Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

12 May. What is Theology Saying? XLIX: Church and World are not mutually exclusive.

 

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With our Lenten season we have set aside our long-running series from Traherne, the Little Flowers of Francis, and from Brother Austin. Let’s remedy that last one! There’s a challenge at the end: ‘I know that I can cope with the past because I am still here! So why risk the unknown?’

austinWe cannot contrast Church and World. They are not mutually exclusive. The Church is supposed to be the community that makes God’s promises already present. When we celebrate the sacraments this is a pledge to what we have committed ourselves as community. There is no work blueprint, we are called to be creative through the possibilities everyday life presents. The Church cannot hand-out a programme to us telling us exactly what to do, how to do it and where. The Bible has no such blueprint. We learn more about the future when we respond to what we already know and are presenting solutions accordingly.

The early Church, seen through Paul’s writing, took slavery for granted as a feature of society – while insisting that the slave-owner respect their human dignity. Centuries later we began to realise that we must abolish slavery itself, because slavery as such is opposed to human dignity. We are also coming to realise that what we often call works of charity can be more crushing than poverty itself, that we can eliminate poverty simply by providing jobs and incomes for all. In the same way war was seen as inevitable, and not only killing but torture was therefore justified. With the formation of the UN we are starting to glimpse that war is not inevitable – Paul VI said to the UN with powerful conviction no more war, war never again.

The truth is that the “signs of the times” are those offering the church ever new opportunities to go out and meet others. Individuals may well set out believing they are going to teach, but they will end up learning, as did Paul. The church is given endless opportunities to rediscover itself in ever new light, but they do not happen every day. At certain moments of privilege, the Spirit summons the church to risk: “During the night a vision came to Paul: a Macedonian stood there appealing to him: Cross over to Macedonia and help us”. Acts.16.9.

The “signs of the times” are the external evidence of this call to Discipleship of Christ. Reasoned observation and rational planning have a place. Reason is able to perceive certain things that suggest there are changes requiring further and new steps to be taken. Different moments of time have their own signs. Not everyone sees them. Jesus criticised the Pharisees because their wisdom in this regard was deficient: “It is a wicked and Godless generation that asks for a sign; and the only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah” – Mt.12.39. There are insensitive people in every age, unable [unwilling] to see the call for something new. To them mission is no more than simply repeating what has already been achieved. This is the fear principle, prompted by the fact that I know that I can cope with the past because I am still here! So why risk the unknown?

Reading  the Word and the World, Zakopane, Poland.
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4 April. Before the Cross XX: Dancing in the blazing fiery furnace.

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When I first saw this picture that Rupert sent I had not read his reflection but I soon realised that our perceptions, thoughts and intuitions differed but in a creative way. Perhaps my grandson’s baptism attuned me to baptismal themes here. Thank you Rupert, for sharing this arresting image.

It was the dove descending that I first noticed, coming from the fiery light that overflows from the left hand side of the painting. The Spirit seems to be aiming for the water jar, just left of centre. ‘Fill the jars with water’, the Lord commanded at Cana, and the water and the wedding feast were transformed. To reinforce this connection, the jar at the very left has tongues of fire over it, the Spirit hovering over the waters. We are very much in John’s Gospel here: the cross is part of creation! There are six jars, as at Cana, and a basin in which to wash each other’s feet as in John’s account of the Last Supper.

The figures at the top right are in an attitude of adoration, which they express physically, they are not mere armchair Christians. And their attitude, their bowing, is athletic rather than abject. Thus is fear and trembling felt at a moment of great joy.

The three dancers across the middle of the painting are in harmony rather than unison with each other: there are may ways for Christians to be united, after all, but all hear and react to the same music.

The Cross – the blood-spattered Cross as Rupert points out – dominates the space, but is not a symbol of defeat. Rather like an Eschler work, its perspective is more than two dimensional, thrusting out of the frame, And where its shadow would be, were it not a blaze of light, the Light of the World, the undefeated Christ is carrying his banner forward. The dancers have seen him and respond in joy: the fourth person has appeared in the blazing fiery furnace: they are joyful, suffering, people of the light.

MMB.

Worship by Jun Ramosmos.

