Tag Archives: hope

16 June. What do the Saints Know? VII: Connaturality

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So we have come to the idea of connaturality with divine things in this notion of participated likeness to God’s knowledge. For me, how wonderful and how freeing the knock-on effect of all this is. Faith’s kind of knowing is the direct opposite of the hurt and cramp of mistrust and suspicion, which the wide arena of human affairs almost obliges us to experience in order to survive in a sinful world. Faith in God is not like that. It is like a cooling breeze sweeping in after the misery of the sweltering, humid heat of August.

When I ponder the truths of the faith, I do not have to fear that I might be standing on quick-sand, or on the fault-line of an earthquake, or that I might be placing my deepest trust in someone who is liable to walk out on me. It is nothing like that at all. With faith in what God has revealed, I do not have to be suspicious, or try to ‘suss out’ the true and the false. I only have to absorb the True, and allow this to Truth to create in me a connaturality with God’s knowledge – a ‘participated likeness’ which begins now and continues – forever.

The theological virtue of faith exists in concert with the virtues of hope and charity. These will be explored in future posts.

SJC

 

Thank you again, Sister Johanna. We look forward to the next of your reflections in Agnellus’Mirror.

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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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27 May, Trinity Sunday: Doubt and Faith by Father Andrew.

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I do not fear for any honest intellectual doubter, but I do fear for any life that has lowered its standard. If i did not believe that God is Love, then I should turn the sentence round and say Love is God; but I should think Jesus a richer symbol of love than Venus.

I don’t think for a moment doubts are bad. I think, in a sense, one’s mind was made to doubt; but if ones mind was made to doubt, one’s soul was made to aspire, and if one uses both mind and soul, one will attain to a faith that is strong and true. ‘It is intolerable to think that our ideals themselves should perish, that nothing worth existing should have any continuance or growth, that the world of values should have no relation to the world of fact.

From The Life and Letters of Father Andrew, Ed Kathleen Burn, London, Mowbray, 1948, pp169-70

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2 April: The First Day

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Wounded feet mark the garden,
wound dawn’s dew.

The white morning sky waits,
and for someone –
more than one. Weary and true,
they come, they run:
wide hearts with wide rays ablaze –
out-blaze sun’s rays,
await the earth’s incense.

Snowdrops bow, bearing the weight
of Presence.

SJC

 

[Painting by Eugene Burnand, 1850-1921
Musee d’Orsay, Paris]

 

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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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7 February: Helping and Helping 5, The Lodging House Fire II.

 

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If we read his Autobiography of a Supertramp, we learn that Davies did spend time in the libraries but lacked the energy to get the most out of being there because of sitting in front of the Lodging House Fire. What would he have done with a mobile phone? Played mindless games all day?

I gave myself over to the influence of the coke fire. After going out in the morning for two or three hours, I would return at midday, often earlier, and sit hopelessly before this fire for ten or eleven hours, after which I would retire to my room. What a miserable time was this: the kitchen, foul with the breath of fifty or sixty men, and the fumes of the coke fire, took all the energy out of a man, and it was a hard fight to keep awake. It has taken the play out of the kitten, and this small animal lies stretched out, overcome by its fumes, without the least fear of being trodden on. Sometimes, when I endeavoured to concentrate my mind, with an idea of writing something, it was necessary to feign a sleep, so that these kind hearted fellows might not disturb me with their civilities. On these occasions it was not unusual for me to fall into a real sleep. And, when I awoke, it sickened me to think of this wasted time; for I was spending in bed more hours than were necessary for my health, and it was a most cruel waste of time to be sleeping in the day.

This fire exerted a strange influence over us. In the morning we were loath to leave it, and we all returned to it as soon as possible. Even the books and magazines in the libraries could not seduce me longer than an hour.

There was one seat at the corner of a table, which I have heard called “the dead man’s seat.” It was within two yards of this great fire, which was never allowed to suffer from want of coke. It was impossible to retain this seat long and keep awake. Of course, a man could hardly expect to keep this seat day after day for a long winter, and to be alive in the spring of the year. This was the case with a printer who, unfortunately, had only three days’ work a week. The amount he earned was sufficient for his wants, so, in his four idle days, he would sit on this seat, eating, reading, but more often sleeping, until before the end of the winter, he was carried away a dying man. Some of these lodgers claim to be able to recognise in the public streets any strangers who are suffering from this coke fever.

