Tag Archives: Heart

May 15: What is Theology Saying? LII: Salvation outside the Church I.

amsterdam.door.artist.plaque

austinThe Christian has to ask how to evaluate other religions. We are all engaged in the work of transforming the world alongside people who are striving for the same goal and contributing equally as much for its realisation. Yet many belong to another religion or faith community.

The question: do these people participate in the work and fruits of salvation in spite of their own religious commitment or because of it? Christianity has answered this variously through the ages, but with answers heavily influenced by cultural experiences and national belongings. It is not easy to disentangle Christian tradition from social and cultural theories.

Before reflecting on these, it must be remembered that the Christian understanding of Judaism must be discussed separately; the relationship between Judaism and Christianity is unique, and in fairly recent times the French Biblical scholar Paul Démann has undertaken this in various articles to do with the relationship between Judaism in Christianity. He makes many suggestions, but many questions remain unsolved and a full theology of Christian understanding of Judaism has yet to appear.

It is abundantly clear that there is salvation in Judaism and the coming of Jesus in history did not take this salvation away. Scripture asserts that God made an everlasting covenant with Israel – you shall be my people and I will be your God; and through them all nations on the earth will be blessed. God kept promising a new covenant – not that the old one would pass away to be replaced by another, rather would the old one become new again as each generation made it its own; and written, not on stone, but on hearts of flesh.

All these promises were verified again and again in Judaism. Although Christians have not always been aware of it, Jews have continued to live passionately in fidelity to the covenant. Under tough conditions – exile, dispersion, persecution and holocaust – they continued to make the covenant ever fresh and new in succeeding generations.

AMcC

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28 February: Brownings VII: Hair 2, two sonnets by EBB. Relics XV.

 

Elizabeth_Barrett_Browning

 

Elizabeth did not show these poems to Robert until much later than they were written. They show how intensely she felt about the exchange of hair locks.

I find this story helps me reflect on the personal nature of Christ’s mission and the Eucharist that continues that calling today. We are called to give more than a lock of hair!

Funeral shears: Victorians sometimes preserved a deceased loved one’s hair in mourning rings, that looked rather like signet rings.

Sonnet XVIII
I never gave a lock of hair away
To a man, Dearest, except this to thee,
Which now upon my fingers thoughtfully,
I ring out to the full brown length and say
‘Take it.’ My day of youth went yesterday;
My hair no longer bounds to my foot’s glee,
Nor plant I it from rose or myrtle-tree,
As girls do, any more: it only may
Now shade on two pale cheeks the mark of tears,
Taught drooping from the head that hangs aside
Through sorrow’s trick. I thought the funeral-shears
Would take this first, but Love is justified,—
Take it thou,—finding pure, from all those years,
The kiss my mother left here when she died.

Sonnet XIX

The soul’s Rialto hath its merchandise;
I barter curl for curl upon that mart,
And from my poet’s forehead to my heart
Receive this lock which outweighs argosies,—
As purply black, as erst to Pindar’s eyes
The dim purpureal tresses gloomed athwart
The nine white Muse-brows. For this counterpart, . . .
The bay-crown’s shade, Beloved, I surmise,
Still lingers on thy curl, it is so black!
Thus, with a fillet of smooth-kissing breath,
I tie the shadows safe from gliding back,
And lay the gift where nothing hindereth;
Here on my heart, as on thy brow, to lack
No natural heat till mine grows cold in death.

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23 November, The Road to Emmaus VI; seeing.

carravagio emmaus.png

The two disciples cannot bear to part with this seemingly unknown man, who understands everything.

When they drew near to the village to which they were going, he made as if to go on; but they pressed him to stay with them saying, ’It is nearly evening, and the day is almost over.’ So he went on to stay with them. Now while he was with them at table he took the bread and said the blessing; then he broke it and handed it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognised him; but he had vanished from their sight (Luke. 24:28-31).

The great artist, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, in 1601, captured this moment in a magnificent painting, and I have reflected on this in the form of a poem. [This painting is on permanent display in the National Gallery of London.]

Seeing Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus

We know the two disciples by their spillage:

flung arms, shocked shoulders, splayed hands.

He found them trudging toward the village –

loveable curmudgeons all wrong.

But who’s the right-hand man – studious, still,

drawn not by Luke but by artist’s skill,

drawn, by intense act of will, like me,

by desire to be with them there, to see.

For see:

not one has closed his eyes for prayer:

for Jesus is being quietly seismic.