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2 April. Before the Cross XVIII: Bathed in the Light of God

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This painting , Worship by Jun Jamosmos, speaks of an ideal of praise and worship: uninhibited, uncomplicated and undistracted. Each worshipper, bathed in the light of God, faces a blood spattered cross, reminding us of the “mercy seat” in the holiest part of the temple. Jesus, depicted here with a banner over his shoulder, is present among them as they worship. They recognise that they have been restored through the loving act of the Father, giving his son to die. The Spirit of God is present too, symbolised by the dove, and so the whole Trinity interacts with the people of God.

The picture is as much about individual response to God’s presence as it is about corporate worship; individual healing and the work of God among all his people, everywhere – his kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven. Men and women, old and young, all meet with him in their different postures, and with their different needs.

The jars remind us of God’s abundance. Perhaps they allude to the story of Elisha and the widow, who, having a little olive oil in the house, was told to collect as many jars as she could find. God miraculously filled them as she poured out the little she had of her own.

Our small act of faith in choosing to worship – even sometimes with a “downcast soul” – is as nothing compared to the grace we receive as we meet with him. These worshippers are “standing under the tap” while God pours out the abundant blessing always meant for his people:

The Lord bless you and keep you,

The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you,

The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

Tomorrow’s posting, “The Presence” is a reflection on God’s dwelling among his people down the ages, and upon how, wherever he truly is might be regarded as a “temple”.

Rupert Greville.

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18 February: What is Theology saying, XLIV: What is Christian morality?

What is Christian morality? In terms of content there is no Christian morality distinct from human morality. The Ten Commandments of the Old Testament and the precepts of the New Testament are simply human demands. But there is something different about Christian morality – just as people in Old Testament and New Testament times saw these human demands in the context of covenant with God and solidarity with Christ, faith today obliges us to see the demands of being fully alive as a response to the call of God.

What difference does Faith make? It puts before us the attractiveness of Christ’s life – one that bears fruit in Resurrection, and promises the same Spirit, the same energy to anyone interested. Sensitivity to his values lifts lives above the minimum of good manners – turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, foregoing legitimate rights for wider benefit. Belonging to a community of faith also makes demands – sharing a Sacramental life, which is not the case for non-believers.

Important as these differences are, the basic moral demand is to become what we are potentially – fully human: “God is praised when we are fully alive…” – Irenaeus. And we don’t grow alone. Our roots are in the earth, and life and health and growth emerge from our relationships – we are what our relationships let us be. A moral life is to be in a right relationship to all of these. Our love for God is only known via the test of service – “unless you did it to these…”!

Sin turns self into God – and pride, lust, avarice, abuse and aggression are the certain fruits. Sin is not a problem, problems can be solved, sin is an ever present mysterious reality, in the world, the Church and individuals. It is a reality to be concerned about, but not to be afraid of: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more” – Romans 5.20. Jesus is the forgiveness of sin, but unless we are convinced of our sinfulness, how do we recognise our need for him, or rejoice in what he makes possible?

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17 February: What is Theology saying, XLIII: Unhelpful ‘morality’.

I hope you can forgive me for looking at other chains of thought these last two months. This was only partly due to a computer putting on a hi-vis vest and going on strike. A new hard drive sorted that out. But it is good to have Friar Austin back! I’ve taken the liberty to add a couple of footnotes. Fr Rathe’s book gives something of a flavour of the Church just before the Council, when things were already beginning to change.

Can the inspiration of God ever be in conflict with the law of the Church? The whole prophetic tradition suggests that can happen. How do we test the spirit of an inspiration that suggests breaking the law? We must judge what is in line with spirit of the law. For example, the relaxation of fasting before Communion enables more people to receive the Sacrament.1

Unhelpful are: an over-simplifying notion of moral law; a preoccupation with precise measurements; disproportionate concern with sexuality; judgement of isolated bits of behaviour divorced from the whole person; punishment of sin seen in terms of an angry God; reconciliation seen as a means of shedding guilt; blind obedience praised as good behaviour by those in authority; concentrating on private morality at the expense of the social.

The perspective of Vatican II’s Moral teaching was to reject the blue-print model of the natural law – God’s plan. It presents life as gift, a fruit of the Spirit [Lumen Gentium 7.]2, and stressing personal dignity.

