Tag Archives: Grace

January 15: Reflections from the Little Flowers of Saint Francis. I.

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Of Brother Bernard of Quintavalle , first companion of St Francis

THE first companion of Saint Francis was Brother Bernard of Assisi, who was converted in this wise: While Saint Francis was still in the secular habit, albeit he had already despised the world, and went about being wholly held in scorn of men, mortifying his flesh by penances, in so much that by many he was thought foolish and was mocked at as a mad fellow, and was driven away with stones and foul abuse by his kinsfolk and by strangers, yet bore himself patiently amid all manner of ignominy and reproach, as though he were deaf and dumb: Bernard of Assisi, the which was of the noblest, and richest, and wisest in the city, began wisely to take heed unto Saint Francis, how exceeding strong his contempt of the world, how great his patience in the midst of wrongs, so that albeit for a two years’ space thus evil intreated of all persons and despised, he ever seemed the more constant; then he began to ponder and to say within himself: “In no wise can it be that this brother hath not abundant grace from God”; so he called him one evening to sup and lodge with him: and Saint Francis consented thereto and supped with him and lodged.

And thereat Bernard set it in his heart to watch his sanctity: wherefore he let make ready for him a bed in his own proper chamber, in the which at night-time ever a lamp did burn. And Saint Francis, for to hide his sanctity, when he was come into the chamber, incontinent did throw himself upon the bed and made as though he slept: and likewise Bernard after some short space set himself to lie down and fell to snoring loudly, in fashion as though he slept right soundly.

To be continued. But did Francis sleep?

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January 10: Temperance IV: Our Appetites and our Reason

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Our human nature was created by God in such a way as to insure our survival as a species. The bodily appetites that deliver the most pleasure also happen to be the very ones we most need in order to keep us going on the planet earth. In themselves, they are good, as St. Thomas affirms, and there is nothing wrong with the pleasure they give. But, paradoxically, we need some moderation in these areas in order to enjoy the pleasure they give. How do we manage this?

There is very little in our secular culture to help us here. The advertising media exploits all our appetites in order to sell its products, thereby increasing our desire to posses those products and experience those pleasures, and giving us a vague feeling of inferiority if we do not. Being sexually active is presented as the greatest and most fulfilling human experience by the story-line of most films, plays and television shows. Chastity is rarely presented at all, and almost never shown in a positive light. The pleasures of food and alcohol are raised to the level of culinary art by celebrity chefs and the entire food industry. Yet, the fact that there are a rising number of individuals pursuing Twelve Step1 programs in order to handle addictions in these areas testifies to the truth that the Church has always known and St. Thomas clearly articulated in the thirteenth century. We need self-control with regard to our pleasures.

We also need to think. Our mind, our reason is more powerful than we may realise and can give us the real guidance we need. How reassuring this information is: that we have within us the capacity to direct our growth in goodness. This is nothing to do with IQ, and everything to do with opening our mind to the truth and our heart to the promptings of grace.

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The media and pop culture rely on us not thinking very deeply – and certainly not praying – so that we may be seduced by the personalities and products the media presents, and become consumers of what they sell. If we do not think too much, then our appetite for power and pleasure and possessions will move us to buy things that the businesses supporting the media want us to buy – things that will seem to feed these appetites, and give us the illusion that we, too, look like media stars and share somehow in their life of glamour and pleasure. This is manipulation on a grand scale. This illusion is something from which we need to withdraw in order to discover our true identity. We desperately need our ability to think, we need the use of what St. Thomas would call our reason, in order to live on a level in which we see through what is fraudulent and empty. Only then will we discover the joy of living in communion with God, and with what is true, and with a set of values in which temperance as a virtue becomes possible to us.

SJC

1It is important to point out that there can be a difference between addiction and intemperance, at least where drugs and alcohol are concerned. Drug and alcohol addiction is usually considered a disease which originates in a genetic pre-disposition to it. The only “cure” is complete abstinence from all substances. This is not the place to give a full description of the characteristics of addiction. I refer those interested in learning more about this to any writings on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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12 December. Zechariah, an Unlikely Advent Star: Preface on Lectio Divina.

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It is always good to hear from Sister Johanna at Minster Abbey. Today she introduces her Advent reflections on Zechariah (or Zachary) by explaining how they came to her. She was reading the Gospel story of how John the Baptist came to be born to Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth when a very human and likeable figure emerged.

Lectio Divina

Lectio divina is a rather fancy Latin term that may not be known to every reader of these posts. It means ‘sacred reading’, or ‘holy reading’ and refers to the practice of slowly and prayerfully reading the bible. For a Benedictine nun or monk, lectio is a daily exercise, lasting anywhere from one to two hours, and it is a wonderful experience. But lectio is not merely a pious exercise for monks and nuns. If you take your spiritual life seriously and wish to grow closer to God, try to set aside a period of time each day for this beautiful practice. Busy people may not have time for a full hour or two, but even a daily habit of fifteen minutes can be full of grace.

