The late Mr. James Ralph told Lord Macartney, that Doctor Johnson passed an evening with Dr. Young at Lord Melcombe’s (then Mr. Dodington) at Hammersmith. The Doctor happening to go out into the garden, Mr. Dodington observed to him, on his return, that it was a dreadful night, as in truth it was, there being a violent storm of rain and wind.
‘No, Sir, (replied the Doctor) it is a very fine night. The LORD is abroad.’
Life of Johnson, Volume 4 1780-1784″ by James Boswell.
In Eastertide we consider the presence of the living Lord in our lives. But see how language changes! On this occasion the Doctor did not mean to suggest that the Lord was overseas, rather that he was out and about, ‘abroad’, even on a night of violent storm. At Hammersmith (West London) in the 1780s the night would have been many times darker than today, a violent storm more truly dread-full, but he felt God’s presence and seems to have enjoyed the storm. A very fine night indeed!
We invite you to share this seafaring reflection from the Dean of Lichfield, a city about as far as you can get from the sea in England! He ends with these words:
Lent is a good time for self-examination on a personal and communal level. How far have I or we mangled God’s image and likeness into my/our own limited image and likeness? How far have my/our anxious needs for safety, belonging, esteem, or amounting to something deafened or blinded me/us to what God is putting before us? And remember Christianity is a “revealed” faith, so it’s not so much a question of inventing the God we want, as understanding the God we have got and are getting.
Let’s journey on this Lent, personally and corporately, towards what God holds before us. We can do no better than read and meditate on one of the Gospels – try Mark. It’s short and punchy and lets us know why that, when the Good News is proclaimed, life isn’t settled or comfortable.
A prayer for us to say together:
We thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, King of Glory, that you have called us to be your people. Help us to know the greatness of our calling, so that we, having one spirit of faith and love, may live in the world as a new and holy generation. May your eternal and righteous will be always before our eyes, so that in soberness and vigilance we may await your time, and witness to your promises, until your kingdom comes. Amen.
The final part of Sister Margaret’s reflection on the way of penance, Franciscan style. Thank you again, Sister! The last sentence is enough to ponder on throughout Lent.
We, as Franciscans, have been invited to join the way of penance. At times we will fail, for it is not always easy to turn away from ourselves, or to turn away from the values of the world which are, for the most part, so different from the values of God. When we do fail it is then, more than ever, that we need to turn to God and tell him we are sorry and carry on in our journey of penance – our journey of love, our soul’s journey into God.
There has been an intimacy about our walks in the countryside during this virus time: Mrs Turnstone, our daughter and I have trodden paths, lanes and byways, often along the Pilgrims’ Way that crosses Kent, making for Canterbury and then down to Dover for Rome or Compostella. Sister Margaret offers us the insight that the way of penance is the way of intimacy with God.
The way of penance, the life of penance, is a call to a life of intimacy and union with God. The way of penance began for Francis, as we have seen, with an experience of God that radically changed his whole life. Because of this he was able to take up daily this life of penance, this daily turning away from himself to His God. It was through this way, the way of penance, that Francis found union with God.
Sister Margaret’s continuing reflection on Penance.
Penance affects the whole person and reflects itself in the lives of all men and women who profess to live a life of penance – reflects itself in their relationship with God, with themselves and with others.
We can say that penance (penitence, repentance) is the total and continuous giving of self to God in a life of love. When we understand it in this sense then the Lenten Preface does make sense. Lent is a joyful season, a season to be celebrated, not suffered, for it encourages us once more to turn continuously from ourselves to our God. This in turn means that we are more able to turn in love towards our brothers and sisters.
We return to the letters of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal. On August 21 last year we read of her own times of dryness of heart: here she is writing to one of her sisters to encourage her when she feels nothing. She is being led through the desert whether she likes it or not, but she is on a safe road.
