Tag Archives: Grace

September 21: What is Theology Saying? XXXI,  I am capable of receiving God’s grace.

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I am created a human being, capable of receiving God’s grace. In order to give himself freely God freely creates personal beings. Thus is there union between God and humanity in Grace – somewhat analogous to the Incarnation wherein there is communion of two natures without fusion or separation. This means that in any concrete situation it is never possible to isolate what is nature from what is Grace.

Grace is the wonder of creation as evidence of God and God’s love. It is concentrated in humanity. Human charm and beauty reflect God: “Because you love me, you make me lovable” says Augustine. The reason why love of enemy is seen as grace-full is because there is no sense of recompense in it, it is entirely gratuitous, and calls for the involvement of the will.

In speaking about his own conversion [Gal.1.13-16] Paul refers to a before and an after. Nothing suggests conversion was going to happen, it came as gift. But this gift did not “begin” on that road; it was from eternity. For Paul, Grace is the experience of God desiring him.

Tradition refers to Christ and the Spirit as the two hands of God reaching out to embrace us. Unfortunately, the elaboration of the role of the Spirit did not receive the same detailed attention as did Christ. Yet both are crucial for a proper understanding of Christianity – Easter and Pentecost.

Prior to Pentecost the Spirit was experienced as a nameless force, an invisible wind. With Pentecost the Spirit is named: the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is deep within human experiences, rousing them to creativity and vitality.

AMcC

St Aloysius, Somers Town, Euston, London.

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September 20: What is Theology Saying? XXX: I long for God who is freely given.

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History is not just the logical narration of events, it is about human beings fashioning themselves within the places and cultures that surround them, making choices, relating, seeking to belong. There are two aspects to this: the one [Immanence] is literally living out things as we find them; the other [Transcendence] allows us to rise above what is – I can accept or reject what is the given situation, I can be open to a future that has never happened before.

These are not separate entities, but different dimensions of one life. We are beings already fashioned yet still in the making! To speak meaningfully of God can only happen from within such experience. “Experience” is a compound of two words: “ex” [from or out-of] and periri [try, attempt, risk…], it also is associated with the Latin word peritia [knowledge gained from experience]. Experience is risk, based on some form of justifying knowledge, the radical experiences of individuals attempting to face up to life. This is how St. John talks about his awareness of Jesus: “what I have seen, touched and held in my hands, this is what I preach”.

My spirit is not a reality alongside my body. My spirit is me, the whole me, my manner of being in so far as it is open to transcendence, a yearning for the infinite. I have a natural need for “God”. But if it is natural, why is there such talk about supernatural? God created me to be one with God, and my life gives evidence of this. This is gratuitousness, it does not have to be there, and it is put there, within me. The gratuity becomes apparent from the experience itself: I long for God who is freely given, it is from love, not command or force or coercion.

AMcC

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September 19: What is Theology Saying? XXIX: letting Grace do the talking

Is it possible to let Grace do the talking, instead of talking about Grace? Can I know from experience that God loves me? The fact is that we live within Grace, what we are about is to seek how to know this and how to be in touch with it. Some have said that Grace comes only through the Church. First, it is not the Church that contains Grace; rather does Grace contain the Church – among everything else; though authentic grace always has an ecclesial dimension – i.e. it tends to show itself in the shape of community.

God and Christ are freely within the world and manifest themselves variously. The Church is one such manifestation – an explicit, conscious and guaranteed presence – but not the only one. Because Grace is divine nothing escapes its influence, even sin succumbs to Grace as the Resurrection shows.

How do we image Grace? Is it the loving attitude of God? Is it the means by which God liberates and justifies us? Is it some reality which surpasses all our thinking? Notice, all these turn Grace into a “thing”. It is something different, it is something freely given, it is some “thing”.

The Catechism called it a supernatural gift – but what is “supernatural”? By definition supernatural is not on the same level as natural. The Supernatural is God, uncreated, mysterious. We use the terms Grace and Supernatural as symbols of experience, meant to translate that experience for us. What kind of experience fits what is meant by Grace? Grace is not an entity existing independently on its own. Grace is related to human beings, before ever it is spoken about [and language does tend to separate the two]. Grace is a lived reality.

AMcC

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18 September: What is Theology Saying? XXVIII: a work of Grace is a work of nature.

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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.

AMcC

John Duns Scotus’ homeland in the Scottish borders.

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17 September: What is Theology Saying? XXVII: creation, redemption and salvation in evolution.

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Note what happened to Teilhard de Chardin – a Jesuit scientist specialising in Archaeology. He was captivated by the theory of Evolution and the various ways it might be tested. Because he was a deeply religious man, he felt driven to integrate what he was discovering from the natural sciences with his understanding of salvation in Christ. He meditated deeply on Paul’s writings and early Church commentaries on these. He developed a magnificent vision of the universe and all of history shot through with Jesus Christ. He saw creation, redemption and salvation woven together in the unified process of evolution.

