’s Lodging House Fires

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Eliot wrote in this seaside shelter in Margate, Kent.

Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Go, go, go!’ is one of two-year-old Abel’s slogans for living. He still needs his daytime sleep but is not inclined or programmed to torpor. He has been ‘always present’ until recently, but he can now talk about time past, telling his mother what he has seen, and can grasp that something is going to happen ‘later’ or ‘tomorrow, after your sleep.’

What sort of reality could he not bear? It’s certainly difficult when Things don’t work as he thinks they should, and he can perceive intervention as interference – helping him has to be done discreetly and sensitively. But Amor Vincit Omnia – love conquers all. He can forgive our heavyhandedness.

And the realities that the lodging house inmates could not bear? Or the men drinking at 8.30 in the morning? Or the self-harming teenager? People with no ‘go, go, go’? Or you or me? Is giving money to beggars helping or not?

Amor Vincit Omnia. But how?

As the blind John Milton reminds us, ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’ (And listen, like the librarians.) Letting  a smile loose might also help. But the reality of others’ suffering can seem more than we can bear. The one end which is always present: death, or Omega, Christ’s eternal life?

Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to render to every man according to his works. I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

Revelation 22:13-14.

 

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February 2, Aberdaron XI: Air.

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Words on the air? Heard, half-heard?

The same words speaking a different truth on a different day.

The toddler’s joy in words.

The venom of trolls who would not dare speak their words on the air.

 

We will return to R. S. Thomas, and after tomorrow, we will no doubt return to Aberdaron. Meantime, let us speak words of peace.

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Please support Sister Rose for her sleep-out in Littlehampton on Saturday 24th February to raise funds for Worthing Churches Homeless Project. Sister now has a website for donations:

https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/rosearden-close1

Thank you, Maurice.

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Thank you and Happy New Year!

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All Blessings for 2018

and thank you to all our followers and readers for your continuing support.

Will and the team at Agnellus.Mirror.

 

 I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them. And they shall be his people; and God himself with them shall be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and death shall be no more, nor mourning, nor crying, nor sorrow shall be any more, for the former things are passed away. And he that sat on the throne, said:

Behold, I make all things new. 

Revelation 21

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December 27: Father Andrew at Christmas, IV. Jesus Christ, The Same Yesterday, and Today, and For Ever

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We hope that  over the next days you enjoy our selection of Father Andrew’s Christmas verse to complement his thoughts before the feast. MMB.

Jesus Christ, The Same Yesterday, and Today, and For Ever

And just the same for you and me
He lives and loves as tenderly
Through years have passed away,
As when the simple shepherds saw
Their Saviour in the stable straw
On the first Christmas Day.

Fr Andrew S.D.C.

The reference is to Hebrews 13.8:
Jesus Christ, yesterday, and to day; and the same for ever.

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November 28: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxviii – And So

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There is no end. Earthly existence comes and goes – yet everything lives on in a creative universe like ours. Everything works in a cooperative fashion as it is designed to do, within a great deal of freedom and choice. The point of relationships is to have no end. Creation resembles a musical instrument being tuned to ever higher vibrations until they weave together in the orchestra called creation. For this to happen we need to vacate our heads and move into our hearts and see with new eyes what really is waiting to be seen.

The fact that many relationships are not right is not Creation’s fault. It is the fruit of the way of redemptive violence we have universally installed. Mother Earth is weary of our adolescent aggression. We have a choice – between life and extinction. We need to awaken to a new dawn in the warmth of the rising sun which will lead us out of the darkness of exclusions and aggression.

Not many will forget Boxing Day 2004 – the Tsunami in South East Asia, claiming 250,000 lives. Devotees of all religions asking what the divine is up to; was this a punishment for evil, why did God not intervene? The day started like any other, holiday time, bright sunshine – some did notice that the water had receded from the shoreline – very few noticed the absence of bird-song and animal life. A tribe of gypsy people in Thailand did notice – and they discerned that the receding waters would return with a vengeance – they took to the hills and no one was lost. These people did not try to take control. They listened to the deeper wisdom from their lived history – as did the animal kingdom.

Earthquakes have been well described as Mother Earth in the birth pangs of new possibilities; without them all would be arid and lifeless – no animal or plant life, no human beings. Without the paradox of creation and destruction there is no freedom, wonder or mystery. Many of them are highly destructive of human life – the result of ignorance and injustice. Research has enabled us to build earthquake resistant towns and cities – with minimal loss of life. Why hasn’t this facility been universally shared, so that the poor can benefit also? If we refrained from polluting the atmosphere hurricanes and tsunamis would not be so ferocious.

Governments and religions call the gypsy folk of Thailand primitive – and ignore them, as we did with Jesus who reminded us: they did it to me and they will do it to you!

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older

The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated…

We must be still and still moving

Into another intensity

For a further union, a deeper communion

Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,

The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters

Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning. Eliot

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October 25, May we find Christ walking with us: II. On the way to church.

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walking together – a chapel lies just over the hill

 

Sometimes we meet up with a friend on the way to Church for Mass. She tends to be bursting to tell us about her past week and her hopes for the week to come. On the way home she helps carry the food bank donations to be taken to the depot later in the week.

Listening to her talk about work, family and friends, and sharing our news; not the sort of preparation for Mass that would have been approved by those who taught me in primary school. As Christopher Chapman said on May 13, ‘The Christianity many of us grew up with was not big on laughs.’ But fellowship is part of the story; not just being in a big room together, performing the same actions, mouthing the same words, for an hour once a week.

In fact, here and now, fellowship is the story for all the other hours in the week. I may be sitting here alone, miss-typing this post; you may be in your armchair, on the train to work, scrolling through your messages. But together, even at a distance of time and space.

When we get to Church we are together with writers from two or three thousand years ago, as we can be in front of our screens with Bible Gateway and other sites. But that is to bring us together with the Eternal, in eternity. Listening to our friend talk about work, family and friends, and sharing our news as we walk; that is the sort of preparation for Mass that makes sense to me. Did not the Lord walk with Cleophas and his companion, talking of their news, hopes and fears, before they finally knew him in the breaking of bread?

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