Tag Archives: Heaven

November 4: Saint Charles Borromeo.

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Today is the memorial of Saint CHARLES Borromeo (Bishop)

Scripture readings: St Paul to the Philippians 3:17-41, Psalm 121, Luke 16:1-8.

In the Gospel, Christ told his disciples a parable about an astute steward. In this parable, we see how this dishonest steward uses his master’s property to win friendship for himself. This is because he said, if my master sends me away, I cannot dig, I can’t go begging for I will be too ashamed of myself. I have to use my master’s wealth to win friendship for myself so that there will be people to welcome me when my master sends me away.

All of us have God’s gift in us. It could be the gift of singing or the gift of service. The question is how am I using God’s gifts to win heaven in Christ?  This dishonest servant used his master’s wealth to win friendship for himself. What about you and I whom God have given so many treasures?

St Charles Borromeo became a true shepherd of the flock that God had entrusted to him. He used God’s gifts to gain heaven.

St Paul is telling me and you today in the letter to the Philippians not to be ashamed of the things of heaven but rather to be ashamed of earthly things, not to give up our hope, but to be faithful in the Lord.

May God grant us the grace to be faithful to Him at all times, Amen.

 

FMSL

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27 October: Lest ye be judged III

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‘Eleven, twelve, eighteen, fourteen, TWENTY!’ The 4 year old boy was climbing the railway steps in front of me, his little sister in tow. Did mother correct him? Did she try to count with him, to be sure he got it right? Did she tell a white lie and suggest his counting was accurate? No, and none of the above. What she did was add an emphatic ‘Hurray’ at the top. (Counting to twenty seemed as important as getting the counting process right.)

Will that little boy be able to count accurately within a few months? Of course he will. His mother’s encouragement of all the bits of counting he was getting right (the numbers were just in the wrong order) is one to bear in mind.

Just by giving us a new day in the morning our Creator offers us encouragement. He gives us a lifetime to get things wrong, or partly right, and to hone all those skills of Faith, Hope and Love that will lead us up to the gates of Heaven.

And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.

1 Corinthians 13:13

 

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24 October: Mammon, money, need and greed.

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God’s greatest rival: the religion of Mammon.  “You cannot serve God and money,” Jesus said (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13).  This is because money has the capacity to touch the very depths of our soul.  How can it do that?  It has no poetry!  There are no poems about money: I can’t think of a single example.  It could be that it only takes over souls that have no capacity for poetry.  “If you want to see what God thinks of money,” someone said, “look at the people he gives it to.”  In itself it is not an interesting subject.  It is need and greed that lend it interest.  It is, above all, a promise: that essential of any religion.

Its promises, however, are always just for oneself (or one’s family: one’s larger self).  Listen to the advertisers.  The underlying creed is that life has nothing to offer but what can be purchased or won, and that there is nothing either good or bad beyond that.  All others are either partners or competitors: people who can help or hinder you in your search for more of the same.

I am thinking, of course, of pure devotees.  Many, as in every religion, are not true believers, or have mixed motives.  There are wealthy people who have a real care for the half of the world that is malnourished.  But there are others, like the rich man in the parable, who don’t even notice Lazarus at their door, and who are therefore able to step over him without malice, keeping their own self-esteem intact.  And there are others again who notice Lazarus but keep their self-esteem by throwing him a few scraps.

The religion of Mammon is a destructive cult.  It not only destroys the poor by enriching its devotees at their expense, but it destroys the devotees themselves.  They are creating “a great chasm” between themselves and the rest of humanity, so that “those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”

Which characters does the story ask us to identify ourselves with?  The rich man, Dives?  In fact he is given no name in the gospels: ‘dives’ is just the Latin word for ‘a rich man’; the rich man has no identity except his wealth.  No, we are not being asked to see ourselves as Dives.  Lazarus, then?  No, neither is it telling us to lie down at the rich man’s door like Lazarus.

The parable is telling us that we are the rich man’s five brothers.  We have Moses and the prophets  – but above all we have Jesus  –  to tell us to live by a different religion, a subversive religion that “casts down the mighty from their thrones and exalts the lowly, that fills the hungry with good things but sends the rich away empty.”  We are not told whether the five brothers changed their lives around.  Why?  Because we are the five brothers, and the story isn’t over yet.

AMcC

By Meister des Codex Aureus Epternacensis

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28 September – William Blake’s ‘Jacob’s Ladder’

William Blake, ‘Jacob’s Ladder’, c.1799-1807. Pen and grey ink and watercolour. © The Trustees of the British Museum. Image released under a Creative Commons license for non-commercial use.

