Tag Archives: gift

January 17: Reflections from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis. III.

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Of Brother Bernard of Quintavalle 3

So fared they forth and came to the bishop’s house: and after they had heard the Mass, and continued praying until Tierce, the priest at the bidding of Saint Francis took the missal, and making the sign of the most holy Cross, opened it thrice in the name of our Lord Jesu Christ: and at the first opening appeared the words that Christ spake in the Gospel to the young man that asked concerning the path of perfection: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor and follow me”; at the second opening appeared those words that Christ spake unto the Apostles when He sent them forth to preach: “Take nothing for your journey, neither staves, nor scrip, neither bread, neither money”; wishing thereby to teach them that for their daily bread they should set all their hopes on God and fix their mind wholly on the preaching of the holy Gospel; at the third opening of the missal appeared those words that Christ spake: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”

Then spake Saint Francis unto Bernard: “Behold the counsel that Christ giveth us: come then and fulfil that which thou hast heard: and blessed be our Lord Jesu Christ, who hath deigned to show forth His own life in the holy Gospel.”

This heard, Bernard went out and sold all that he had, and he was very rich; and with great joy he gave all his possessions to widows, to orphans, to prisoners, to monasteries and to hospices, and pilgrims; and in all things Saint Francis helped him faithfully and wisely.

Following Jesus can mean a few nettles and brambles en route! L’Arche Kent on pilgrimage.

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January 13. Temperance VII: Beauty, Reason and Will

Jack Lonnen Meadows in costume 1At last we may return to one of the key ideas in the first quotation I cited some days ago in these posts on temperance. The philosopher Josef Pieper says that the virtue of temperance is beautiful in itself and renders the human being beautiful. What can he mean? Isn’t temperance about self-control? Beauty belongs to some other virtue, maybe, but not to temperance.

But beauty, says St. Thomas Aquinas, is an attribute of temperance because temperance enables us to control ourselves in relation to those things which can most degrade us. When our passions are indulged in an intemperate way, they ‘dim the light of reason from which all clarity and beauty of virtue arises’, according to Thomas. Let’s linger over this a bit. St. Thomas mentions the ‘light of reason’. We are always being reminded by St. Thomas that the human being is a rational being. Our reason, as we have noted in all our posts, is a great attribute, a precious gift. It is, you might say, like a musical instrument that needs careful handling. A violinist carries his instrument in a specially constructed violin case that protects the strings and the wood from damage so that the violin is able to produce the sweetest sound. Our reason, too, is meant to be protected from damage so that it can function well. Intemperance can cause a kind of damage to our reason. It is not hard to understand this. Just think of someone who is drunk. What becomes of the light of reason and the clarity of thought in an intoxicated person? Or think of someone in a rage so intense that the mind stops functioning, and violence takes over.

The role of the will is important here. ‘The will,’ says Thomas, ‘stands between the reason and the passions and may be moved by either.’ Our will, then, is a bit like a traffic policeman, allowing some things through and making others wait. The traffic policeman commands obedience from drivers in the same way that the will, directed by the reason, can command obedience from our passions. If our passions do not obey will, the will can be run over by them, and this causes havoc for us. Thomas goes on to say, ‘Although the passions are not in the will, it is in the power of the will to resist them.’ We are not at the mercy of our passions, regardless of their seeming strength. Just because we may passionately want to do something that we know is not good, our will need not capitulate.

It is always possible for the passions to respond to the will’s directives. The passions are not all-powerful. The will, moved by the light of reason, is able to resist them.

Yet, the beauty of temperance is not merely that it protects us from going hay-wire with regard to the physical pleasures of food and drink and sex. It has a positive effect on our entire being, body, soul and spirit. Temperance is not directed only to our physical appetites. We have a host of emotional appetites also: the craving for control, for popularity, for possessions, for acceptance, for love, for attention, for money, for safety, for comfort – the list goes on and on. We cannot treat all of them here. But from all of them in their extreme and intemperate form, temperance is liberating and purifying.

The particular beauty of temperance is ‘the glow of the true and the good’ radiating from within the temperate person. Temperance, you might say, works on us to bring about the purification of our entire being. How? By submitting our most intensely personal feelings and desires, our most passionate impulses and cravings to the light of divine truth.

As Pieper says, temperance is ‘that purity by dint of which the selfish and furtive search for spurious fulfilment is abandoned.’ He continues:

A new depth here opens to our view: purity is not only the fruit of purification; it implies at the same time readiness to accept God’s purifying intervention… to accept it with the bold candor of a trustful heart, and thus to experience its fruitful and transforming power.

