Tag Archives: Incarnation

3 August: A Gift of Love and Sorrow, III.

Blake’s Jacob’s Ladder between Earth and Heaven.

Yesterday we looked at the beginning of the sketch of the rich young man drawn by Mark (10:17-22). We noted that, even before the young man says a word, his behaviour shows him to be a person of courage, humility and independence. We saw that there is much to learn from him, much to admire and love already. Today, we will listen to him speak. His first words are: Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life? (Mark 10:18)

I stop reading and let that question stand in my mind. Slowly I am filled with awe. He has asked the most important question he could have asked. It is more important than almost any other question imaginable, because almost any other question is a question about this world, and therefore is a question about what we must one day give up when we die. The young man, on the other hand, has the maturity to ask the famous double-barrelled question: given that I am alive, how do I live in this world in such a way as to attain eternal life in the next? The young man has already seen that our stay in this world is short and goals pertaining only to this short life are shallow. Death is the one certainty–he has acknowledged this, even though youth does not usually grasp this nettle with its soft hands. He knows he cannot do as most people do–deny that he is going to die. Jesus hears all these shades of meaning in the young man’s question and must have rejoiced. The very question, in fact, is the question that Jesus is about. Its answer is to found in the Incarnation itself. It becomes clear to me now as I turn these thoughts over and over in my mind that the young man’s question is not an idle one but is coming from a deep place. What an exceptional human being, I think to myself.

But what does Jesus do? For the first time in the story, Jesus speaks. And he is surprisingly challenging. As often happens, his actions are directly opposite to what I think I’d have done. I would have perhaps fallen all over myself to affirm the young man. “What a great question!” I’d probably have enthused with a big smile. But Jesus doesn’t seem to be smiling here. Something seems to be eating him. Rather than affirm the young man, Jesus seems testy. He asks the young man why he calls him good, when goodness is the attribute of God alone (Mk.10:19).

This has always been a difficult remark for me to understand. It sounds as though Jesus doesn’t want to be called ‘good,’ which would be sort of crazy. But suddenly I think that maybe this is not so at all, maybe Jesus has no objection to being called ‘good.’ Maybe what he means is that he wants the young man to explain why he is attributing to Jesus a goodness that is usually attributed to God alone. He wants to know what the young man means by it. We will say more about this in tomorrow’s post.

In fact, the rich young man does not rise to Jesus’ challenge and explain why he used the word ‘good’ in his address of Jesus. And Jesus has other things on his mind, more important to him, and doesn’t linger over the issue. Instead, he seems to see that that question is too much for the young man and so he quickly moves on to his main point. He is still challenging. He remarks that in giving the Ten Commandments to humanity, God has already given us everything needed to inherit eternal life. The question “what should I do to inherit eternal life” doesn’t really need to be asked, Jesus implies; the answer is obvious. Keep the Commandments. You know them.

Then the young man says something very unusual. He claims that he has kept the Commandments from his earliest days (Mark 10:24). I am astonished: the young man is not conscious of any wrong-doing in relation to the Commandments.

As I mull this, I recall that others whom Jesus met and healed during his public ministry are conscious of personal, moral weakness and sinfulness, conscious of wrongdoing, and some have even experienced demonic possession. These intensely painful wounds of body, soul or character, however, actually function in a positive way in relation to those who suffer them; they draw Jesus’ mercy and compassion, they enable the suffering individual to encounter Jesus on the deepest possible level. Our young man in Mark, on the other hand, confidently declares “I have kept all the commandments from my youth.” He is, seemingly, perfect.

How does this strike you? And what does it make you think when you reflect on your own experience of woundedness and moral weakness? Let’s give this some time and return tomorrow for more.

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31 July: My vocation today, XXI: at home on the range.

A Welsh shepherd out on the Black Mountains.

You can count on the Plough magazine to have an interesting story to tell. Father Bryce Lungren is a priest and cowboy in Wyoming, a cattle state in America. He set off for seminary and left his boots behind. “When Christ calls, you drop the nets,” he said. Cowboying, he reckoned, was behind him for good. He was mistaken.

