Tag Archives: integrity

21 June: Corpus Christi II. Enough and to spare

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This picture hangs in the Generalate – the headquarters – of the Missionaries of Africa in Rome. It was painted in Ethiopia. We see, at left, the boy trustingly bringing the loaves and fishes to Jesus, who receives them with open arms and a look of encouragement, eye-to-eye. To the right, a crowd of people sitting on the grass, with two of the disciples offering food to them; a few of the 5,000. The two people about to be fed look dubious, wondering what exactly is happening; most of the others are watching those being fed, but one person’s eyes are on Jesus. In front are six of the baskets of left-overs.

Ethiopia is a country that has known famine more than once in my lifetime, and its share of oppression and authoritarian rule. The question then is, ‘Why should the people trust Jesus to feed them freely and without strings?’ ‘Let’s see what happens’, I imagine them saying. ‘Can we be sure he’s genuine?’

Jesus depended on the disciples to bring his gifts to the people. Today he depends on us. Are we dependable? Are we transparent enough for people to trust us? The Church has to do her work, Christ’s work, and we cannot leave it to the identifiable ‘professional’ members, clergy, religious if we want to get that work done.

May we take and eat. May we take strength from the Eucharist to meet our sisters’ and brothers’ needs, and to rebuild Christ’s church. After all, it was built up by those disciples who did not understand what was happening, even as they played their part in it. Let’s not worry, ‘what is this among so many?’

 

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January 9: The Virtue of Temperance, III: Temperance and Moderation.

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Good food in moderation: Broadstairs Baptist Church Hall.

One of the words St Thomas Aquinas uses to speak about temperance is moderation. For St. Thomas, moderation is concerned with that place between the extremes of too much and too little. It is a ‘place’ that is not always easy to find because it requires us to make use of our reason – an extremely important notion for St. Thomas in his understanding of the human person. He emphasises repeatedly that the human being is a rational animal. In saying this he wants us to understand that as ‘animals’ we do some of the things animals do. But as rational beings, we have the capacity – indeed, it is an ontological imperative – to order our ‘animal’ life according to principles and values that mere animals cannot begin to understand.

Yet, our capacity to order our life according to the ‘good of reason’ is somewhat weak, because we are ‘fallen’ through original sin. The integrity of our being is affected, and there are times when our emotions and bodily instincts are apt to clamour for what is not truly good for us. We love pleasures of all sorts, and they are often what lead us astray. We are especially attracted to the pleasures involved with food and sex.

The pleasures of food and sex fulfil our bodily existence, and enable us to continue as a species. So far so good. The trouble is that they seem to suggest that we will be made happy by pursuing these pleasures to the exclusion of all else. But pleasures can deceive. If we follow the path of pleasure in an immoderate way, we will soon experience all the misery that comes from addictive behaviour – for the bodily appetites, if unchecked, simply cry out for more and more pleasure while these same pleasures simultaneously deliver less and less of the very pleasure they seem to promise. This kind of problem simply goes with the package of our fallen human nature. No one escapes it; we must all grapple with it. Temperance, understood as the capacity to moderate the requirements of our physical life in accord with the good of reason, is the virtue that is concerned with these matters.

SJC

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January 7, The Virtue of Temperance: Introduction – Temperance renders the human being beautiful

nana-at-t-g-wedding

Good Afternoon friends! Sister Johanna has sent her latest series of posts on the virtues, this time Temperance. A good source of reflection for those of us who set unrealistic New year Resolutions; may your temperate resolutions nurture the beauty in you this year!

As always, Sister is well worth reading. God Bless, WT.

The virtue of temperance comes last in the line-up of the four cardinal virtues. We have already considered the other three virtues – prudence, justice and fortitude – in previous posts. These four virtues are called cardinal because they are of cardinal importance in our human life. They help us to live moral lives – they are also called the four moral virtues. They are concerned not only with our superficial behaviour, but with our deepest inner processes: our thoughts, feelings, our very reason. They help us to negotiate reality, to approach it with integrity, to see things as they are. The virtues confer power – that is what the Latin root means: virtus means power. We are dealing here not with political power though, but with a much more important kind of power: power over ourselves. The virtues help us to live in the truth of things, and to act in ways that are good, fair, true and loving. I will not recap here what we have already looked at in other posts. Those wishing to catch up with what was said on the virtues may find these posts through the search function of this website.

I have based this study on the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, whose thirteenth century texts on the human person still ring with truth and power today. Although his famous work, the Summa Theologica, does not make for easy reading, St. Thomas’s insights are well worth the effort it might take to become familiar with his ideas, especially those aquinas-carlo_crivelli_007presented in the second part of his Summa. I am also relying on the work of the great Catholic philosopher from the twentieth century, Josef Pieper, whose book, The Four Cardinal Virtues, is both an inspiring read and a luminous interpretation of St. Thomas.

I would like to begin the reflections on the virtue of temperance by a quotation from Pieper’s book, in which he says:

To the virtue of temperance as the preserving and defending realization of our inner order, the gift of beauty is particularly coordinated. Not only is temperance beautiful in itself, it also renders [the human being] beautiful. Beauty, however, must here be understood in its original meaning: as the glow of the true and the good irradiating from every ordered state of being….

I realise that in presenting that quotation in the beginning of this reflection, I may be throwing my readers in at the deep end. If you stay with me over the next few days, I hope gradually to make this statement intelligible.

SJC

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