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November 19: Prisons Week – A Week of Prayer

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Prisons Week, A Week of Prayer

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. PHILIPPIANS 3 V12 (NIV)

The Apostle Paul here speaks as someone who knows the pain of endurance and hopelessness. Tortured and beaten, in prison many times for his faith, he nonetheless spoke to fellow prisoners about the hope he had found in Jesus. He had started as offender, hurting and maiming others, but found forgiveness and new life in Jesus. Yet life did not magically grow easier; instead he had to learn to live with his past, and face an uncertain present of false accusations and persecution for his faith. He was someone kept alive by hope, who endured and persevered in the face of desperate circumstances.

What better inspiration for all those connected to the criminal justice system, than Paul’s words? For the victims who struggle day by day to live with memories and scars, and hope for a better tomorrow; for the staff, who patiently come alongside broken men and women, and walk with them the slow road towards change; for prisoners themselves, trying to make sense of their lives, fighting against the scars and choices of the past and fear of the future; and for the families and friends of those in prison, faithfully visiting and supporting. Paul encourages all not to give up hope, but keep their eyes on the goal, keep going. Yet this isn’t about making efforts and working harder. It is about recognising that in Jesus, God has already ‘taken hold’ of us. That victims, prisoners, staff and families, are not walking this road alone, but God, who loves them, is ready to walk with them. In Prison Week, we stand in prayer with all who carry on in hope, that they would know they are loved by God and have the faith and courage to press on towards new life.

+ Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

A Prisons Week Prayer

Please pray for those in prison this week, using this prayer or another.

Lord, you offer freedom to all people. We pray for those in prison. Break the bonds of fear and isolation that exist. Support with your love prisoners and their families and friends, prison staff and all who care. Heal those who have been wounded by the actions of others, especially the victims of crime. Help us to forgive one another, to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly together with Christ in his strength and in his Spirit, now and every day. Amen.

At the end of Prisons Week we will have a further reflection from a priest working with prisoners. Will T.

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23 October: Readings from Mary Webb XIII: sticky brown hope

horse chestnut bud

As a sick young child I was sent to a prison-like convalescent home in Worcestershire, hoping that fresh air would do me good. My best memories are of celandines and crocus, those early spring flowers; and sticky buds of horse chestnut which the teacher brought in and allowed to open in the classroom. Mary Webb was thinking of these same buds in autumn when they come into prominence.

MMB

Curiosity is awakened by the small brown bud at the end of a chestnut twig in autumn, a little farther on than this year’s fruit. How much of the future form is hidden in that small sphere? How much embryo tree is wrapped in its inner cases of wool and velvet? What hint of next summer’s white chalice and green finger dwells in its innermost recesses?

Long before the unfolding of these buds in April, when the downy leaflets uncurl, you can see, if you open one, the compressed cluster – each yellowish ball about the size of a pinhead – which is the future flower, and the faint dawnings of leaves all wrapped in soft wadding.

The thought of the sap forming itself into these marvels, of the skilful, silent artistry going on without hands at the end of every bough and at the heart of every root makes the world a place of almost unbearable wonder.

Laudato Si’!

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September 15. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, XIII: A structural change in the foundations of the world

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Jesus brought a structural change into the foundations of the world, and he called it the Kingdom. A very grand statement for one who ended up isolated and abandoned, nailed to a cross – with “My God, why have you deserted me?” on his lips.

After three days a most unexpected and unheard of event happened. God raised him up. He came to his disciples, not as one back from biological death, but as one who, though obviously Jesus, showed himself fully transfigured, in whom all the possibilities for the human and the divine were now fully realised. Not the revitalisation of a corpse but a radical transformation of the earthly reality of Jesus, this is what we mean by Resurrection.

Jesus is revealed in a life no longer under threat. The Resurrection is the realisation of his message of total freedom. It is direct evidence of what the Kingdom is meant to be: “Death is swallowed up… Death, where is your sting now?” If Jesus is not risen: “your believing is useless… we are the most unfortunate of people”. But a door has been opened for us into an absolute future, hope is real: God really does have the power to achieve in us what was always promised [this is what Hope means]. Faith cannot be sustained without this, for this is the only foundation of Christian faith.