If you have never tried it, lectio may seem strange at first. Reading the bible is not like reading any other book. You are not trying to ‘find out what happens next’, or quickly reach the end. You are reading a bit like a child eats an ice-cream cone: you try to make it last, and to savour each line like the child savours each lick.

Soon, the reader finds that lectio divina yields a harvest of rich meditations. This in turn leads to deeper prayer, as the Holy Spirit gives the reader new insights, which can be deeply personal ones that shed light on the way God is working in the reader’s life. I have found that writing down my lectio meditations helps them along. As I write, more insights come. The following posts are based on the meditations I have had when using the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke for my lectio.

Reading can be a window looking beyond ourselves. Zakopane. Poland.

 

 

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3 December, 1st Sunday of Advent: Star of Wonder?

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Last Christmas we saw one bright star in the sky -but it was far more to the West than the East – so it most certainly was not the Star of Bethlehem! 

In fact it was not even a star, but our planetary neighbour, Venus.

But there she was, a perfectly good reminder of the Babe of Bethlehem. Really though, reminding people of God is our job:

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

No-one can prepare the way of the Lord without light, so let’s get on quietly with those good works that our daily lives demand, and hope that people will see through the imperfect beings that we are to the Good One whose grace sustains us. After all, Venus shines with a reflected light, not her own, and that’s exactly what is asked of her.

And let’s look up to the stars – at least when the cloud cover allows – and just wonder.

MMB.

 

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2 October: Saint Thomas of Hereford.

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A Prayer of Saint Thomas of Hereford

Teach us, O God,

to view our life here on earth as a pilgrim’s path to heaven,

and give us grace to tread it courageously in the company of your faithful people.

Help us to set our affections on things above,

not on the passing vanities of this world,

and grant that as we journey on in the way of holiness

we may bear a good witness to our Lord,

and serve all who need our help along the way,

for the glory of your name. Amen

Thomas de Cantiloup was Bishop of Hereford 1275 – 1282. He was regarded as a pastoral man who cared for his people but fell foul of Archbishop Peckham and died in Italy as he went to Rome to obtain the lifting of Peckham’s excommunication of him.

Pilgrims, World Youth Day, Krakow, August 2016.

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September 12. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, X: My body for you

bread

It is said that torture is the imagination of the world; that Eucharist is the imagination of the Church. The real Jesus took real bread and identified himself with it – Tad Guzie [ex Jesuit – educator and advisor to Bishops]. We cling to life and the systems that preserve it; and we are challenged by the systems’ victims. Here is Jesus identifying himself as crucified – take and eat my body given for you. When we eat this bread and drink this cup we are taken up into the love that undermines system we live by.

This bread is my body for you to share and become, for each other, my body for you. This puts into context the reality of life as gift; my life is given to me for me to become what I am receiving, for you. My life is not for me, but for you; just as your life is not for you but for me. Notice how this can even be tested – ask anyone who freely gives self to help and serve others how do you manage with all your other commitments? The answer is always – I receive far more than I give – which means I am experiencing human living as it is meant to be. It is when your body for me becomes my body for you that the Mass is real.

It is here we see something more – Jesus victim is presented as our hope. When Jesus was tried and condemned we see active resistance to the saving will of God. However, there is nothing we can do to prevent this saving will. God’s saving will does not cease to be saving because it is not wanted. There is an open invitation with the free flowing of Grace – and as we see from Paul’s conversion – it is possible when the judges who condemn turn to their victim and recognise their hope, their saviour: There is no other name under heaven by which we will be saved – Acts.4.12, and salvation is offered for all. God can never give less than all of himself to whoever [no conditions] is willing to receive.

The Lord who judges is the saving Lord, and such is his judgement. He gave himself up for us to tell us you will be lost over my dead body – this is our judge. Judgement is not me sitting waiting anxiously for the verdict, his judgment is a relationship – turn to me and be saved! By locating this in Jerusalem we see a new priority, salvation is first offered to the guilty. Once it becomes clear that the persecuted church is the real body of Jesus-victim – I am Jesus and you are persecuting me – the definition of oppressor widens. Paul is on his way to hound the Christians in Damascus, which means there too is Jerusalem waiting for the Good News of the Resurrection, and so on as the Church spreads.

We need to recognise our victim as our hope – we need to turn to the victim and hear I am Jesus and you are persecuting me. In no way is this an abstract concept, we need to recall that this was first said to those who actually condemned this historical victim. When I make victims by judging, excluding, condemning I am setting myself up as judge, jury and executioner. But I will always be faced by the victim, and my salvation rests here, if I accept the challenge of grace to deliberately turn to ask – who you are. This is the great Easter lesson of hope – when we say only in Jesus is there salvation, this not just pious language. We are saying: only in the victim is my salvation.

