Tag Archives: humanity

9 May: Jean Vanier: a welcome for all.

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As our friend and contributor Rupert Greville says, ‘there’ll be a great deal of reflection to read over the coming days on Jean Vanier’s life and work.’ Here is a short memory from Laurent de Cherisey, founder of the Fondation Simon de Cyrene, which develops and animates shared homes on a human scale. These welcome abled bodied people and those who have become disabled during the course of their lives. He shared a platform as a speaker with Jean and they co-wrote a book,  “Tous intouchables ?” (All of them Untouchable?) with Philippe Pozzo di Borgo.

He challenged us to live fraternally, as brother and sister with the most fragile, to go beyond our private fears and build a world that welcomes everyone. He was one of those prophets who bear witness to a possible way forward for humanity, at a time when it shows itself to be extremely disturbed and anxious about living with one’s neighbour.

On the contrary, the experience of Jean Vanier and L’Arche demonstrates that when we pull down the ‘walls of fear’, as he called them, we can become co-creators of that common home where there is a fulfilling place for each one of us. 

From La Croix Newspaper

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13 February: The love of those whom we do not know.

I think we need an antidote to Virginia Woolf’s desperate feelings of superiority to others. We are put on this earth to love God and our neighbour, that is what being human is all about, whether or not we abide by the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures. GKC did both. Here he writes about the young Robert Browning, but also ‘almost everyone’.

“Love of humanity is the commonest and most natural of the feelings of a fresh nature, and almost every one has felt it alight capriciously upon him when looking at a crowded park or a room full of dancers. The love of those whom we do not know is quite as eternal a sentiment as the love of those whom we do know. In our friends the richness of life is proved to us by what we have gained; in the faces in the street the richness of life is proved to us by the hint of what we have lost. And this feeling for strange faces and strange lives, when it is felt keenly by a young man, almost always expresses itself in a desire after a kind of vagabond beneficence, a desire to go through the world scattering goodness like a capricious god.”

(From “Robert Browning” by G. K. Chesterton,  via Kindle)

Photos: Amsterdam, MMB; L’Arche India; St Maurice Pilgrimage; Brocagh School, Co Leitrim 1967.

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September 21: What is Theology Saying? XXXI,  I am capable of receiving God’s grace.

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I am created a human being, capable of receiving God’s grace. In order to give himself freely God freely creates personal beings. Thus is there union between God and humanity in Grace – somewhat analogous to the Incarnation wherein there is communion of two natures without fusion or separation. This means that in any concrete situation it is never possible to isolate what is nature from what is Grace.

Grace is the wonder of creation as evidence of God and God’s love. It is concentrated in humanity. Human charm and beauty reflect God: “Because you love me, you make me lovable” says Augustine. The reason why love of enemy is seen as grace-full is because there is no sense of recompense in it, it is entirely gratuitous, and calls for the involvement of the will.

In speaking about his own conversion [Gal.1.13-16] Paul refers to a before and an after. Nothing suggests conversion was going to happen, it came as gift. But this gift did not “begin” on that road; it was from eternity. For Paul, Grace is the experience of God desiring him.

Tradition refers to Christ and the Spirit as the two hands of God reaching out to embrace us. Unfortunately, the elaboration of the role of the Spirit did not receive the same detailed attention as did Christ. Yet both are crucial for a proper understanding of Christianity – Easter and Pentecost.

Prior to Pentecost the Spirit was experienced as a nameless force, an invisible wind. With Pentecost the Spirit is named: the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is deep within human experiences, rousing them to creativity and vitality.

AMcC

St Aloysius, Somers Town, Euston, London.

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18 September: What is Theology Saying? XXVIII: a work of Grace is a work of nature.

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The Eildon Hills in the countryside where Duns Scotus was born.

From the Second Century to the time of Saint Augustine in the Fifth, Church teaching felt it imperative to defend God in the freedom of salvation against those emphasising self-perfection through sheer moral effort. The Twelfth Century saw Grace as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, emphasising God’s initiative. Duns Scotus – at the end of the Thirteenth Century – said grace is the supernatural habit of Charity, grace is a loving disposition.

What matters is that God’s grace is necessary for everyone. It is redemptive, healing grace in a broken world in which we have never seen anyone attaining natural happiness by human effort independently of God. Karl Rahner makes two points: in the historical situation in which we find ourselves we have been called by God to a life of grace. This call applies to everyone – pure nature people did not, do not and will not exist. Secondly, if grace has any meaning at all, it is God’s invitation, working at the core of human existence – working through our humanness, spontaneity and creativity – our ability to think and take possession of our being and make appropriate decisions. This means that Grace cannot be separate from the realm of experience. It can only be a change in the way we experience life. The supernatural cannot be regarded as beyond consciousness, if it were it would make no sense.