SJC

Maurice’s great-great-grandfather was an actor.

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January 5: Aberdaron IV. Work of Human Hands

aberdaron jug

Laurie Lee1 once wrote of craftsmanship that handmade objects keep us human; the Liturgy enshrines a similar thought when, following an ancient Jewish prayer, it describes the bread and wine as ‘work of human hands’. ‘We are a starved society,’ says Lee, ‘living in the midst of plenty. Our possessions are many, our serenities few.’

Lee would have recognised that feeling of serenity about the Church at Aberdaron, a lightening of the shoulders on crossing the threshold. Put that down to imagination if you will, but I was happy to accept the gift.

As in most churches there were beautiful handmade objects around: the very building itself, the doors, the clear glass windows, banners, icons; and much more. Take a pilgrimage to the edge of Wales to see for yourself.

I was glad to find in the church shop this jug, decorated with fish, made by a local potter, at a far from expensive price. Giving it to my mother, I know it will not become a possession so much as something to be shared – something that will let her share the pilgrimage, for she loves Wales and RS Thomas; her treasure for a while that may be given to a grandchild who comes and admires it.

aberdaron fish

Janet found there these little fish which now swim beneath our bathroom mirror. ‘Fishers of men’? Bait for memory, reflection, and prayer.

1On Craftsmen, in Village Christmas and other notes on the English year, London, Penguin Classics, 2015, pp 135-6.

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December 26: A privilege?

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I was not going to buy anything from the expensive catalogue, but one headline took my eye:

Few things in life are a privilege to give and receive.

Complete with full stop, to suggest that the whisky concerned must be as perfect as the grammar.

Hang on, I thought, that’s rubbish!

A Japanese friend counted it a privilege to buy our daughter’s first shoes: to us it was a privilege to receive them. Rings. Embraces. Musical performances. A child’s painting. A plant grown from seed or cutting. A birthday cake. Care for a frail person.

You can add to the list, and please do. ‘It is in giving that we receive.’ To be alive and able to give and receive is itself a privilege. To be able to love.

To share in Jesus’ humanity and his divinity is the ultimate privilege: freely you have received, so freely give.

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Saint Stephen gave his life, as we remember today.

Happy Christmas from all at Agnellus’ mirror!

WT.

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Another newsletter from Asha Vani, a L’Arche Community in India

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Follow the link to read more about life in the Asha Vani Community in Calicut, India. As their newsletters come to your editors, we will slide them into the first available space.

God Bless,

Maurice.

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December 6th: Daily Pilgrimage, Saint Nicholas

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We can travel, indeed we have travelled, to places of pilgrimage within the United Kingdom and beyond. I won’t say East, West, home’s best. I would return to Aberdaron, St Maurice, Rome, and many places that I love, yet we have our Cathedral which has many corners that sometimes catch the eye. And just a few minutes’ walk from home.

This Cross is on the altar in the dark Saint Nicholas’ Chapel – his feast is today, December 6th.

Patron of children, the original and best Father Christmas; he makes his annual procession through Canterbury each Advent, allowing frazzled shoppers the chance to make their day a pilgrimage.

Let’s celebrate his generous and imaginative care of his flock, but remember that he drew his inspiration from the one whose Cross is represented here.

Saint Nicholas, pray for children.

Saint Nicholas. pray for parents and grandparents, who have to improvise all the time. May we share your wise approach to child care!

And Let’s pray for a former priest at St Thomas’ Canterbury, Bishop Nicholas Hudson, auxiliary in Westminster.

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4 December: Light to see by.

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I looked up from my mother’s garden to see these windows glowing in the winter’s sun. Those are weavers’ windows, raised up high and facing South to catch the sun, ‘that it may shine to all that are in the house’. Daylight was the more precious when there were only oil lamps to work by as the shades lengthened. Those sycamores would not then have been there to cast a shadow.

You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house.

Matthew 5:14–15

We can forget what a precious gift light is, with our street lights blotting the stars from view. And we are in danger of forgetting how precious our sisters and brothers are when we are encouraged to want an excess of earth’s goods for ourselves.

 Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the harbourless into thy house: when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh. Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall speedily arise, and thy justice shall go before thy face, and the glory of the Lord shall gather thee up.

Isaiah 58: 8-9

WT

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November 22: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxii – loved, endowed, persuaded.