Salvation does not neatly by-pass the fact and memory of guilt, rather does it build on it. Sad evidence of completely missing this point is seen in the Crusades, seeing them as justifying persecution and exclusion. The established relationship between me as judge over the victim has to be reversed, and then transcended. My behaviour is diminishing me, in judging I am victimising myself. I need another kind of relationship; I am not saved by forgetting or cancelling what I have done – Judas repented and returned the silver, he left contrite – but unforgiven – and destroyed himself.

Relating can be a complex issue – within the same relationship I can be both oppressor and victim. Having been exploited I can start to enjoy being victim, to make another feel guilty! There is no neat divide in me between victim and oppressor. Is there such a reality as a pure victim? Can I imagine a person capable of free choice, and so able to choose oppressive behaviour, who is only victim and never oppressor? Only the pure victim can be merciful. Jesus our judge is pure victim and so his judging is mercy eager to forgive.

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Throughout his trial he never counter attacks, retaining a dignified silence. He is judge because he is victim, and as pure victim is a judge who does not condemn. It is the Son, not the Father who judges because the Son is totally involved in our processes of violent injustice. Judgement on the world is not pronounced from on high, but from within the experience of pain, suffering and injustice – by the pure victim whose judgement is forgiveness. Judgement is not a task Jesus has to perform, it is his shared experience of living with us in our world, which he seeks to transform: this is the will of the one who sent me, that none should be lost – John. 6.39. This judgement is just because his sole desire is the Father’s will which is that none should be lost.

Jesus’ living his passion is not done passively, as pure victim it is creative – it is setting the world free from the treadmill of attack and revenge and it belongs wherever the condemned Jesus continues to face his judges as the mission of the Church; the cycle of oppressive relations is transformed by the judge who never condemns. The powerless sufferer, innocent or guilty, is always with God in virtue of being victim – pure or not. Conversion means turning to the victim, even when I am convinced of the rightness of my cause – as with Paul. This is not a moral issue but identifying what is causing the exclusion [justified or otherwise] – it is not me turning to God, but turning to the victim.

judasJudas is saved, not condemned, by Jesus, Lamb of God, saving victim

It is not unjust or misplaced violence that requires repentance but the act of excluding – no matter why. We need to remember for example that racism is not evil because its victims are good, but because they are human. God is not with the victim in order to make me a victim; even though our systems seek to do just that, with the oppressor becoming a victim of the victims. There is much concern for making sure our prison sentencing is sufficiently punitive, whether our counter-terrorism resources are adequate. Granting that coercion and retaliation are at times unavoidable, the fact is that our justice systems are such as to create victims, and to exclude. This is not suggesting that God sees genuine human outrage as of no consequence; it is not wrong to give in to pain and anguish seeking to react. It is saying that the wretched state of the prisoner must in some way reflect the Lamb of God.

If God is against all human diminishment, then God is within such situations. God does not condemn our kind of justice but transcends it. God is incapable of aggressive condemnation. The Gospel opens with repent and believe – it is confronting the executioners of Jesus [in the victim] asking them to accept responsibility. This is how it works – I need to let the Gospel confront me, gently; to show me my victimising ways and urge me to face my victims. Modern warfare specialises in techniques designed to avoid the consequences of our behaviour; but memories cannot be healed until they are exposed as the wounds they have caused.

AMcC

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September 8, Jesus Beyond Dogma, VI: Hope – courage blossoms out of fear

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God is totally other, we cannot say God is like… which suggests that our behaviour – good or bad – has no relevance for God, reminding us that the foundation for hope involves setting aside being concerned about our goodness or badness [I’m not as good as I think I am, nor as bad as others say I am]. We are involved with something that has nothing to do with our worthiness or it’s opposite.

We are being offered what is totally gratuitous – irrespective. When we reflect on the parable of the workers, in which the latecomers receive the same pay as those who have toiled all day [who hasn’t sympathised with them?] we see that God can never give less than all of himself to everyone. What is in our remit is how we receive this gift – do I even recognise that I have it – do I behave as if I am self-starting and self-fulfilling. Revelation tells us that God gives us to ourselves in order to become what we are receiving as life progresses – gift for others. I’m not asked am I worthy, but am I willing.

I have a friend who is doing heroic things to help the poor and needy – a veritable example of Gospel value; he is alcoholic and his personal life leaves much to be desired. It seems that being unconcerned about his personal worthiness seems to free him up to bring support and hope to so many. How different things would be if he had been restricted by the reality of I’m not good enough! Hope doesn’t mean saying be of good heart, all will work out in the end.