His spirituality takes materiality and the natural world seriously, in a way that fits well with the sacramental framework of the Church, which sees earthly things as imbued with divine importance. “I never got much out of the playing-harps-on-a-cloud stuff. Heaven to me looks more like the kind of work I love doing out here.” He continues, “We’re not just spirits trapped in bodies. Our bodies aren’t just something disposable, and our souls are the ‘real deal.’ Our bodies and our souls make us what we are. We aren’t just angels. I guess I’d call my world view, I don’t have a good word for it yet, but I guess I’d call it incarnational.*

Read about his ministry here.

*From A Day in the Life of a Cowboy Priest, Nathan Beacom, Plough Weekly e-magazine, 8 July, 2022.

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24 June: Pope Francis teaches about John the Baptist.

A second post about John the Baptist, whose feast we marked yesterday. This is from Pope Francis’s Audience, 13.12.2021.

Pope Francis reflected on John the Baptist responding to those asking how to change their lives for the better, since their hearts were touched by the Lord. It reflects an enthusiasm for the Lord’s coming and a desire to prepare themselves concretely for this joyous, life-changing experience. In the same way, we too should ask ourselves what we should do within our own lives, the Pope suggested, and reflect on what we are called to do and become.

The question of what we are to do reminds us that “life has a task for us”, the Pope said. It is not something left to chance, but rather, “It is a gift that the Lord grants us,” since He asks to discover ourselves and “to work hard to make the dream that is your life come true.” We all have a mission to accomplish, he explained, and we should not be afraid to ask the Lord this question often: What can we do for the Lord, and what can we for ourselves, our brothers and sisters and how can this be translated concretely into contributing to the good of the Church and society?

John the Baptist, in responding to those who ask him “what should we do?”, gives each person a very concrete reply to their life situation. And this offers a precious teaching, the Pope said, that “faith is incarnated in concrete life,” touching us personally and transforming our lives.

In conclusion, he encouraged everyone to think concretely about what we can do, small or big, in our own lives as we prepare for Christmas. This could mean visiting someone who is alone, helping the elderly or the ill, or serving the poor or someone in need. It may also mean asking for forgiveness for our mistakes, paying a debt, clarifying a misunderstanding, or praying more. We can all find something concrete to do, the Pope emphasised, adding, “May the Blessed Mother help us!”

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9 January, Book Review: My book for Lent 2020, ‘It’s good to be here’.

christina cover.jpg

It’s Good To Be Here by Christina Chase

Review by Maurice Billingsley

Regular readers will remember the thought-provoking posts that our friend Christina Chase has allowed us to share from her own blog, which you can visit from the link. You will understand how I had been waiting to see this book, and I was by no means disappointed on reading it. Christina weaves autobiography and a profound incarnational theology with a love of language and clarity of expression. This will be my Lent book for 2020.

We were led, in my pre-Vatican II childhood, to look upon Jesus as the perfect human being: ‘Little children all must be / Mild, obedient, good as he.’ Our teachers apparently forgot that it was at his Transfiguration that the Apostles saw something more and Peter said, ‘It’s good to be here.’

There are those who would contradict Chase’s assertion that it is good for her to be here, since she is profoundly disabled – she readily uses the non-PC term ‘crippled’ – with a wasting disease that ought to have killed her years ago, and that renders her unable to feed, dress, or care for herself, depending on others for such needs.