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Without the earth we are nothing – earth is the womb where there is nourishment for growth. Love is responsible for bringing everything into existence; and through the potential love brings there are arise infinite possibilities – characteristic of the Kingdom. The Kingdom moulds my identity in becoming a relational being; at times seemingly random and even chaotic, yet always sourced by love, and when it is unconditional it leads to healing, wholeness and new life.

Children love stories, and there are plenty of them – so do adults, but there’s a dearth of stories here. What about the Gospel stories? Stories free up the imagination – especially inclusive stories. Where love is responsible there can be no in and out. Everybody is in – otherwise love is not unconditional. This is not saying everything is perfect – perfection is an ideal that inhibits growth, it creates elitism and privilege. When I’m aware of my sinfulness and want to be left alone – what good is that? Yet my sinfulness is why God came looking for me… all I need is just a little more loving.

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We are loved unconditionally, endowed with the Spirit and persuaded to love God and neighbour; we can only do the one by doing the other. When we look at all Ten Commandments we tend to lose sight of the important one, without which the rest are meaningless. Society functions on a multi-layered structure. At one end the patron holding the monopoly, and the clients at the receiving end with the brokers in the middle – who were clients themselves while negotiating on behalf of others.

God’s concern is for those permanently at the bottom. Enabling love was nowhere to be found, everything was conditional on having some kind of power. Is this advocating communism? Only if communism means the presence of all-pervading unconditional love. Utopia is all right for dreamers, but we have to live in the real world. But ask – am I surviving in this real world, or am I just about surviving in a world that wants me to thrive?

AMcC

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November 3, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: iii – ‘We are not called to sit back and watch it happen’

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Zakopane, Poland

Living Kingdom values creates true worship of God – God is praised when we are fully alive – Irenaeus. Jesus’ perfect human life, because it is the human life of God’s Word cannot be assailed by death. As the liturgy tells us, for anyone freely sharing such values life is changed, not ended. With the assurance of his promise to all who follow him – when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw you to myself – John 12.32.

Creation has reached its peak in the Word made Flesh: God wanted all perfection to be found in him – Colossians1.19. In him we have goodness made flesh – the way made flesh – Jesus didn’t say I know the way… he said I am the way – be with me and know the way. All that will be left behind is whatever is incapable of surviving death: selfishness, jealousy, envy and every kind of exclusion – he who does not love remains in death – 1John 3.14.

This, however, is not a passive experience, we are not called to sit back and watch it happen. Surely it is total gift, freely given to anyone – literally anyone – willing to receive it; but it is also a challenge, a task: if anyone wants to accept this way, renounce self, take up your cross and join me – Mark 8.34. This is not charades – not mimicry, how he looked and what he wore are irrelevant, what matters is to be as enthusiastic as he was to help others – feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned.

Paul hardly ever refers to what we call the life of Christ. For him Jesus is always the risen Lord. That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead – Philippians 3.10. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world – John 16.33.

There is an element of struggle here in words like overcome. There are elements in us which shout we do not want this man to reign over us – Luke 19.14, we have a choice to make. Because the Kingdom has come a radical change is needed: The time has come, the Kingdom is at hand – repent – Mark 1.15. God has established the Kingdom, yet I am free to say I will not serve.

AMcC

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18 October, Saint Luke: Watching

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The wind whisked and sighed all night and

at sunrise-time some secret sun

shed what passed for light, but even

bats were sceptical of day and shot

by in fitful flight, long past their

vanishing-hour,

 

while wind kept sweeping through, rustling

like ladies in long silken skirts.

Nothing sparked or spiked in morning

sunshine that wasn’t, and yet,

this shadowed and speaking scene seethed,

strange with the life

 

I strained to see.  Autumn’s sunflowers

rocked and swayed, scarcely able to

stand, like tall thin drunks on their stems,

sleepy heads lolling, and they seemed

about to slither down, feet first,

into a heap,

 

while wind – I relished standing in

it – used its huge hands to swish the

leaves of trees and push tree tops round

in circles and made sounds like surf

foaming, swirling, hurling itself

on the seashore,

 

sliding back, all slick, and hurling

itself over and over –

 

such

dark, brooding exuberance –

 

such

fierce sibilance –

 

such lavishly

lively gifts of Being –

 

all mine, at dawn

 

as I stood

in the dark wind

 

watching.

 

 

 

SJC.

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Sister Johanna’s poem about Watching and the Wind seems appropriate for Saint Luke, who gave us his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, where he tells how the Spirit came in a great wind and settled over the Apostles.

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