He suggested that through time, inanimate [dead] matter is drawn into such complex patterns that it develops an inner spontaneity and there is a breakthrough into living things. At a further stage – a breakthrough into reflexive self-awareness – human beings. After this, the process of evolution becomes conscious, when we know and project the goals we are striving for and the changes they are trying to make. Looking forward, the next breakthrough must be the immense unity of mankind bound together in relationships of knowledge and love – what he terms the Omega Point.

He next made a bold suggestion – not as a scientist but as a Christian believer – that we have a pre-view of the Omega Point – that the whole world is being drawn towards the second coming of Christ – which will be the breakthrough, the outcome of evolution – the Church, because Jesus is already within history, which is striving towards its fulfilment, concluding with Paul that all things were made in Jesus Christ – who is the pattern of the world from the very beginning. The goal of evolution is the Christification of the world. [His thinking appears in his Phenomenon of Man, though is perhaps more readable in his The Divine Milieu – nature and grace].

When this first saw the light of day it raised concern because it sounded as if God’s self-gift to us is not a necessity for us but utterly free. In the Hebrew Scriptures the relationship between us and God was described in terms of a covenant, binding duties and sometimes as sheer favour shown us by God. Whatever God was bound to was always the result of his promise, having bound himself. The Jewish understanding of covenant always looks back to Creation as the setting-up of the covenant. It seems that God, having created humankind, has bound himself to bring us into his friendship.

AMcC

Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge, England.

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September 16: What is Theology Saying? XXVI: What is Grace and what does it do?

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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.

AMcC

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.

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12 September: Some thoughts on my experience in Freiburg at the 15th Subud World Congress.

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It’s a while since we heard from Constantina. I should think moving house was reason enough for that. However she has sent a message from Freiburg where she has been attending the Subud World Congress. You’ll find more about Subud on the internet, but it is a form of spiritual exercise that many find helpful. Over to Constantina.
Here is something unusual. A Congress of nearly 3000 people from 65 countries all over the globe. People of all faiths and beliefs coming together to worship Almighty God each day for 12 days.
There is harmony, chatter and energy in every corner. There are families, young people, old people, business people, from all backgrounds people. 
How do so many of such diverse beliefs become one together and work together? And work they do with many large humanitarian projects and smaller enterprises. The key to this is a gift from God which enables us each day to surrender and await whatever grace He wishes to bestow upon us. There is no dogma, no creed, for all follow their own religious beliefs – something we all recognise are deepened by this harmonious experience of God.
Subud has been in the world since 1924, officially from the early 1940s and came to the West from Indonesia in 1957. It was adopted wholeheartedly by the former Gurdjieff movement who recognised the surrender of self to God, within Subud, as the very essence of what they had been searching for but had been unable to attain merely through the human will. 
I have been a member since 1983 and it forms an undercurrent in my life and faith like a clear flowing river. 
It is not comparable to any other experiential faith and it is easier to say what it is not rather than what it is. 
I have another week here before I return and am looking forward to making many new connections with brothers and sisters the world over.
Constantina Alexander

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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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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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11 June: What do the Saints know? II, What is connaturality?

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What does St. Thomas mean by the idea of connaturality? Does he use the word at all? How does it fit into his teaching?

The latin word connaturalitate comes easily sixty or so times throughout the Summa. And, it means what you would expect it to mean: it is not a mysterious or complicated concept. A connatural abililty refers to something that a being does or thinks which comes naturally to it, although the ability may not be an original part of its nature. It may be an acquired ability. Say, cooking! Or the way an actor acts a part. Or the ability to play an instrument well. Such abilities may feel strange at first, but eventually proficiency is achieved and the ability becomes connatural – or second nature. But, the level of connaturality we are considering here has to do not only with a set of physical abilities, or even mental ones. For St Thomas, connaturality goes much deeper, into a kind of sympathy with something (compassio is the latin term used by St Thomas), or a participation in something, a union with something to the point of undergoing what that thing undergoes, suffering what it suffers (patiens); an understanding of it from within.

St. Thomas uses the word connaturality a lot. He seems to like it. It is even possible to miss the use of the word connatural some of the time, because St Thomas uses it fairly unsensationally. But, eventually, when he begins to talk about faith, hope and charity – the famous ‘theological’ virtues – and to describe the effects of grace, he uses the word connatural again, to show that participating as fully as possible in our supernatural end – which is God’s very life – can become just as natural to us as living merely according to our natural tendencies. Here he is making a profound point, because he says many times that although we were created with an ‘inbuilt’ tendency toward our supernatural end, that end is beyond the reach of our fallen, un-graced, abilities. So, when he says that life with God can become connatural to us, it is something to notice. In fact, to my mind, whenever he is talking about the transforming power of grace, the idea of our arriving at a state of connaturality with divine things is implicit in an overarching way, even when he is not actually using the word.

The theological virtues, faith, hope and charity, are the root of all virtue for Thomas (II.II.4.7). They are at the beginning of the journey, not the end; they are our capacity for salutary action, and they fit us for connaturality with God, or better, they communicate God’s life to us. You might say that in the theological virtues, God is very ‘busy’ on our behalf, in Thomas’s teaching. Tomorrow we will begin to explore the virtue of faith.

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