And see, his outstreaming inwardness opens their eyes

shaken, graced, surprised beyond all telling,

they see: they marvel: they see.

Ah, yes. He tenderly gives it away. Amen, amen. This is

Him being Him so Him so real that he’s unmissable so alive

with blessing that death cannot take hold anywhere so real

that if they seize him he burns even as their hearts flame

even as they know him so real that even the shadows

cannot shadow even the shadows consecrate.

Now they may hold him only as food is held

for only the food will remain

for this is the moment

before He vanishes

like a

m

o

m

e

n

t

,

SJC

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29 July: Without thinking?

People were receiving Communion without thinking, the preacher suspected. But how true is that? And does it matter?

I doubt that parents or nurses or carers are always consciously focussed on the task in hand when they change the nappy or soiled sheets of a child or elderly patient, but they will still do the job properly. Doing the job properly is what matters, not having the mind fully focussed or experiencing the ‘right’ emotions.

Lest anyone object to my comparison, I would argue that changing a nappy or soiled sheets could be counted as a work of mercy to rank with the other seven, It is an act of love, and it is life-saving, as any public health worker would tell you.

There are distractions enough at Communion time in church: apart from anything else, I find myself watching whether the person in front of me is going to kneel or genuflect: am I a safe distance from them?

There is though, a chance for all to spend time silently reflecting after Communion. If the priest allows it to happen of course, and to be fair, this preacher does.

In life there are times when the head must lead the heart, and indeed the body or the senses must also lead at times, perhaps when we are dog tired and still need to carry on. It can happen that way at Mass or prayers too: coming to Mass after working a long shift or enduring a broken night may lead to not hearing the readings, missing the consecration and lining up mechanically to receive the sacrament, even to falling fully asleep in the post Communion silence. But you can be there in body and spirit, if not in mind.

MMB

 

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8 March: Not Listening? Me?

‘As I was saying …’

‘You just don’t listen!’

I overheard this brief exchange in the street, and offer it as a reflection for Lent. Do I listen? Do I let the Lord get a word in edgeways? Is my heart open to the Lord, in whatever guise he may present himself to me?

As Jesus himself said, quoting the prophet Isaiah:

This people honoureth me with their lips: but their heart is far from me.

(Matthew 15:8).

‘As I was saying …’

 

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February 12: Have your ELECTRIC BLANKET serviced … I

blackthorn

It’s a good headline isn’t it! Poor Saint Valentine gets supplanted by Ash Wednesday this year. Let’s remember him in advance!

One day last October we were out foraging for sloes, those sharp, purple little wild plums, the fruit of the blackthorn, one of the earliest spring flowers. Something reminded Janet of this passage in the old ‘Dutch Catechism’ which was part of her journey into the Church. Appropriate reading for Saint Valentine.

People begin to suspect that they are meant for each other when they experience the marvel of falling in love. A young man and a young woman discover something in each other that no outsider can fully see. The hope and the need of giving themselves to each other completely take over and grow and grow.

The heart has its reasons which the reason does not quite know, according to Pascal, nor is it necessary that it should. But if one is to give oneself to another totally and for ever, one must make a decision with one’s whole person. Hence reason and conscience cannot be left out. The enchantment of love opens the eyes to the uniqueness of the other, but it can also be blind if it remains a superficially sensual or romantic attachment.

A New Catechism, Catholic Faith for Adults, London, Search Press, 8th impression, 1978, p 385

And that headline was on the bookmark Janet was using all those years ago.

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January 14: Why are you doing astronomy when there are people starving in the world? 

nasaM81galaxy

A very short question and answer that I could not resist sharing with you all. Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ is the Director of the Vatican Observatory. This is taken from an interview he gave a couple of years ago, which you can find here.  Go on, click!

Why are you doing astronomy when there are people starving in the world? 

I learned the answer to that when I served in the US Peace Corps. When my African students learned I was an astronomer, they wanted to look through my little telescope and have the same joy in discovering the universe that I had. They, too, had an insatiable hunger to know about the universe. They reminded me: it’s not enough to feed the body; we also have to feed the soul.

Psalm 146(147) 2-5 links care for physical and emotional needs with astronomical endeavour.

The Lord buildeth up Jerusalem: he will gather together the dispersed of Israel. Who healeth the broken of heart, and bindeth up their bruises. Who telleth the number of the stars: and calleth them all by their names. Great is our Lord, and great is his power: and of his wisdom there is no number.

