Tag Archives: humanity

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

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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.

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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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November 18: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xviii – Let Jesus tell his story

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Human stories happen around a beginning, a middle and an end – not so his story – we have had a human version of his story for 2000 years – it could be called his earthly dwelling.

Jesus’ whole being is caught up in relationship; he belongs to a web of relationships – ancient religion refers to this as Trinity. We all actually lived from this reality long before scholarship named it. We see ourselves over against creation – the game of divide and conquer. We have reduced reality into three human-like figures – Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Jesus is the hub of all relating throughout infinity and so there is no beginning or end – we need such parameters, but creative reality knows no boundaries.

Jesus’ special connection with us did not begin 2000 years ago, with his earthly dwelling. He has been around far longer than that. The Incarnation happened at the very start – there was never a question of waiting 6 million years for redemption and salvation to take place. Redemption is with us from the start. If only we had Jesus’ humanity right we would have no problem with his divinity. Things can’t be clear cut in an evolving universe. It is a condition of creative freedom for everything to be open and fluid.

Christian tradition has seen to it that what has been passed on with regard to the Kingdom has suffered from the desire for control; and so the Kingdom became a spiritual/ecclesiastical [not ecclesial!] way of containing God’s power through sacred institutions. Christ brought the Kingdom – his new way of being human, through celebrated inter-dependence with the earth. The Kingdom was never a project apart from the self of Jesus. He did not bring the Kingdom, the Kingdom brought him.

He tried to explain it through story and parable – stories left wide open, inviting our creativity and innovation. All he wanted was to sit at table, share stories and break bread together; without the baggage of not being worthy, or feeling unclean. The Kingdom is not about laws but values. There is no room for exclusions or favourites, just a willingness to welcome everybody irrespective of creed, race or reputation. Kings and kingdoms of this world welcome hierarchies and preferential living. The Kingdom is a new kind of real presence that desires to be open to all creation.

Doctrines, codes and creeds don’t need a mother, persons do! Motherhood is how we all give birth – something we have from our common mother earth; that became individualised for Jesus through Mary, his biological mother. We belong to one earth, come from the same stardust; share the same flesh and blood – we all need to laugh, to work, to play, to enjoy love. Without bodies Spirit cannot flourish.

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November 8: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: viii – ‘ A radically new way of being human.’

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Putting Jesus on a divine pedestal leaves no room for a radically new way of being human.

Why are we preoccupied with the divinity of Jesus? Presumably we believe this enhances our faith. But is this what Jesus wanted to bring? Was the salvation of the immortal soul his prime concern? The Synoptics, Matthew Mark and Luke, interpret Jesus as a divine figure – corresponding to their contemporary expectation of a divine liberator from Roman oppression. But what was in Jesus’ mind? He certainly promised liberation and new life; was this freedom the expected liberation, or was it a great deal more than that?

I was asked on numerous occasions do I believe in the divinity of Jesus – but never once: do I believe in his humanity. Jesus was offering a radically new way of being human – one totally disconnected from a way dominated by the thirst for power. We know from the Gospels that the disciples had problems with this – preoccupation with messiah-ship became a series of obstacles to seeing what Jesus was really about. Ignorance of the great human story meant they were unable to see the human face of God revealed in that story, reaching its apex in the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus.

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Relishing and appreciating the full story, and appreciating God’s creativity at its core gives us a more credible and authentic appreciation of Jesus’ divinity – insisting that we attend much more to the new way of being human that this inaugurated, of which Jesus is the first disciple. We condemn Jesus to divine captivity – so divinely holy and remote – that his new way of being human is seriously compromised. Our preoccupation with his divinity is a distraction from knowing the real Jesus.

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We picture Jesus as a loyal and faithful Jew, whereas the sources suggest something different; and the following of Christ was seen as fidelity to divine rules and laws. The Jesus story came to be known as a set of facts around which his life was written. Yet this shape doesn’t figure strongly in his life and mission – his stories testify to this: he defied convention, social and religious – and flaunted the hopes of the establishment by calling for equality based on inclusiveness.

AMcC

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September 11. ‘Jesus beyond Dogma’, 9: Resurrection and Eucharist

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As we have seen, to try to understand the Resurrection we have to start with the reality of death. Created for intimacy with God we lost this, turned away from communion with God, towards whatever we create as our own gods, or deny any need for God – if we turn away from life all that awaits us is death. Jesus, truly human, born, lived and died and in rising from death swept away forever the dominance of death. The most visible sign of death is the corpse; the most visible sign of Jesus’ Resurrection was the empty tomb – there was no corpse.

The Resurrection remains mystery, no one saw it happen. The crucial evidence for it comes from his few followers. Not just telling something; but first experiencing something, literally life-changing themselves. They were given a totally new way of seeing God, and an understanding what it really means to be genuinely human. This was far more important than any attempts at rational explanations of what happened. In a very real sense they found themselves taken-up, included, in Jesus’ new bodily presence.

This highlights the Eucharistic reality of Jesus. Debates and discussions have taken place about bread becoming the body of Jesus – issuing in the somewhat awkward neologism [a new word because we can’t find an existing word] Transubstantiation. Before we attach any importance to what we have to say about this mystery we must heed what Jesus says: this is my body for you – his body becomes bread, food for us to eat. It is important to stress this today because the history of the celebration of the Mass shows it being separated into two parts, with the emphasis clearly on part one: the consecration, bread and wine becoming Jesus’ real presence; the second part, the ritual meal of Jesus’ as food seems to be a kind of afterthought.