 

William Blake’s (1757-1827) watercolour of Jacob’s Ladder is one of about eighty watercolours which Blake made between about 1800 and 1806 for his loyal patron, the civil servant Thomas Butts (more of Blake’s works for Butts follow in tomorrow and Friday). In Genesis 28, Jacob has a dream in which he sees a staircase between heaven and earth with figures ascending and descending on it.

 

We do not know the precise date of this watercolour, but it may well have been inspired by a vision which Blake had shortly after he moved from London to Felpham, West Sussex in 1800, which he described in a poem addressed to Ann Flaxman, wife of the sculptor John Flaxman:

 

Away to Sweet Felpham for Heaven is there

The Ladder of Angels descends thro the air

On the Turret its spiral does softly descend

Thro’ the village then winds at My Cot it does end

You stand in the village & look up to heaven

The precious stones glitter on flights seventy seven

And My Brother is there & My Friend & Thine

Descend & Ascend with the Bread & the Wine

(‘To my dear Friend Mrs Anna Flaxman’)

 

The poem suggests that Blake felt that there was a connection between heaven and earth in Felpham. Having only known the smoggy air of London for the first 43 years of his life, one can well imagine that Blake felt that the veil between heaven and earth was thinner in Felpham – the kind of place one might encounter angels.

 

NAIB

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26 September: A walk along the Thames.

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It was Patrick’s funeral that brought me to Teddington, and I had time on my hands between the end of the gathering  and meeting George for dinner.  Time enough for a walk down the Thames to Richmond.

Here the river path is on the right bank, but there was a footbridge at the end of Ferry Road to see me across. A good hour’s walk down to the railway with no bridges between, though I was tempted to take the ferry across to Twickenham about halfway along. Just for the fun of a ferry, you understand, not to avoid the walk!

It was good to see so many people and dogs enjoying the fine weather, walking and cycling; there were joggers as well, but do they enjoy the scenery or just the sense of achievement when they have shorn a half-second from their pb for each kilometre, despite the presence of happy wanderers along their course? Some children were enjoying the last days of summer, but there were teenagers in town already in uniform –

Shades of the prison-house begin to close

Upon the growing Boy,

But He beholds the light, and whence it flows,

He sees it in his joy.

William Wordsworth: Intimations of immortality from recollections of early childhood

London’s not-quite countryside must remain as a blessing to local people; it is too much on the flood plain to be built upon or to go under the plough. Much of the path was shaded by mature trees and scrub. There would be no chance of a horse-drawn barge making its way along here today, as came to Mr Toad’s rescue in the  Wind in the Willows, but motor boats and kayaks were making full use of the river.

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Close to Richmond town lies a meadow, still used to graze cattle, including a few Belted Galloways and their crossbred offspring. If I had a country estate it would be Belted Galloways that would add their grace to the prospects. As well as being good looking, they also seem to tolerate people walking by.

But let’s hope and pray that  those I passed that day will not resist the ‘Intimations of immortality’ that come their way, day by day, and that school does not feel too much of a prison house, and that they are enlightened there.

WT.

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3 September: Mother Teresa’s Shoes

Over at the Vatican Observatory Website, Fr James Kurzynski links Mother Teresa’s shoes, church architecture, the Eucharist and an astronomer’s view of creation.

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He reminds me of a Welsh astronomer, poet and theologian, Henry Vaughan, who mused on the saints:

They are all gone into the world of light!
And I alone sit ling’ring here;
Their very memory is fair and bright,
And my sad thoughts doth clear.
Follow the links and enjoy both astronomers’ reflections!
MMB

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September 3: Algeria VII: Testament of Dom Christian

This is a long post, but I could not see how to shorten the Last Testament of Christian de Cherge, the martyred Prior of Notre Dame d’Atlas. Every word counts. Islam is not islamism. Muslims are God’s children, our sisters and brothers.

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Window at Llanthony, Brecon, Wales. 

When an “A-Dieu” takes on a face.

If it should happen one day—and it could be today—

that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf

all the foreigners living in Algeria,

I would like my community, my Church, my family,

to remember that my life was given to God and to this country.

I ask them to accept that the Sole Master of all life

was not a stranger to this brutal departure.

I ask them to pray for me—

for how could I be found worthy of such an offering?

I ask them to be able to link this death with the many other deaths which were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity.