Brother Guy and his colleagues are still doing one part of the Lord’s temporal work while others are healing broken hearts and bodies, all in his grace. Let us pray for the wisdom to respond to his call, day by day.

MMB.

Image of a galaxy from NASA.

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November 9, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: ix – ‘Dogma means little to people seeking hope.’

gate,broken (800x487)

Reasoned argument seeks to break things down into constituent parts; it is story-telling that shows how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Reasoned argument draws on things that worked in the past, story-telling offers a new world of possibilities. Could this be why Jesus used parable to communicate truth? Maybe even why he said unless you become as little children… children love stories!

We do well to remember that Jesus was at home in the world of story, because he was born of story, the story of creation and all its tremendous potential. Life looks very different when we set him within story – free of the world of rational argument.

It would never have occurred to anyone to doubt the existence of God if theologians had not tried to prove it. The Creed is a collection of dogmas, deemed to be eternally binding – beginning with the Creator, and ending with today’s guardian of dogmatic truth – the Church. Surely this is more to do with power than faith? The intention is good – to empower people with the gift of faith – but it effectively disempowers by making us passive recipients of truths rather than passionate seekers after Truth.

In the dogmatic system growth in faith is assessed by conformity to religious practice – which can become a form of co-dependence. Without doubt many have broken through these limitations, making commitment of heart and mind – showing how structures need to be assessed as to whether they serve the life or are self-serving. Jesus does not belong within such structures.

A different Jesus emerged, champion of equality, fired by intuition, intent on empowering the powerless and marginalised and inevitably seen as a threat to establishment – bringing down the mighty… raising the lowly – Luke 1.52. Dogma means little to people seeking hope. Preaching Christ carries no lasting impact; being Christ is what matters. This is not a rational option, but an emotional choice rising out of the heart – it is an option for love over truth.

AMcC

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22 July: “Day Break into Song”: Mary Magdalene.


sun-clouds-golden

One time I thought it was my brain
That made the songs I sing;
But now I know it is a heart
That loveth every thing.

And while his heart’s blood feeds his brain.
To keep it warm and young
A man can live a hundred years,
And day break into song.

Here, for Mary Magdalene, are two more stanzas from The Song of Love by W.H. Davies.

Which sit well with three verses from Psalm 119 (145-147):

With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord!
 I will keep your statutes.
I call to you; save me,
that I may observe your testimonies.
I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I hope in your words.

Mary rose before dawn – but was there hope in her heart that Easter morning? She did not give in to despair, but rose before dawn to make her way with her women friends to observe the laws and anoint the body of their Beloved.

Their hearts were still full of love and that daybreak her brain caught up with her heart and hope rose within her. ‘Rabboni!’ (John 20:16).

We celebrate that moment in song to this day:

Dic nobis, Maria.
Quid vidisti in via?
Sepulchrum Christi viventis
Et gloriam vidi resurgentis.

Angelicos testes.
Sudarium et vestes.
Surrexit Christus spes mea;
Praecedet suos in Galilaeam.

 
Or
 
Tell us Mary Magdalene, say, what you saw when on your way.
I saw the tomb where Christ had lain; I saw his glory as he rose again;
Napkin and linen clothes, and Angels twain.
Yes, Christ my hope is risen, and he will go before you into Galilee.
MB.

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29 May: Before the tourists arrive, Canterbury Cathedral is quiet.

 

crypt (640x481)

I wandered into town before most of the shops were open, an errand to run for Mrs T.

Job done, I took myself to the Cathedral, expecting peace and quiet. At first glance the nave was empty but as I crossed this vast space I saw that there was a scaffold at the East End in front of the choir, there were boards high up below the roof vaults, and hard-hatted men in a human chain, passing more boards vertically up to the top of the scaffold. Purposeful activity with no fuss. I remembered poor William of Sens, the mediaeval architect, who was badly injured falling from a scaffold in the rebuilding after one of the Cathedral fires.

I also remembered that the scaffold had gone from the great South Window. Even on a grey morning, it was a joy to behold the ancestors of the Lord in their rightful place.

So down to the crypt where it’s always quiet. Not quite today. The workers could not help a degree of banging penetrating below ground. Someone seemed to be tuning the organ, then playing a hymn or two, softly. The first tourists – or pilgrims – were already on site; builders strode past: the place was alive!

Alive at many levels not all of them noisy. It does not take long to stop fidgeting, physically and mentally, in such a sacred space.

Maybe one day I should light a candle.

WT

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