But Christina has undergone her own transfiguration; this is her story. She had no need of a Franciscan stigmata, the wounded body was hers from birth, but she has had to come to terms with the human condition in her own self, with all the frustrations writ large. And so she can write: ‘The one astonishing fact of life is that suffering, like disease, war, murder, and abuse, cannot destroy the gift that God Almighty gives, because real love never fails.’ (p18) It’s good to be here; to be human here, as Christ was. After his Baptism, ‘He stood, rising to inhale deeply and shake the dripping wetness out of his hair and off of his drenched body.’ (p38)

And this from a woman who frequently finds breathing difficult, who cannot shake her head to dry her hair! This is not a book to buy out of pity for a ‘poor, disabled woman’, but for its deep insights into the divine light that wills to brighten our days. All our days. Christina’s vision is eternal: ‘What will life be like then?’ (p124) The glimmer of an answer is to be found in our earthly, earthy lives: it’s good to be here, breathing, getting wet, enjoying the sacrament of everyday in the wondrous life God has given us.

This will be my Lent book for 2020.

You can order it now from the publisher, Sophia Institute of New Hampshire, or  their UK agents, Gracewing, or via Amazon .

 

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27 December: Look deeper than this pleasant scene.

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Like me, you have probably heard tell of  Saint Francis and the crib but like me, you may never have heard the full story. Follow the link to Friar Jack Wintz’s excellent telling of the story. I won’t attempt to precis his account as I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. I leave you with Friar Jack’s final paragraphs. 

Peace be with you and yours!

Will Turnstone.

Francis would smile at our nice varnished cribs, though he would bless any home that has one. Probably he would prefer those set up outdoors with live animals. And if he were to stand by one and preach today, he might say something like this:

“Look deeper than this pleasant scene. See your God become your food for eternity in a feeding place for animals. See the simple bands wound around the helpless baby, not the embroidered dress. See a man and woman wearing the clothes of the poor. See and smell the animals. Feel the cold and dirt of the cave, lighted only by a little fire. And adore your God, who took a human heart that could know the greatest love and the sharpest pain, arms that could embrace the sinners, the neurotics, the lepers, and hands that could touch cheeks running with tears, and be pierced with nails. Adore your poor and humble God.”

 

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May 19. What is Theology Saying? LVI: Salvation outside the Church V.

feedig 5000.ethiopia.rome

When Christians begin to realise the nature of symbolism as used in religious thought, we become more cautious of speaking about false gods. The more we appreciate symbolism, the more we realise how all religions tend to worship the one God.

austinIt was this that prompted Rahner to ask: are all nations saved through Jesus Christ; or whether Jesus is not the universal saviour. His answer is simple. If only those are saved who acknowledge him by name, he cannot be the universal saviour. Yet we believe his is the focus for everyone. He says without acclaiming Jesus by name, many are in fact his followers, because they are doing the will of the Father – working towards universal reconciliation. He points to Jesus saying in the Gospel it is not those who hail him as Lord who enter the kingdom – but those who do the will of the Father.

Matthew 25 presents the Last Judgement, in which those who have cared for the sick, the hungry and imprisoned are called to the kingdom – and those who do none of these things are not – whether they recognise Jesus as Saviour or not. Not only the Hindus and Buddhists but lapsed Catholics and Communists – are called forward before Church-goers.

Salvation is not a reward for reciting the creed correctly – it is the inner fruit of life, love and welcome to all without exclusion.

AMcC

Feeding the 5,000, from Ethiopia, Missionaries of Africa, Rome.

Afterword:

Thank you, Austin, for this and all your contributions to Agnellus’ Mirror and for keeping alive the connection between the Franciscans, the blog, and the City of Canterbury. Peace and all blessings!

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December 4: Thomas Traherne XV: You are God’s joy.

plowden.madonna

Church-going Christians are used to being called to rejoice in the Lord, but here Traherne suggests that we are God’s joy. As if God had emotions! But whatever we say about God  is a very approximate attempt to grapple with a reality we cannot grasp. Remember that Genesis tells us that he saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good. So good that he came to earth to experience it all.

Were you not born to have communion with Him? And that cannot be without this heavenly union. Which when it is what it ought is Divine and Infinite.

You are God’s joy for willing what He willeth. He loves to see you good and blessed. And will not you love to see Him good?

Verily, if ever you would enjoy God, you must enjoy His goodness: All His goodness to all His hosts in Heaven and Earth. And when you do so, you are the universal heir of God and all things.