My life has no more value than any other.

Nor any less value.

In any case it has not the innocence of childhood.

I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil

which seems, alas, to prevail in the world,

even in that which would strike me blindly.

I should like, when the time comes, to have the moment of lucidity

which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God

and of my fellow human beings,

and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.

I could not desire such a death.

It seems to me important to state this.

I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice

if the people I love were to be accused indiscriminately of my murder.

To owe it to an Algerian, whoever he may be,

would be too high a price to pay for what will, perhaps, be called, the “grace of martyrdom,”

especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.

I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on Algerians indiscriminately.

I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain islamism encourages.

It is too easy to salve one’s conscience

by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideologies of the extremists.

For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: they are a body and a soul.

I have proclaimed this often enough, I believe, in the sure knowledge of what I have received from it,

finding there so often that true strand of the Gospel,

learnt at my mother’s knee, my very first Church,

already in Algeria itself, in the respect of believing Muslims.

My death, clearly, will appear to justify

those who hastily judged me naive, or idealistic:

“Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!”

But these people must realise that my avid curiosity will then be satisfied.

This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills—

immerse my gaze in that of the Father,

and contemplate with him his children of Islam just as he sees them,

all shining with the glory of Christ,

the fruit of His Passion, and filled with the Gift of the Spirit,

whose secret joy will always be to establish communion

and to refashion the likeness, playfully delighting in the differences.

For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs,

I thank God who seems to have willed it entirely

for the sake of that joy in everything and in spite of everything.

In this thank you, which sums up my whole life to this moment,

I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today,

and you, my friends of this place,

along with my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families,

the hundredfold granted as was promised!

And also you, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing.

Yes, I also say this Thank You and this A-Dieu to you, in whom I see the face of God.

And may we find each other, happy good thieves, in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen. (In sha ‘Allah).

Algiers, December 1, 1993—Tibhirine, January 1, 1994.

Christian.

Testament of Dom Christian

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July 15: Saint Bonaventure

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Saint Bonaventure at St Anthony of Padua, Rye, SX.

Someone should mark the feast of the  Seraphic Doctor, Saint Bonaventure. He is shown above with book and quill and two lamps, no doubt for burning the midnight oil in his studies and writing. His head is bathed in heavenly light, suggesting he is inflamed by the Holy Spirit. In this passage from ‘The Mind’s Journey to God’ he tells us, paradoxically for a researcher, to seek for God not in daylight but in darkness, not in research but in sighs of prayer.

This reminded me of the poet Dylan Thomas, for whom darkness was a creative space, even as a child. He tells us that at day’s end in A Child’s Christmas in Wales, ‘I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.’[1] And remembered, for thirty years.

And so to Bonaventure, writing poetically with many  images:
Christ is both the way and the door. Christ is the staircase and the vehicle, like the throne of mercy over the Ark of the Covenant, and the mystery hidden from the ages. A man should mercylogoturn his full attention to this throne of mercy, and should gaze at him hanging on the cross, full of faith, hope and charity, devoted, full of wonder and joy, marked by gratitude, and open to praise and jubilation. Then such a man will make with Christ a passing-over. Through the branches of the cross he will pass over the Red Sea, leaving Egypt and entering the desert. There he will taste the hidden manna, and rest with Christ in the sepulchre, as if he were dead to things outside. He will experience, as much as is possible for one who is still living, what was promised to the thief who hung beside Christ: Today you will be with me in Paradise.

For this passover to be perfect, we must suspend all the operations of the mind and we must transform the peak of our affections, directing them to God alone. This is a sacred mystical experience. It cannot be comprehended by anyone unless he surrenders himself to it; nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it; nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent into the world, should come and inflame his innermost soul. Hence the Apostle says that this mystical wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervour and glowing love.

 

[1] Dylan Thomas: ‘A Child’s Christmas’, pages not numbered.

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11 June, Year of Mercy:

mercylogoJesus was asked by what authority he forgave sins – and his opponents were right when they said only God forgives sin. As human beings we can help others live with their guilt. But we cannot forgive it. Forgiveness is a creative, new beginning that cannot be derived from our world. By forgiving ourselves we do something that we cannot make happen to us and must be bestowed as gift. In the gift of reconciliation in which communal life is granted anew we are experiencing something that transcends us. In reconciliation we bestow something we do not have – we are in fact clutching for grace – we are reaching out for God’s mercy.