It is not necessary to suppose that God’s offer of friendship is communicated in an extra-sensory way outside our experience. It is communicated by the happening of Jesus in the world, and by the community of believers extending through history. So if we ask what difference Grace makes, it makes all the difference in the world to everything and everybody. But if we ask someone to point out exactly the effects of grace in a situation, in contrast to natural efforts alone – it is not a valid question. Grace is not parallel to nature, but transforms and sustains it. Everything that is a work of Grace is also a work of nature, there is no way of separating them and looking at them one at a time.

AMcC

John Duns Scotus’ homeland in the Scottish borders.

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March 9: Humanising organisations.

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A friend issued a personal challenge the other day: not to be one of the people who organise humanity, but one of those who humanise organisations. That, he said, was one of today’s great challenges.

Nothing new about trying to fit people into systems:

  Jesus said: Woe to you lawyers also, because you load men with burdens which they cannot bear, and you yourselves touch not the packs with one of your fingers.

(Luke 11.46)

This spring, this Lent, let’s pray for discernment to know when a rule is man-made not God given. e Of course, our efforts won’t always be appreciated, but we don’t want to be like Dylan’s Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, determinedly shutting out any break in the rules and routine of her life, and so shutting out joy: “before you let the sun in, mind he wipes his shoes.” (Under Milk Wood) 

MMB

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January 13. Temperance VII: Beauty, Reason and Will

Jack Lonnen Meadows in costume 1At last we may return to one of the key ideas in the first quotation I cited some days ago in these posts on temperance. The philosopher Josef Pieper says that the virtue of temperance is beautiful in itself and renders the human being beautiful. What can he mean? Isn’t temperance about self-control? Beauty belongs to some other virtue, maybe, but not to temperance.

But beauty, says St. Thomas Aquinas, is an attribute of temperance because temperance enables us to control ourselves in relation to those things which can most degrade us. When our passions are indulged in an intemperate way, they ‘dim the light of reason from which all clarity and beauty of virtue arises’, according to Thomas. Let’s linger over this a bit. St. Thomas mentions the ‘light of reason’. We are always being reminded by St. Thomas that the human being is a rational being. Our reason, as we have noted in all our posts, is a great attribute, a precious gift. It is, you might say, like a musical instrument that needs careful handling. A violinist carries his instrument in a specially constructed violin case that protects the strings and the wood from damage so that the violin is able to produce the sweetest sound. Our reason, too, is meant to be protected from damage so that it can function well. Intemperance can cause a kind of damage to our reason. It is not hard to understand this. Just think of someone who is drunk. What becomes of the light of reason and the clarity of thought in an intoxicated person? Or think of someone in a rage so intense that the mind stops functioning, and violence takes over.

The role of the will is important here. ‘The will,’ says Thomas, ‘stands between the reason and the passions and may be moved by either.’ Our will, then, is a bit like a traffic policeman, allowing some things through and making others wait. The traffic policeman commands obedience from drivers in the same way that the will, directed by the reason, can command obedience from our passions. If our passions do not obey will, the will can be run over by them, and this causes havoc for us. Thomas goes on to say, ‘Although the passions are not in the will, it is in the power of the will to resist them.’ We are not at the mercy of our passions, regardless of their seeming strength. Just because we may passionately want to do something that we know is not good, our will need not capitulate.

It is always possible for the passions to respond to the will’s directives. The passions are not all-powerful. The will, moved by the light of reason, is able to resist them.

Yet, the beauty of temperance is not merely that it protects us from going hay-wire with regard to the physical pleasures of food and drink and sex. It has a positive effect on our entire being, body, soul and spirit. Temperance is not directed only to our physical appetites. We have a host of emotional appetites also: the craving for control, for popularity, for possessions, for acceptance, for love, for attention, for money, for safety, for comfort – the list goes on and on. We cannot treat all of them here. But from all of them in their extreme and intemperate form, temperance is liberating and purifying.

The particular beauty of temperance is ‘the glow of the true and the good’ radiating from within the temperate person. Temperance, you might say, works on us to bring about the purification of our entire being. How? By submitting our most intensely personal feelings and desires, our most passionate impulses and cravings to the light of divine truth.

As Pieper says, temperance is ‘that purity by dint of which the selfish and furtive search for spurious fulfilment is abandoned.’ He continues:

A new depth here opens to our view: purity is not only the fruit of purification; it implies at the same time readiness to accept God’s purifying intervention… to accept it with the bold candor of a trustful heart, and thus to experience its fruitful and transforming power.

SJC

Maurice’s great-great-grandfather was an actor.

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January 8, The Virtue of Temperance: II. What is Temperance?