Historians cannot help much at this level. The Resurrection is not an ordinary historical fact [though it is an historical fact]; since it is a fact available only to faith. No one saw the Resurrection actually happen. What we have are appearances and an empty tomb. On the basis of all these, the disciples came to the conclusion: “The Lord is risen and has appeared to Simon“. If we are to do what Peter recommended: “Have your answer ready for people who ask the reason for your hope“, we should have a brief look at what is involved.

The Gospel does not present the empty tomb as evidence of the Resurrection. Instead of giving rise to faith it caused fear and fright. Mary Magdalene saw it as evidence of theft. For the apostles it was simply rumour. By itself the empty tomb is an ambiguous sign, capable of various interpretations, only one of which might have been Resurrection. It is only with the apparitions that the ambiguity is resolved, and the empty tomb can now become a sign of the Resurrection of Jesus. As such, the empty tomb makes people think, it is no more than an invitation to faith, it is not yet faith, and something more is required.

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He is risen!

The “something more” is provided by an angel: “Jesus of Nazareth is risen, he is not here. See, here is the place where they laid him…” The sepulchre is empty, not because someone has stolen the body, but because he is Risen. This interpretation by the women is held to be a revelation from God. It is expressed in the language of the day as being a message from an angel [God].

What finally got rid of the ambiguity once and for all was the fact that the disciples saw Jesus, spoke with him; they spent time with him and he ate with them. The oldest Resurrection formulation, Chapter 15 of First Corinthians and Acts 2-5., with marked absence of pathos, suggest that these accounts are more than subjective visions, products of the faith of the community, but real and trans-subjective, a witness to something imposed from without and not conjured up from within.

How many apparitions were there? 1Corinthians 15.5. contains 5 apparitions. Mark.16.1. has none, but says that Jesus will be seen in Galilee. Matthew.28.16. refers to one. Luke.24.13. refers to two. John relates three, and all of them happen in Jerusalem! There are two tendencies evident: Mark and Matthew are interested in Galilee; Luke and John concentrate on Jerusalem, emphasising the bodily reality of Jesus and the identity between the Risen Christ and Jesus of Nazareth.

Exegesis tends to show the appearances in Galilee as being historically certain. The appearances in Jerusalem are the same as those in Galilee but transferred for theological reasons to Jerusalem, for in Scripture Jerusalem possesses a unique place in salvation history: “Salvation comes from Sion [Jerusalem]“. Jesus’ death, Easter and Pentecost occurred there.

Details of the appearances: they are described as a real experience of the Jesus they knew. He eats, walks and talks with them, allows himself to be touched. It is so normal that he is confused with a gardener or a stranger on the shore. Alongside this there are strange phenomena too: He appears and disappears; he goes through walls, the bruised and battered state of Friday has gone.

Eventually it was asked: Is the Jesus of glory the same person as Jesus of Nazareth? Assertions are made: Christ is totally transfigured, he is not a spirit, nor an angel. The one who died and was buried is the one who is risen. This is why there is preoccupation with, as well as emphasis on the wounds, and the fact that he ate and drank with them.

This helps clarify things a little: The Resurrection is not a theological treatise put together by an enthusiastic follower. Faith in the Resurrection is the direct consequence of the impact on the apostles of the apparitions of Jesus Risen. Without this they could never even dream of preaching a crucified Lord, itself an abomination to a faithful Jew, without this event there could be no church, no worship in the name of Jesus.

What is being asserted through faith like this is not just that Jesus is risen, but that this says something about the possibility of the total realisation of the whole of creation. This is a scandal to many. The early church proclaimed the significance of the Resurrection for us as hope of a future life; what is now for Christ will be the now for us. The Resurrection makes it possible to read reality very differently: the past, present and future take on a new significance.

Christ told the apostles that they would all lose faith in him. Now all this is changed: they return toaustin faith in him, this time no longer as the Nationalist liberator, but as the “Son of Man”. They believed that the Resurrection began the end times. The language is deliberately Apocalyptic. The end will be the Resurrection of the rest of the human race. The very same Spirit by which Jesus was resurrected is now given to everyone.

AMcC

 

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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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