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Eucharistic Rood of the risen yet dead Jesus, OLEM, Cambridge.

According to tradition, the human being, designed and destined for intimacy with God, has fallen out of knowing God in this way, and settled for simply knowing good and evil, a knowledge of which God is not the source. Fallen away from God [life] we are on our own with death on the horizon, compelling us to struggle for survival for as long as possible – so much so that we even justify war and violence in our pursuit. Death in place of God is how we chose to live our three score and ten. Death is that terrifying nothing that draws us to selfishness and sin, the ultimate black hole.

Jesus is human as originally intended by God; yet totally part of our history – even under the reign of death. Death swallowed him up, intending to thrust him into the negativity into which we have fallen – it has been called his descent into hell, where death is king with oblivion its promise. Highlighting how death is the controlling factor of all our thinking.

However, there is a difference – in Jesus’ case death is for unfallen man, and so marks the removal of the final obstacle to union with God – the transforming of the finite and limited. Everything that death means for fallen humankind – the horrors, the abuses, the murders – nature’s cynical reply to any claims to be God-like – all this changed with the death of Jesus from the highway-to-nothing to the gateway into intimacy with God – forever.

His death is real, he endured the death of fallen man though sinless – was made sin for us – 2Corinthians 5.21. It is this darkness of our fallen state that the Easter Candle illumines with new hope. Darkness is swallowed up in God; a darkness felt in moments of despair, in the hopelessness of teenage suicide, in those long and interminable bouts of loneliness. But how can the divine removal of all this be brought home to us?

It is dramatic – the drama of the empty tomb. The absence of the body is the sign of something that cannot be seen or imagined, only available through life-changing faith – the coming of Jesus through death, when through the death of the god of fallen humanity, there is the fullness of God. The trophy of our own god – is not there, there is no corpse. But if we fail to understand, forgetting to be human as we face the Easter mystery, then the empty tomb fails to speak to us; and leaves us with the Sanhedrin trying to work-out how it happened – who stole the body.

The empty tomb is a fact – the resurrection is a mystery that cannot be witnessed or imagined. There is no way of combining the two other than to say the empty tomb is beyond what history can say, leading us to the reality of something transcendent. That is the realising of God’s original plan for us mortal beings to be drawn into complete intimacy with God, through the removal of what was impeding this, our tendency to the nothing of oblivion we were inevitably facing.

We enter next into an interim period, a time when the risen Jesus was visibly with them, the time before the Ascension. It was a time when the new way had the chance to take hold – the fact that it did take hold is seen from the Easter texts. After the Ascension, when the disciples were sharing their experiences, there is no hint of nostalgia. Nowhere does it say if only you were there! He had not gone away – he is till with them and them with him through the dynamic faith he brought to them.

The new life he has introduced is not what we commonly call life after death. He is alive among the disciples, and they are aware of it. He is still here but otherwise. They enjoy a new togetherness of love binding them together, from which he is never absent. The Apostles were telling us what it is like to have Jesus with them in this new way.

If we are to hear the Easter message as it is – we need to hear the question: Why are you looking for the living among the dead? If we remain locked-into our way of understanding, Easter has not yet happened. As a new community the disciples experienced the real now of Jesus – the new way of living was so overpowering that things could not remain the same. The lesson here: their experience of the now of Jesus brought them together as a community. If we are not experiencing community – dare we look at the now of Jesus in our own lives?

We have him under the appearances of bread and wine, he came to them through hands and feet. Reflect on: He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the Spirit – 1Peter.3.19. The move from the body dead to the body alive was experienced by the disciples as from the body we killed to the body we are in. We are all too familiar with put to death in the world – but he comes alive in an entirely new way – not back from the dead. He would not walk the earth again, but showing himself in moments of real community, it was through this that they recognised him when they saw him – incarnate in a Church of joy and welcome, as a community, not a man alone.

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Prayers Please!

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Caernarfon in David’s corner of Wales.

Dear Friends,

Please pray for David Powell, our contributor DBP, who is gravely ill.

It was David who invented the Ossyrians for Agnellus Mirror– aliens who disguised themselves as T, a male human and two male chihuahuas, Alfie and Ajax, when they were sent to earth as, in David’s words: ‘a special observation unit established to closely watch the earth and its strange inhabitants.’ 1

Of course they have been learning lessons in life ever since they pitched up in Margate. An inspired vehicle for reflection on all manner of things. Thank you David!

MMB

1See April 26 2016, ‘Peace on Earth I’ and subsequent posts by various writers.

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June 21: Shared Table IV, Bread and Wine?

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Herbert McCabe O.P. was always thought-provoking. Nicholas Lash once laid these quotations of Herbert’s before his own readers:

Christ has a better right to appear as food and drink than bread and wine have. The doctrine of transubstantiation, as I see it, is that the bread and wine become more radically food and drink.

I am suggesting that the consecrated host exists at a level of reality at which questions of whether it is bread can not relevantly be asked.

Nicholas Lash, ‘Traveller’s Fare’, New Blackfriars, May 2007, pp129, 131.

Lash warns against the ‘reification’ of Christ in the wheaten host. In other words, I think, we must not see the host as a thing we can call Jesus. Despite the old hymn it does not ‘my very God conceal’, but it reveals him.

It reveals him as humble, as nourishing,  as one  who,

though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:6-8

 MMB.

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