Oh! but yes; just a word for my Little One. I beg of you, my dearest Sister, not to trouble about what you feel or do not feel—this I say once for all. Serve Our Lord as it pleases Him, and while He keeps you in the desert serve Him there with good courage. He made His dear Israelites spend forty years there, accomplishing a journey that they could have made in forty days. Take courage then, and be satisfied with saying, and being able to say, though without relish, “I wish to live wholly for God and never to offend Him;” and when you stumble, as is sure to happen (be it a hundred times a day), rise up again by an act of confidence. Do likewise towards your neighbour, be content with having the desire to love him, or desiring to desire it, and to procure for him all possible good, and, opportunity given, minister gently to him.
In short take bravely the road in which God leads you—it is a safe one, although you may not have all the light and satisfaction you would like; but it is quite time to abandon to Our Lord all these plans and desires, and to walk blindly, as divine Providence wills, believing that it will lead you aright.
From a letter to Saint Francis de Sales, 1614. The two correspondents collaborated closely in the area that straddles today’s Franco-Swiss border. We could see Saint Jane’s mental state as pretty precarious from this letter, but she had raised a family, largely after her husband’s death, and founded the Sisters of the Visitation. Today is her feast day; let all who ever feel desperate take heart and hope from her weariness of self: she more than survived. I am sure this XIX Century engraving does her poor justice. Her letters are at Project Gutenburg.
This morning I am more wearisome to myself than usual. My interior state is so gravely defective that, in anguish of spirit, I see myself giving way on every side. Assuredly, my good Father, I am almost overwhelmed by this abyss of misery. The presence of God, which was formerly such a delight to me, now makes me tremble all over and shudder with fear. I bethink myself that the divine eye of Him whom I adore, with entire submission, pierces right through my soul looking with indignation upon all my thoughts, words and works. Death itself, it seems to me, would be less painful to bear than the distress of mind which this occasions, and I feel asif all things had power to harm me. I am afraid of everything; I live in dread, not because of harm to myself, but because I fear to displease God.
Oh, how far away His help seems! thinking of this I spent last night in great bitterness and could utter no other words than these, “My God, my God, alas! why hast Thou forsaken me.”
At daybreak God gave me a little light in the highest part of my soul, yet only there; but it was almost imperceptible; nor did the rest of my soul and its faculties share the enjoyment, which lasted only about the time of half a Hail Mary, then, trouble rushed back upon me with a mighty force, and all was darkness. Notwithstanding the weariness of this dereliction, I said, though in utter dryness, “Do, Lord, whatever is pleasing to Thee, I wish it. Annihilate me, I am content. Overwhelm me, I most sincerely desire it. Tear out, cut, burn, do just as Thou pleasest, I am Thine.”
God has shown me that He does not make much account of faith that comes of sentiment and emotions. This is why, though against my inclination, I never wish for sensible1 devotion. I do not desire it. God is enough for me. Notwithstanding my absolute misery I hope in Him, and I trust He will continue to support me so that His will may be accomplished in me.
Take my feeble heart into your hands, my true Father and Lord, and do what you see to be wisest with it.
The day after tomorrow we publish a contemporary reflection on ‘all ye that labour come to me’ which provides something of a reply to this letter. Tomorrow a Welsh saint who lived through most of the 17th Century.
1Sensible here means ‘that can be felt’. It is possible to be devoted in practice to someone or to a task without feeling any measurable enthusiasm; which may be our calling for a moment or for years.
We don’t make a habit of reproducing posts, especially quite recent ones. But at this time we should remember that Paris and Notre Dame have known hard times before. It was a relief that the Cathedral survived the Second World War though it was, like the city, exhausted and grubby, when Archbishop Spellman of New York passed through on his way to Rome and his cardinal’s hat in 1946.
The post-war visit to the French capital by and large was anything but gay. For Mass in the great Cathedral of Notre Dame, each priest was still assigned one little piece of candle stuck in a bottle, which was carried from the sacristy by the server and carefully returned. Even when His Eminence gave Solemn Benediction at the main altar, there were only two candles burning.