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The word temperance, like the word fortitude, is perhaps another of those words that aren’t used much in ordinary conversation. But, the idea of temperance is suggested in some words that are used in every-day speech. Balance is one of those words, I think. We speak of wanting to lead ‘balanced’ lives, of wanting our judgments to be ‘balanced’, our big decisions in life to be the result of ‘balanced reflections.’ We speak of a person being unbalanced. We speak of balanced diets. We try to balance our professional lives with our personal lives. We know what people mean when we hear these phrases. Balance is something like the virtue of temperance. Something like it, but not identical to it.

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Temperance ‘…has a wider significance and higher rank,’ according to Pieper. ‘It is one of the four hinges on which swings the gate of life’ (see The Four Cardinal Virtues, 4,1). This is high praise, indeed. We wouldn’t usually think of ‘balance’ in such lofty terms. Temperance, however, delivers a greater reward than does mere emotional balance. Emotional balance is concerned mostly with making our lives run smoothly in this world. Temperance, however has a broader reach, encompassing our mind, extending to the very soul of the human being, and reaching up to heaven. Temperance seeks to order our earthly existence in such a way as to fit us for eternal life with God. We shall look at this more closely in our next post.

SJC

The door of Mercy, the Gate of Life.

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January 5: Aberdaron IV. Work of Human Hands

aberdaron jug

Laurie Lee1 once wrote of craftsmanship that handmade objects keep us human; the Liturgy enshrines a similar thought when, following an ancient Jewish prayer, it describes the bread and wine as ‘work of human hands’. ‘We are a starved society,’ says Lee, ‘living in the midst of plenty. Our possessions are many, our serenities few.’

Lee would have recognised that feeling of serenity about the Church at Aberdaron, a lightening of the shoulders on crossing the threshold. Put that down to imagination if you will, but I was happy to accept the gift.

As in most churches there were beautiful handmade objects around: the very building itself, the doors, the clear glass windows, banners, icons; and much more. Take a pilgrimage to the edge of Wales to see for yourself.

I was glad to find in the church shop this jug, decorated with fish, made by a local potter, at a far from expensive price. Giving it to my mother, I know it will not become a possession so much as something to be shared – something that will let her share the pilgrimage, for she loves Wales and RS Thomas; her treasure for a while that may be given to a grandchild who comes and admires it.

aberdaron fish

Janet found there these little fish which now swim beneath our bathroom mirror. ‘Fishers of men’? Bait for memory, reflection, and prayer.

1On Craftsmen, in Village Christmas and other notes on the English year, London, Penguin Classics, 2015, pp 135-6.

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December 26: A privilege?

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I was not going to buy anything from the expensive catalogue, but one headline took my eye:

Few things in life are a privilege to give and receive.

Complete with full stop, to suggest that the whisky concerned must be as perfect as the grammar.

Hang on, I thought, that’s rubbish!

A Japanese friend counted it a privilege to buy our daughter’s first shoes: to us it was a privilege to receive them. Rings. Embraces. Musical performances. A child’s painting. A plant grown from seed or cutting. A birthday cake. Care for a frail person.

You can add to the list, and please do. ‘It is in giving that we receive.’ To be alive and able to give and receive is itself a privilege. To be able to love.

To share in Jesus’ humanity and his divinity is the ultimate privilege: freely you have received, so freely give.

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Saint Stephen gave his life, as we remember today.

Happy Christmas from all at Agnellus’ mirror!

WT.

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25 December. Five notes: Father Andrew at Christmas, III.

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More from Fr Andrew’s Introduction to his book of Carols.

The Mystery of the Incarnate Love has brought to us, first of all, a revelation of simplicity. Theology teaches us that the life of God is a simple act, and, since God is Love, that act must surely be, however expressed, an act of love; and here in the little Babe laid in the midst of the straw of our human poverty is the simple appeal and revelation of the love of God.

The second note is sympathy, and that in the direct meaning of the word – ‘suffering with.’ We cannot understand the mystery of suffering, and really there is no particular reason why we should, since God has suffered with us, and one of the sufferings of God was this very mystery of suffering, for did not He take upon His lips the great classic words of the twenty-second Psalm and cry in His own darkness, ‘My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?’

The third note is joy. These poems and carols all have in them a note of joy and a note of pain. Laughter and tears are mingled in these Christmas songs.

The fourth is the sacredness of human nature. God joined together flesh and spirit. Sin put these asunder, and by the fall of man the flesh, which was only lower than spirit in condition and degree, became lower also in quality, and by the taint and twist of original sin this human nature of ours was made to seem a bad thing, as though the flesh were, in God’s intention, the enemy of spirit. In the coming of the Holy Child, when the angels sang their Gloria, once more flesh and spirit were united in perfect oblation.

The fifth note, which contains in it all else, is love. Over the cross, over the manger, over the altar, one can write the golden words, ‘God is Love.’

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