Conscience is not infallible, and it can be dulled by sin. Faith is conversion from sin, not once but continually; nowhere does the Church suggest that Scripture, Teaching… provide ready-made answers; we have to discern in the everyday of life. Moral challenge is not to keep the law in order to get to heaven, but to develop the full potential of what it means for me to be a human being. Gaudium et Spes 28 emphasises human development, even to loving enemies – i.e. involvement of will. [Part 2 of Gaudium et Spes3. is a treatise on values].

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1Monsignor Landru took us into the house where we enjoyed a glass of cold water before saying Mass. I wonder if the Holy Father ever thought of the tremendous refreshment he would be giving priests like ourselves, when he said: “Water does not break the Eucharistic Fast”. You have to go to the tropics, anyway, to appreciate cold water. From ‘ Mud and Mosaics – a Missionary Journey by Fr Gerard Rathe MAfr, Published 1961, available in full at http://thepelicans.org.uk/histories/history40a6.htm#top

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February 4. From the Franciscans of Zimbabwe V: The gift of Water, 2.

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The second part of Sister Theodora Mercy Kavisa’s post, celebrating water.

Religious traditions have used the cycle of drought, flood, life-giving rain, and the rainbow to symbolize moving out of Separation from God to Redemption. God sent a great flood at the time of Noah because “the earth was filled with violence” (Genesis 6:11). God rewarded Noah’s faithfulness with dry land and a covenant “between you and me and every living creature” (Genesis 9:12-13).

One water ritual that draws all these elements of life, purification, protection, healing, separation and redemption together is the sacrament of Baptism in which Christians have water poured over them or immerse themselves in water to be cleansed of sin and admitted into the Christian community. The community prays,

In Baptism we use the gift of water, which you have made a rich symbol of the grace you give us in this sacrament. At the very dawn of creation, your Spirit breathed on the waters, making them the wellspring of all holiness. The waters of the great flood you made a sign of the waters of Baptism that made an end of sin and a new beginning of goodness.”

And yet, too many members of the world’s religions neglect to respect water as a finite natural resource. Many people are in need of an inner, spiritual conversion to appreciate the value of water.

As Christians there are three ways to view the current situation: gratitude for creation, reconciliation with wounded creation, and action that heals creation. We need to confront our inner resistances and cast a grateful look on creation, letting our heart be touched by its wounded reality and making a strong personal and communal commitment to healing it. Remember this the next time you throw out plastic bags, empty cans, empty beer bottles, plastic containers etc. Are you healing or further inflicting wounds on an already bleeding creation?

Shrewsbury Cathedral

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February 3. From the Franciscans of Zimbabwe IV: The gift of Water, 1.

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 This celebration of water, slightly abridged, is by Sister Theodora Mercy Kaviza OFS. It is far too easy, for those of us with clean, safe, running water to take it for granted. Sister Theodora Mercy reminds us that it is both gift and necessity. The second half follows tomorrow.

In our bodies, from the rebuilding of our muscles to blood circulation to boosting digestion, one main component is needed, and this is water. We use water to bathe, and for cleansing and purification, because it keeps sickness and bad moods at bay, and rejuvenates the body.

However when we look around and see how we have abused the water sources of the world it is easy to realize that we have totally forgotten how important water is to our very existence. From prehistoric times humans thought that the benefits of water were divine gifts or even that the water itself was a divinity: lakes, rivers, springs and glaciers became places of veneration.

Birds, reptiles and amphibians are born from eggs which are mainly full of water. Mammals too, before they are born, swim in their mother’s womb in a liquid composed principally of water. In the Canticle of the Sun, St. Francis of Assisi praises God for water: “Praised be Thou, O Lord, for sister water, who is very useful, humble, precious, and chaste”.

In Africa, a hot and mainly arid continent, the great rivers Nile, Congo, Niger, Zambezi and the Lakes Chad, Victoria and Rudolf, have always been life-giving. The ancient Egyptians believed their country was “a gift of the Nile” and they venerated the river as a deity.

In the creation story of the Jewish Torah and Christian Bible, God’s spirit first moved “over the face of the waters” and God said “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures” (Genesis 1:2, 20). In Islam, water is the origin of all life on Earth and the Qur’an says water is the substance from which God created the human being (25:54).