The streets were dark too, the streets of the City of Light, dark and dirty. The hotels were cold. The shops were shabby. Only the famous Flea Market, which seemed to be very much bigger than ever, was doing a thriving business.
One candle in a neglected, dirty cathedral was a sign of hope, a sign of the Lord’s presence among his people. And even that one candle was an act of defiance to the darkness, the darkness will never overcome!
So, Let your light shine, Notre Dame de Paris! May we all love our own church buildings for it is there that we meet as God’s family. If Notre Dame has many stories of the great and the good, the smallest village chapel has been the meeting place between God and his people.
From ‘The Cardinal Spellman Story’ by Robert L Gannon, London, Robert Hale, 19963, p288.
Other than in instances of dogmatically defined doctrine, the individual conscience holds sway.
Like all Christians, Catholics see the Ten Commandments found in the Hebrew Scriptures as the basic groundwork for moral action, which together with the life of Jesus provide a deep and abiding understanding for how to act with love and justice in the world. The Gospel of Matthew relates that upon being asked which commandment was most important, Jesus replied that all of the law is contained in the commandments to love God and love your neighbour (Matthew 22:36-40).
Catholics see this as going beyond the injunctions of moral law by drawing believers into a relationship with others as well as with God, and it is the foundation of the Church’s teaching on issues of social justice.
From the earliest days of the Church, Catholics have performed works of mercy to help those who most need it, but the Church’s current involvement in social justice issues really took form in 1891 with the promulgation of the papal encyclical Rerum Novarum. In it, Pope Leo XIII called for workers to be treated with dignity and respect, protected by the state from exploitation, and allowed to form unions.
It touched off a flowering of social encyclicals that have become central to the Church’s work in the world. Catholic social teaching focuses on the dignity of the person as the linchpin for all discussions of ethics, politics, and justice. It is central to Catholic calls for the fair treatment of workers, for political systems that recognize individual rights, for responsible scientific research, for an end to attacks on human life in the form of abortion and the death penalty, and many other teachings as well.
The theological virtue of hope follows a pattern that we know well. This pattern exists first on the level of mere nature before it does on the supernatural level. On the natural level it goes something like this. We want something pertaining to our physical or emotional well-being [say, fish and chips] and we don’t have it; that thing can be attained, but only with difficulty [the fish and chips shop is in the next town, we have to drive there, what a pain…]; we are determined to have our fish and chips despite the inconvenience and difficulty [we must get up from the recliner chair and get in the car…]. Despite these inconveniences, we are pretty hopeful about getting our fish and chips in the end. That, on the simplest level, is how hope functions.
The theological virtue of hope involves the same mechanism, differing mainly in the object of our hope. Here, we hunger for the things pertaining to spiritual goods. Such as? Such as the attainment of nothing less than God himself. We all have a hunger for God. Coming to recognise this hunger is the first stage in the gift of God that is hope. In the theological virtue of hope, we are conscious of a felt longing for that which nothing on earth can satisfy. In the theological virtue of hope it’s eternal happiness we’re hoping for, and, what is of crucial importance, the fulfilment of this hope is really possible by means of divine assistance. Here is how St Thomas expresses it (II. II. 17: 2):
…the hope of which we speak now, attains God by leaning on [innitens] his help in order to obtain the hoped for good. Now an effect must be proportionate to its cause. Wherefore the good which we ought to hope for from God properly and chiefly is the infinitegood, which is proportionate to the power of our divine helper, since it belongs to an infinite power to lead anyone to an infinitegood.
I love this passage, not only because of the magnificent idea of ‘leaning’ on God (on which, more below), but because Thomas proves his point by neatly using the logic of proportion: ask a giant for a sandwich and you’ll get a sandwich proportionate to a giant. Ask a pixie for a sandwich and you’ll get one proportionate to a pixie – thimble-sized, maybe. The effect is proportionate to what causes it. So, when we hope for a good thing from God, what we get is something proportionate to the divine being: infinite.
Zakopane: The roof leans on the boss and reaches high.