God is yours and the whole world. You are His, and you are all; or in all, and with all.

Photo: MMB, Plowden Church, Shropshire.

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October 24. What is Theology Saying? XXXVII: Resurrection.

beholdthymother.small,rye

Sin is seen as casting out Jesus. Jesus has no problem with the so-called sin of being blind, nor with the adulteress, only with those who seek to exclude them. He is pointing out that sin is the mechanism of exclusion – sin is not why there is exclusion but the exclusion itself. Blind from birth goes to the original aspect of sin, back to human birth in the very beginning. Jesus is presented as the Light of the world. We are all blind, but blindness is compounded by complicity in the excluding; now blindness becomes culpable. Jesus is forgiveness of sin, holiness and righteousness are love made flesh in the circumstances of being victim. My first awareness of my sin [not just awareness of evil] comes through recognising my complicity. Being wrong is not the issue, being wrong can be put right, it is the insistence that we are right that shackles us in original sin.

In the first eight chapters of Romans, Paul focuses on the righteousness of God. Wrath is not vengeance in God, rather is it the handing over of God, God’s non-resistance to human evil, the handing over of the Son and our killing him. Law provides knowledge of sin, and rather than being salvific is immersed in the world of mutual judgement and recrimination. Law increases sin, is death-dealing, whereas Resurrection means that new life in Grace comes through righteousness.

Sin is forgiven through faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. The Law is problematic in presuming that people are just through knowing good and evil. Not only does law not allow us to become just, but it locks us into judgemental attitudes as if we were among those who know themselves to be saved. The death of Jesus shows how sin is compounded by law. Christ is the end of the Law, that everyone might be justified who has faith… Romans 10.4. the Law achieved its purpose in Jesus’ death. Universal sin is linked with death: Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death came to all people, because all sinned… Romans 5.12. Death was not invented by law, because sin was present pre-Law from Adam to Moses.

AMcC

The end of the Law: John welcomes Mary, the Lord’s mother, after the crucifixion. St Mary’s Rye, Sussex

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October 22,What is theology Saying? XXIV, Original Sin 3.

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Why are we here? What are we like? What are we here for? Karl Rahner’s explorations went much further, by showing that God is an essential part of our lives and we are all related, whether we realise it or not. God is at the core of every aspect of our experiencing. We are never satisfied. We never reach a point where we know all that there is to know or experience all that there is to experience because we are always open to newer and more fulfilling experiences. Our thirst for knowledge and new experiences is never quenched.

We can always go beyond what we know. But we need to remember that this transcendence includes our knowledge of the finite; we go beyond every finite object thanks to our openness to the infinite, in order to recognise a limit, we must transcend it. Imagine the fence around an area. You might think that when you reach that fence, you don’t need to go beyond it to recognise it as a limit. On a physical level, you’re right. However, in thought you’ve already transcended the fence. You’ve realised that there’s something beyond it but that you can’t go beyond it. In the same way, though we can only take hold of the finite, we aspire to the infinite. In supposing that we’re limited by a finite horizon of questioning, we go beyond this and experience ourselves as able to transcend. So, the fact that we know the finite requires the existence of an infinite.

Original Sin shows us to ourselves. It is natural to assume that my desires are mine! This presumes that I am me before I decide to desire; whereas my desires make me. Something is triggered in me when I experience another person desiring something. I too can begin to desire like this. Eventually and inevitably this leads to rivalry – mine’s better… and then I am set against the other, which is how I experience me as different. This rivalry is simply me against you, the way I establish myself.

Desire has become my desire and what makes it mine is that it is not yours! Some call it friendly rivalry, or competitive spirit. In fact the “me” that is now opposed to the not me is the product of my desiring. Much time and energy is spent on fostering and preserving this artificial self; whereas, as we discover from the Incarnation, real self is total gift. My own sense of self is me in contrast to you, whereas my real self sees other as total gift to me.