The Indians take the Ganges River to be both a symbol of life and a place where one can wash away spiritual impurities, thereby drawing closer to the sacred source of life. In a similar way, ancient Jewish tradition calls people on special occasions to cleanse their bodies spiritually by immersion in a ‘mikveh’ bath. For Muslims, ablution with water, is an obligatory preparation for daily prayer.

Image from St Aloysius’ Somers Town, London. MMB

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1 February: A winter’s walk, in memoriam Sister Wendy.

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Sister Wendy Beckett, the art critic and hermit who died on Saint Stephen’s day, wrote to her friend Sarah MacDonald:

“My own definition of beauty is that which perpetually satisfies us, you look at it again and again and there is more of it to satisfy us. I would say that beauty is very much an attribute of God – he is essential beauty but only those of us who have been fortunate enough to have the faith know where beauty comes from. For others it doesn’t matter. If they are just responding to beauty, they are responding to Him – the pure free strong loving spirit of God.”

In that pure free strong loving spirit, I invite you to join the Turnstones on a walk we took along Oare Creek in Kent a few weeks ago. At least you won’t get muddy boots! I’m afraid we had no telephoto lens amongst us, so no closeups of the real turnstones or other birds. But it’s another world where sea and land meet.

Respond to beauty! It was a windless afternoon and still, so the reflection of the cottages stood out.

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We were glad to be wearing wellington boots.

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Kent is criss-crossed by power lines, with current from Belgium, France and off-shore wind farms.

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Wrecked barges beside the creek.

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Looking out to sea.

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The sun came out as we left the path to walk back along the road.

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Kent’s Big Sky Country! There were lots of water birds but no telephoto lens to capture them.

 

And – can Spring be far behind?

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4 January: God’s Grandeur

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Another light on that New Year’s resolution we proposed yesterday.
‘All is seared with trade’: Hopkins did not have to stray far from any Victorian Jesuit house to find trade and industry searing, smearing, smudging the soil. Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to kindle in us a love of Creation that helps us to see what to do – and to do it – to care for all he has made. Laudato Si!
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

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26 December: Saint Stephen the Deacon

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I am always jolted by the contrast between the story of a humble birth on 25th, and of a violent death by mob today. To explore this, we offer another reflection from Pope Benedict XVI. WT,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Every year on the day after the Birth of the Lord the liturgy has us celebrate the Feast of St Stephen, a deacon and the first martyr. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles presents him to us as a man full of grace and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 6:8-10; 7:55). Jesus’ promise, recorded in today’s Gospel text, was fulfilled in him: believers called to bear witness in difficult and dangerous circumstances will not be abandoned or defenceless; the Spirit of God will speak through them (cf. Mt 10:20).

Stephen the Deacon, in fact, worked, spoke and died motivated by the Holy Spirit, witnessing to the love of Christ even to the supreme sacrifice. The Protomartyr is described in his suffering as a perfect imitation of Christ, whose Passion is repeated even in the details. The whole of St Stephen’s life is shaped by God, conformed to Christ, whose Passion is replicated in him; in the final moment of death, on his knees he takes up the prayer of Jesus on the Cross, commending himself to the Lord (cf. Acts 7:59) and forgiving his enemies; “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (v. 60). Filled with the Holy Spirit, when his eyes were about to be dimmed for ever, he fixed his gaze on “Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (v. 55), the Lord of all and who draws all beings to himself.

On St Stephen’s Day we too are called to fix our eyes on the Son of God whom in the joyful atmosphere of Christmas we contemplate in the mystery of his Incarnation. Through Baptism and Confirmation, through the precious gift of faith nourished by the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, Jesus Christ has bound us to him and with the action of the Holy Spirit, wants to continue in us his work of salvation by which all things are redeemed, given value, uplifted and brought to completion. Letting ourselves be drawn by Christ, as St Stephen did, means opening our own life to the light that calls it, guides it and enables it to take the path of goodness, the path of a humanity according to God’s plan of love. Lastly, St Stephen is a model for all who wish to put themselves at the service of the new evangelisation. He shows that the newness of the proclamation does not consist primarily in the use of original methods or techniques — which of course, have their usefulness — but rather in being filled with the Holy Spirit and letting ourselves be guided by him.

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