Hope says here is good news for me here and now. Working with Samaritan volunteers on one occasion I asked a seasoned volunteer to role play, and present herself as suicidal. One of the volunteers interviewed her and did well, until she said and always remember we love everybody here – the role player got up and left. The volunteer asked why. We don’t want to be part of everybody, we want to be somebody. Hope is me being asked to be there for others, not in spite of who I am, but because of who I am – warts and all.

It is not for us to provide goodness, bringing light into dark places that starts from our own goodness. This is where the Spirit is active, enabling us to bring good news and to foster well-being, despite our complicity in selfish living.

Only those unpreoccupied with their own goodness or badness are free enough to build what is good [and probably have no idea that this is what they are doing]. Hope for others issues solely from the total otherness of God, not from ourselves. When Jesus said I have come for sinners he is telling us that he can make my story indicative of the story precisely by removing my preoccupation with my unworthiness.

We receive ourselves from what is other than us, be that other violent or kind. Just so it is by receiving ourselves from other than us that makes us children of Abba – the original giver of life:

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is – 1John.3.2.

AMcC

Good Shepherd from Madagascar

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August 12: Grace is given unawares and unearned and everywhere: A Franciscan Revolution People.

MMB.

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August 8: Francis Thompson VII: THE HOUND OF HEAVEN: VI

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“Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught” (He said),
“And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited—
Of all man’s clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come.”

Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
“Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.”

When I told Anne (see August 14 2016) I was sharing Francis Thompson on the blog, she said, ‘Francis Thompson, my father’s favourite writer.’ I hope you can see why. Maurice.

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31 May: The Visitation: Mary, Mother of God.

 

360px-Church_of_the_Visitation_IMG_0637On the feast of the Visitation, here is Fr Austin’s reflection on Mary, mother of God, and what that means for us.

When God chose to become part of Creation through the Incarnation, the motherhood of Mary was already implied. The Church says nothing about the course of her life from the day it began until the Annunciation. What happened during that time, what it meant to start life full of Grace we don’t know. It will have been ordinary, if only because ostentation and grace do not belong together.

Scripture does not primarily tell us of the dignity of Mary by recounting facts about her physical motherhood of Jesus, or say that Mary is Mother of God as a consequence of a physical event. It tells us what Mary did, and this shows her importance and dignity. Luke shows us Mary, becoming through free consent one who is blessed. Because the divine motherhood is described from the start, not simply as a biological event, but as taking place through a free, personal and grace-inspired act of faith, Mary is seen not simply with a private relationship to Jesus, but as inserting her into the wider story of redemption. She appears as a figure in history, like Abraham and other characters in the historical dialogue between God and Israel. We are simply told that this person was asked, and replied: be it done… Because of her consent, the Word became flesh, and Mary is Mother of God.

God created the world, and so everything belongs. But this creation can stand forever distant, or it can belong. Which of the two possibilities is actually realised is not finally decided by the fact of creation; it is only decided in the course of history. God created a world of free persons, and so a drama develops between God and the world. For God is not the only one who is active, producing the drama as though through puppets. God creates in freedom, so there actually does arise a dialogue between a free God and free human beings. From God’s point of view it is a dialogue always open; we can act freely as long as our history lasts, we can freely choose to respond in any way we like.

From a natural point of view God is free to choose to respond in whatever way; we do not know God will act in our regard. God could dissociate from us, or invite us closer. Happily, everything is very different from that. God has spoken clearly, definitively and irrevocably. This word has been spoken into creation, and it will not return to the Father without achieving its purpose. God’s intention has become flesh in our world. God has determined that the world itself shall be taken into eternal mercy, and that it now has a destiny that transcends its own natural one. Judgement is not God’s last word, but compassion; not isolation but intimacy.

The Word was made flesh because a girl of our race, listened, was apprehensive but cooperative and said yes, freely. This is the way God chose to become part of creation. Of course, Mary’s consent her willingness freely given is itself the fruit of grace. Yet though all this is the fruit of grace, yet it remains Mary’s own freely given consent. When God gives gifts they become precisely what is our own, completely identified with us. God gifts me with the ability to love worthily, yet with a love that is truly mine! It is as much mine as my life – since it is gifted from the same source.

Mary’s motherhood is by the grace of God alone, and her own free act, inseparably; and since this belongs intrinsically to the story of Redemption, it gives Mary a real relationship with us, since we are living within the history of redemption. To praise her motherhood is not to honour something belonging to her private life, but in the light of the context of the Incarnation, she is also mother to us.

Saint Francis tells us we are all mothers of the Lord – we have conceived through word and sacrament, now bring him to birth by the way you live.

AMcC.

 

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