Society becomes possible through imitation by keeping humans together while forming individuals psychologically. The infant imitates the adult, reproducing what the adult does; there is no me in the infant independent of the model that fashions it. The adult plays with a toy to get the infant to do the same; eventually this will lead to desire, which tends to detach us from the model and seeks autonomy.

However, much more than imitation is needed to make me. This results in my wanting to be who the other is. This in turn can lead to an unequal rivalry. Rivalry tends to be resolved by the exclusion of the victim, asserting my emerging self against the other. It is the tension set up between my sense of being as given, and my acquiring of it by more or less violent means that is at the heart of theology of Original Sin.

AMcC

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October 8: Harvest Festival at Saint Mildred’s.

harvest18.4.apples

The Glebe at Saint Mildred’s Church in Canterbury is where L’Arche Kent have their garden, and this year we were able to contribute some produce to the church for Harvest Festival. Then some of us joined the congregation for the Festival Eucharist and lunch.

Rev Jo Richards, the Rector, has quickly become a friend to L’Arche, looking in to say hello. She kindly agreed to our publishing the bare bones of her sermon, and with it her photos from the day. Thank you Jo, and welcome to Agnellus Mirror. (Blessed Agnellus would have been a member of one of the city centre parishes when he lived in Canterbury, so on Jo’s patch!)

MMB.

harvest18.3 obeliskJulian of Norwich was born in 1342, We do not know Julian’s actual name but her name is taken from St. Julian’s Church in Norwich where she lived as an anchoress for most of her life. An anchoress, that is someone who lives in a cell attached to a church, and leads a prayer focused life.

 

When she was 30 years old, Julian contracted a grave illness and came so near death they gave her last rites. At the end of her illness, she had a series of 16 visions, or showings, that she understood to have come from God. She spent the next 20 years reflecting on these visions and writing down what she had learned from them. Perhaps, the most famous of those showings is this one, which I felt was particularly adapt for today:

 

And in this he showed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazel nut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed. And it was as round as any ball. I looked upon it with the eye of my understanding, and thought, ‘What may this be?’ And it was answered generally thus, ‘It is all that is made.’ I marveled how it might last, for I thought it might suddenly have fallen to nothing for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, for God loves it. And so have all things their beginning by the love of God.”

harvest18.1

Julian made three reflections relating to this vision:

The first that God created us and all creation. However big or small everything throughout the universe and beyond is created by God. As we look at the conker in our hand, we acknowledge that God created this – the tree from which it fell, and the sun that made it grow, and the rain that encouraged it to grow.

The second observation was that God loves everything that God created; and that is unconditional love, everything and everyone, and that includes you and me, whatever our background, what ever our colour; ability or disability, as it says in 1 John “God is love”.

The third observation that Julian made is that God keeps and sustains – not just us but all of creation.

These reflections raise the question of God’s omnipresence, that is the understanding that God is everywhere, nothing is without the presence and activity of God; God is present with us, here and now; in all that we are and all that we do; in the incarnation the Holy Child; in the Eucharist and the bread and the wine.

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Consider these lilies – created by God, loved by God and sustained by God….they neither toil or spin.

Consider God’s harvest – to share – the word share is found in harvest; as these gifts are given to Catching Lives (Canterbury’s homeless charity) may we remain ever mindful of those whose circumstances are such that they do not have anywhere to call home, other than the pavement of our city streets.

What about us. Our Gospel passage tells us that if God provides for all of God’s creation, why worry about what to wear. God will provide, for all God’s children

You just have to look in our shops bursting with the autumn range of clothing – subliming telling us what we need to be wearing and what colours are in – without which we might be felt to feel inadequate ; perhaps we should draw on our text from our second reading – it is the love of money (not money, but the love of money, that is at the root of all evil.

But look again at your conker, and feel it beautifully created, loved and sustained by God.

Now take your hand in the other, this too is beautifully created, loved and sustained by God.

You and me are beautifully created, loved and sustained by God, for this day and for ever more.

 

 

 

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