Neither the demand for justice nor for the mercy that is ready to pardon, can happen in this world. Perfect justice can only happen through a violent system which itself would be evil. Whoever wants to create heaven on earth in fact installs hell on earth – something true in both church and state. The excesses of reformists and of the Inquisition should serve as warnings. But this is not an argument for doing nothing. We must curb evil and injustice as far as humanly possible – we must help justice and mercy breakthrough.

In our world there are not only pitiless injustices and unrelenting perfectionists, there is also an unrelenting this-worldliness. We want perfect justice and full mercy now – everything must happen now – which simply makes everything faster, demanding and overwhelming. We demand that another’s love should give us heaven on earth and in the process overwhelm the other without mercy. All that remains in the end is an appeal to God’s mercy. This alone ensures that evil does not triumph over good. It is hope for justice and reconciliation at the resurrection of the dead that makes life in this world truly liveable.

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In the face of imminent despair, nothing else remains but to see the world and life in the light of hope. The cry Lord, have mercy will never be silenced but will grow ever louder – it is the cry proper to the human race – for mercy and peace with justice – to be heard and answered when life is lived to the full and God is praised by our, at last, being fully alive.

We need Christians who make God’s mercy and tenderness for every creature visible to today’s people. We know that the crisis of modern man is not superficial but profound; which is why the New Evangelisation, while it calls us to have the courage to swim against the tide and to be converted from idols to the true God, cannot but use the language of mercy, expressed in gestures and attitudes even before words – Pope Francis.

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Interruption: the Ascension and our own lives.

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Ascension and Pentecost

HOMILY FOR THE ASCENSION, 2016

Austin McCormack OFM

 

Historically it was an event within the life of Jesus and the early church and is now a feast-day for Christians, one that links Easter to Pentecost. But it is more than an historical event, it is at the same time an insight into life that we need to understand to better sort out the paradoxical interplay between life and death, presence and absence, love and loss.

The Ascension names and highlights a paradox that lies deep at the centre of life, namely, that we all reach a point in life where we can only give our presence more deeply by going away so that others can receive the full blessing of our spirits.

When Jesus was preparing to leave this earth he kept repeating the words: “It is better for you that I go away! You will be sad now, but your sadness will turn to joy. If I don’t go away you will be unable to receive my spirit. Don’t cling to me, I must ascend.”

Why is it better?

Any parent has heard similar words from their children, unspoken perhaps but there nonetheless. When young people leave home to go to college or to begin life on their own, what they are really saying to their parents is: “Mom and dad, it is better that I go away. You will be sad now, but your sadness will turn to joy. If I don’t go, I will always be your little boy or little girl but I will be unable to give you my life as an adult. So please don’t cling to the child you once had or you will never be able to receive my adulthood. I need to go away now so that our love can come to full bloom.”

To remain present to someone we love we have to sometimes be absent, in ways big and small. The pain in this kind of letting go is often excruciating, as parents know, but to refuse to do that is to truncate life.

The same is true for the mystery of death. For example: I was 22 years old when my mother, died. The pain was searing. Initially we were nearly overwhelmed with a sense of being of losing a vital life-connection (that, ironically, we had mostly taken for granted until then). And our feelings were mainly cold, there’s little that’s warm in death.

But time is a great healer. After a while, and for me this took several years, the coldness disappeared and her death was no longer externally painful. I felt again her presence, and now as a warm, nurturing spirit that was with me all time. The coldness of death turned into a warmth. She had gone away but now could give me love and blessing in new way.

The mystery of love and intimacy contains that paradox: To remain present to someone we love we have to sometimes be absent, in ways big and small. In the paradox of love, we can only fully bless each other when we go away. That is why most of us only “get” the blessing our loved ones were for us after they die.

And this is even true, perhaps particularly so, in cases where our loved ones were difficult characters who struggled for peace or to bless anyone in this life. Death washes clean and releases the spirit and, even in the case of people who struggled to love, we can after their deaths receive their blessing in ways we never could while they were alive. Like Jesus, they could only give us their real presence by going away.

“It is better for you that I go away!”  These are painful words most of the time, from a young child leaving her mother for a day to go to school, to the man leaving his family for a week to go on a business trip, to the young man moving out of his family’s house to begin life on his own, to a loved one saying goodbye in death. Separation hurts, goodbyes bring painful tears, and death of every kind wrenches the heart.

But that is part of the mystery of love. Eventually we all reach a point where what is best for everyone is that we go away so that we can give our spirit. The gift that our lives are can only be fully received after we ascend.

AMcC

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